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Firm agrees to help flush sewer fume problem in West Allis

Issue tied to Elite's site has sickened We Energies plant workers for several years

Feb. 12, 2014

West Allis — A situation in which We Energies employees at the company's local plant were sickened by sewer fumes appears to be on its way to resolution.

For the last four or five years, employees at the site, 500 S. 116th St., have felt ill and some have gone home sick, said Brian Manthey, We Energies spokesman. Some periods of the year have been worse than others,.

Sewer fumes have emanated from restrooms but other fumes have come through the building ventilation system.

Tracing the problem

One theory about why this is happening involves a neighboring business that unknowingly poured more wastewater into the sewer than allowed. The theory is that the additional flow sucked out the traps in drains in the neighboring We Energies building, allowing sewer gas to filter into the structure.

The problem started shortly after Elite Environmental moved in at 360 S. Curtis Road.

The theory held by Kevin Crosby, Elite Environmental president, is that toilets at We Energies are improperly installed, allowing sewer gas to seep out. In an inspection Monday, a plumber Crosby hired to check the We Energies building found some poorly installed toilets that could be to blame.

But regardless of whether the toilets or the discharge is causing the problem, Crosby said he is already taking action.

Elite will pay for all the toilets to be reseated at We Energies, he said. In addition, his company is now abiding by the discharge limits and making other adjustments to reduce odors.

"I want this problem to go away," Crosby said.

Manthey is cautiously optimistic that the problem will be resolved.

"We have had good conversations with them. At least we feel positive that there will be some steps taken," he said.

Elite operations

Elite Environmental trucks nonhazardous wastewater from industries that use water in their production or cleaning process. The water is put into tanks where petroleum substances are removed and where metals settle out, Crosby said.

When the water reaches a certain point of purification, it is poured from the tanks into a sewer inside the Elite building, he said.

Occasionally, the tanks have to be cleaned out, which can be a smelly process, he said. A city official said We Energies complained of the smell from that getting into its ventilation system. Employees then got a double whammy of smells from the bathroom drains and from the ventilation system.

City action

Elite's pledge to fix the problem was announced after the city stepped in last week, with the Common Council Safety and Development Committee calling all parties to sort out the problem.

The upshot was that Elite must have a full plan worked out by March 18 for how to avoid a recurrence.

The company has a permit from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District to discharge wastewater into the sewer, but Crosby said he had no idea that the city restricted the discharge to 70 gallons a minute. Volumes got up to 175 gallons a minute, the city said.

Alderman Tom Lajsic, committee chairman, said after the meeting, "I'm not sure they were aware of anything," adding that the city's limit of 70 gallons in the special-use permit is based on the MMSD sewer's capacity.

The situation needs to be cleaned up, Lajsic said.

"Sewer gas is nothing to fool around with," he said, noting it can be deadly.

Alderman Michael May, also a committee member, said after the meeting that he was disgusted at the situation.

"People are getting sick," said May, who also wants the city to have access to records and meters at any time to monitor discharging.

"I want to see this cleaned up," May said.

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