November 2022 Vol. 77 No. 11


Newsline: $40 Million Detroit Project to Increase Capacity in Local, Regional Sewer System

Jury Decides $10.4 Million Award for Portland Gas Explosion Trauma 

Two people have together been awarded $10.4 million at trial after a jury found they suffered hearing loss and emotional trauma when they narrowly escaped a natural gas explosion in Portland. 

Lawyers for gas leak investigator Eric Rader and stylist Kristen Prentice said both suffered life-altering changes, including post-traumatic stress disorder, after an excavator hit a buried gas pipeline Oct. 19, 2016. 

A jury awarded $6.5 million to Prentice and $3.9 million to Rader — the largest payout to date over the blast. Jurors found contractor Loy Clark Pipeline Co. liable for both workers’ medical expenses and lost earnings. 

Rader had found high levels of gas inside a corner bagel shop and warned firefighters to flee shortly before the blast obliterated the three-story commercial building and gutted a neighboring structure. 

“The reading on his gas meter indicated extreme risk,” said Greg Kafoury, the attorney for Rader and Prentice. “Rader notified nearby first responders, saving many.” 

Prentice was about to enter the salon next door when firefighters alerted her to the danger. Both took shelter nearby. 

Aging Infrastructure Led to E. Coli in Baltimore Water 

Aging infrastructure contributed to an E. coli contamination of the city of Baltimore’s water system in early September, officials said. 

A confluence of events in several parts of the water system reduced chlorine levels, which led to three positive tests for E. coli, a Department of Public Works official told The Washington Post. City officials also detailed their findings during a City Council hearing. 

The contamination led to a boil water advisory for a wide swath of the city and into Baltimore County, which is served by the city system, according to a Baltimore Sun report. 

No illnesses were linked to the contaminated water, a city spokeswoman said 

Judge Tosses Charges against 7 People in Flint Water Crisis 

A Michigan judge dismissed charges against seven people in the Flint water scandal, including two former state health officials blamed for deaths from Legionnaires’ disease. 

Judge Elizabeth Kelly took the action three months after the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously said a different judge acting as a one-person grand jury had no authority to issue indictments. Kelly rejected efforts by the attorney general’s office to just send the cases to Flint District Court and turn them into criminal complaints, the typical path to filing felony charges in Michigan. 

“Simply put, there are no valid charges,” Kelly said. 

Kelly’s decision doesn’t affect former Gov. Rick Snyder because he was charged with misdemeanors, and his case is being handled by a judge in a different Flint court. But lawyers for Snyder have since urged a judge to dismiss the misdemeanor charges, arguing the “same law and logic” must be applied. 

In 2014, Flint managers appointed by Snyder took the city out of a regional water system and began using the Flint River to save money while a new pipeline to Lake Huron was being built. But the river water wasn’t treated to reduce its corrosive qualities. Lead broke off from old pipes and contaminated the system for more than a year. 

Hurricane Ian Causes Millions of Gallons of Wastewater to Spill into Waterways 

Hurricane Ian heavily impacted sewage and wastewater infrastructure throughout Florida, leading to multimillion-gallon spills in multiple bodies of water, according to reports from officials around the state. 

In Melbourne, Fla., the storm allowed sewage overflow to seep through manholes, travel through the streets and spill 7.2 million gallons into the Indian River Lagoon, Orlando News 6 reported. 

“There are only so many places that water can go, and you have an option, you can let that water back up into people’s homes or you can discharge it into the river,” Brevard County Spokesman Don Walker told the station. 

Power outages prohibited lift stations from working properly, and the heavy rainfall in the southern part of the county overwhelmed the backup generators, he said. 

“We’re a 72-mile-long county and these things happen up and down the chain so you can’t just put generators at every lift station for a hurricane but what you try to do is move those generators around as you need to,” he said, according to the article. 

Near Bradenton, Fla., four million gallons of wastewater were released into the Manatee stream after a power outage at a lift station, and the backup generator’s failure after extended use allowed the wastewater to be released into a Creek. 

$40 Million Detroit Project to Increase Capacity in Local, Regional Sewer System 

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) announced it will move ahead with a five-year, $40 million project to redirect rainwater and snowmelt from a westside neighborhood into new detention basins. 

“The stormwater improvement project in Far West Detroit is unique to our other 16 green stormwater infrastructure projects in that it redirects stormwater from an entire neighborhood into new detention basins in a city park and keeps it out of the sewer system by discharging to the Rouge River,” DWSD Director Gary Brown said. “It is transformative projects like this which will lead to operating a more climate resilient sewer system.” 

Construction of the ultimate stormwater retention project started in July and will be completed within five years and will represent an investment of more than $40 million. The project, which also will include water system and sewer system upgrades, will direct roof and street runoff from the Far West Detroit neighborhood the new stormwater retention basins. There are 1,200 homes in the neighborhood. 

It is estimated that the retention project will remove 98 million gallons of stormwater runoff each year from the combined sewer system on the city’s far west side. A regional effort, led by DWSD, significant funding has been secured from the Oakland County Water Resources Commission as the project also benefits the Evergreen-Farmington Sanitary Drain Drainage District. 

Illinois Firm Reaches $2.5 Million Settlement for 2017 Pipeline Construction Explosion 

An Illinois company has agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle safety charges from an explosion that killed three welders and injured seven at a Louisiana containerboard mill in 2017, as well as other alleged safety violations, the Environmental Protection Agency said. 

The blast at the Packaging Corporation of America plant in DeRidder “launched a 100,000-gallon (378,500 liter) storage tank into the air and over a six-story building before it landed on mill equipment approximately 400 feet away,” according to a news release. 

As is common in agreements reached before charges are filed, Packaging Corporation of America does not admit any liability. A 45-day public comment period, which has not yet been scheduled, must be held before a judge can decide whether to approve the proposed agreement. 

The EPA and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) allege nine Clean Air Act safety violations, some involving the industrial accident and others found during the investigation that followed. The plant employs about 530 workers and makes 874,000 tons (792,900 metric tons) of containerboard a year, according to the documents. 

The explosion on Feb. 8, 2017, occurred as contract welders were repairing cracks on two pipelines near a 100,000-gallon tank for harmful vapors from pulping, according to the complaint. It said the “foul condensate tank” should have been emptied before welders started work — and had been before earlier welding — but this time held liquid and highly flammable gases. 

Vapors ignited, touching off the explosion that killed 33-year-old William Rolls Jr., 42-year-old Sedrick Stallworth and 41-year-old Jody Gooch. 

Vermont Town Employee Lowered Fluoride in Water for Years 

Residents of a small community in Vermont were blindsided by recent news that one official in their water department had quietly lowered fluoride levels nearly four years ago, giving rise to worries about their children’s dental health and transparent government — and highlighting the enduring misinformation around water fluoridation. 

Kendall Chamberlin, Richmond’s water and wastewater superintendent, told the Water and Sewer Commission in September that he reduced the fluoride level because of his concerns about changes to its sourcing and the recommended levels. 

He was worried about quality control in the fluoride used in U.S. drinking systems in response to unfounded reports about Chinese fluoride that have circulated online in recent years. And, he said, he doesn’t think the state’s recommended level of fluoride is warranted. 

“For a single person to unilaterally make the decision that this public health benefit might not be warranted is inappropriate. I think it’s outrageous,” retired Dr. Allen Knowles said at the September meeting. 

The addition of fluoride to public drinking water systems has been routine in communities across the United States since the 1940s and 1950s but still doesn’t sit well with some people, and many countries don’t fluoridate water for various reasons, including feasibility.

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