- Yes 96%
- No 4%
93 total votes.
Deodorant might be able to keep your armpits in check, but it apparently isn’t enough to neutralize the odors emanating from Chattanooga’s sewer system.
Two years ago, city officials responded to complaints about an unpleasant smell downtown by dropping 25-pound blocks of the deodorant into the sewers. It has helped, said Waste Resources Director Jerry Stewart, but the negative feedback hasn’t stopped, despite the city’s spending $500,000 each year on odor and corrosion control below the streets, methods that include the deodorant blocks.
“It just masks the odor to some extent,” said Mr. Stewart, who also has relied on basins to trap smelly gases underground, as well as masking agents such as vanilla extract and a chemical substance known as “cherry juice.”
This summer, Mr. Stewart has decided to attack the problem in a new way: Bringing in what he likes to call “professional, certified odor sniffers.”
Having been pleased by the results of a $50,000 odor assessment he commissioned at the Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant two years ago, Mr. Stewart has rehired the Louisville, Ky.-based Webster Environmental Associates Inc. to perform similar work downtown.
The city is paying $85,000 for a new study that will isolate specific problems and suggest viable solutions, Mr. Stewart said. The firm is working with Lamar Dunn & Associates of Chattanooga to gather data by surveying local residents through the end of October, he said.
“We’ll probably get a report by the first of the year, and then we’ll hopefully be in place to do some things down there next summer,” he said.
J.W. “Buz” Rush III, vice president of Webster Environmental, is a civil engineer who specializes in odor control engineering, which he says is a not-so-popular niche in environmental engineering. He usually is hired to look at wastewater plants or treatment centers, though, not open-area cityscapes like downtown Chattanooga.
Mr. Rush has been evaluating the downtown area since July and on Tuesday took to the streets to get a firsthand look, getting a lot of strange stares as he stopped at sewer grates to take a noseful.
“People stare at me all the time,” said Mr. Rush.
But he also keeps track of good smells and on Tuesday, his professional sniffer caught odors ranging from good-smelling produce to not-so-good grease traps to pretty-vile sewage in various locations around downtown Chattanooga. He pulled a hydrogen sulfide analyzer out of his backpack at certain points to measure what he explained is one of the most common indicators of sewage odors — the smell of rotten eggs.
The most complaints have been reported where Seventh and Eighth streets intersect with Broad Street and Chestnut Street, he noted.
Jo Soos, an attendant at the Republic Parking lot at the corner of Seventh and Chestnut, has been helping Mr. Rush by keeping a diary of her observations. She said she has recorded six really smelly days in the past month.
“How do I put this politely?” she said, checking herself before describing the odor in terms too graphic for print. “‘Disgusting’ is not the word.”
Finding a solution is going to be challenging, Mr. Rush said, because Chattanooga — like many older cities — has a sewage system designed prior to 1900, before odor engineering was much of a thought to urban planners.
The sewer system combines wastewater from households and industry with stormwater overflow “in a big web of sewers” under the most developed parts of town, he explained, and it would be virtually impossible for Chattanooga to rebuild that system at this point.
“In this case, there’s probably not a way to eliminate the problem, so we’ll try to figure out the best way to mitigate it,” he said. He declined to speculate on what that might be prior to collecting all of his data.
Mr. Stewart believes the solution may be as simple as periodically flushing the sewer system pipes with water.
Sanitation officials are well aware of the fact that a combination of heat and lack of rainwater over the past two summers has allowed waste matter to dry up inside the system, according to Mounir Minkara, the city’s water quality manager. Compounds such as methane and sulfur — among the smelliest — are produced, Mr. Rush noted.
“If the water just sits for a time, it turns anaerobic. If it doesn’t get reoxygenated, it forms methane gas,” he explained. “Plus, the heat helps generate the methane.”
But some of the problem might not even be attributable to the sewer system at all, according to Mr. Stewart, who hopes the odor assessment will help clear up the distinction between that type of waste and the refuse from restaurants in the area.
“If it’s a bad dumpster, then that’s not my problem,” he said. “But if there are things that the city should be doing, then we’ll do them. We’re trying to be open so that we can find out.”
Either way, Mr. Stewart wants to rectify the problem before revitalization efforts downtown become overpowered by stench.
So far, odors do not appear to have affected tourism here, according to Candace Davis, marketing and public relations manager for the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, which has not received any nasty smell complaints to date.
However, Ms. Davis said, the agency supports investigation into the matter, just to be sure.
“If there was something, we would want to take care of it,” she said. “We would want to research and find out the source.”
Cathy Huff, who works at the First Tennessee Bank on Broad Street, said she believes the smell is bad enough that intervention is necessary.
“I hope they do something about it,” she sighed.
Just then, she caught a whiff of a nearby storm grate on Chestnut Street, her face scrunching up into a wince.