Faulty equipment, not just bad chemicals, led to November shutdown at OB Curtis, emails say

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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – A temporary shutdown at the OB Curtis water treatment plant in November was not only the result of a wrong batch of chemicals, but also the result of a leak and faulty equipment in bulk chemical tanks at the plant, emails obtained by WLBT indicate.

In November, the city of Jackson halted production on the conventional side of the Curtis plant, after a facility operator discovered a ‘wrong batch’ of chemicals had ended up in the water. .

The chemicals, ACH or Aluminum Hydrochloride, are used to help the solids “coagulate” and sink to the bottom of conventional plant ponds.

However, on Saturday November 13, an operator noticed that the treatment was not working. And, as a result, the conventional side of the plant was shut down, leading to lower water production in the city.

City engineer Charles Williams said the problem resulted from “some problems with our ACH process”, specifically a “bad batch” of chemicals.

“We think right now we have a bad lot and we had a really hard time getting it out of the pools. So we had to put down our basins to clean it,” he said. “It’s a very timely process.”

The problem caused a drop in water pressure in the system, resulting in loss of pressure and service to dozens of customers in South Jackson.

Email correspondence between the Mississippi State Health Department, Environmental Protection Agency, and the City of Jackson confirms that a bad batch of ACH was part of the problem. However, the emails also reveal that the plant had issues with three of the bulk tanks used to contain the ACH.

The emails also reveal that if the tanks had been working properly, a single bad batch of chemicals would not have resulted in a temporary shutdown.

“They have three bulk tanks running in parallel. Normally, between these 3 tanks, they can hold about 10 truckloads of product. A bad truck mixed with 10 wouldn’t give them a problem,” wrote Amy McLeod, an engineer with MSDH’s Office of Public Water Supply.

McLeod conducted a site visit to the Curtis plant on November 15, where she discussed the issue with shift operator Robert Loftin. “Mr. Loftin thinks it could be a bad batch or the tank levels got so low they were sucking sludge/waste from the bottom of the tanks,” she added.

(A copy of McLeod’s email is shown below.)

In addition to product concerns, McLeod said he learned during his site visit that the city had “lost the ability to feed the chemical to the injection point” and that a maintenance supervisor was “working at run a rubber hose through the pipe trench to the injection point.

OB Curtis Water Treatment Plant(WLBT)

Later emails show that the ACH supply line used by the city was down due to a clog. Deputy Director of Water Operations Mary Carter told MSDH that plant operators discovered the line was in fact the city’s emergency power line and had been in use for six years. or seven years.

Says Carter, “They’re working to replace the original line so there’s redundancy if the line gets clogged in the future.”

Many problems have been reported at the Curtis plant over the past year. In February 2021, operations were slowed at the plant after equipment froze during the city’s winter water crisis.

Later in April, a fire broke out in an electrical panel at the plant, causing its high-efficiency pumps to shut down.

A factory inspection in November found the pumps were still out of service, and Jackson could not provide a timeline on when they would be back in service.

In January, the Environmental Protection Agency cited Jackson for failing to make repairs and gave the city 45 days to justify why the EPA should not pursue legal action.

Last month, MSDH gave the city until June 22 to have the electrical panel replaced and put one of its high-duty pumps back into service.

City officials could not be reached for additional comment or email clarification.

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