Bay County commissioners are convinced there's more than just a bad smell coming from a Callaway sewage lift station. During Tuesday's board meeting, they called it a "dangerous" situation that could, in fact, be deadly.
The county has been working with Callaway officials for years to resolve wastewater treatment issues at the Veterans Park lift station. But efforts have stalled and commissioners say the public is at risk.
Paul Lackemacher, Utility Services Director, told commissioners that levels of hydrogen sulfide at the lift station exceed healthy standards. Callaway's system operates at a fraction of its capacity, which causes wastewater to settle along the pipeline and generate high levels of hydrogen sulfide, he said. Callaway officials have said the problem is caused by inadequate treatment by the county.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, flammable gas produced by bacterial breakdown of organic materials and human and animal wastes. A level at or above 100 parts per million (ppm) is considered to be "immediately dangerous to life and health" and high concentrations can cause shock, convulsions, inability to breathe, extremely rapid unconsciousness, coma and death within a single breath.
One test at an unspecified site on the Callaway line revealed a level of 1,300 parts per million (ppm), Lackemacher said.
The lift station has been repaired in the past and changes have been made to the chemical recipe to treat wastewater, but the problem persists. "The corrosive action… puts us in a position where we have to do the same work all over again," Commissioner Bill Dozier said. "There's no need in paying all this money if we don't address the root problem of the cause."
Commissioners called for an emergency meeting of the members of the Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility – Callaway, Springfield, Parker and Bay County – to develop a plan to fix the problem once and for all. Lackemacher estimated the cost of the repair at $500,000 to $600,000.
"We can't afford to do a band aid… this is of supreme importance," Commissioner Guy Tunnell said. "Obviously, it's a hazardous situation that merits a good fix and to band aid it will not solve the problem."
Contacted by phone after the meeting, Callaway Mayor Tom Abbott told News 13 there are differing opinions as to what caused the problem and how best to fix it, but he said a meeting of the AWT members is in order. "The city is prepared to follow the AWT process," Abbott said.
County officials did not specify a date and time for the meeting but said they want to meet as soon as possible.