Wastewater Smell Sickens West Biloxi Residents

Optech is the company that runs the West Biloxi wastewater plant. Its directors know that in the last 60 to 90 days, the plant has produced a horrendous odor.

Optech technicians think they've found a way to clean the trouble spot. That spot is in a digester tank. Sludge in that tank has caused quite a stink outside the West Biloxi Wastewater Treatment plant. Just ask Mike Fitzpatrick. "I thought somebody had really come into my property and taken a dump right there on my property. That's how bad it was," the Biloxi councilman said.

Fitzpatrick lives half a mile from the plant. He's heard from dozens of constituents who can't stand the plant's sickening smell seeping through their yards. "This was the worst odor we've ever had," Fitzpatrick said.

Optech's project director Bobby Berry couldn't hide from that smelly fact. "I mean it was really, really, really bad. And it got worse after we cut on the aerators," he said.

Berry took WLOX News on a tour of the wastewater plant. He admitted there was a week in May when treated sludge wasn't hauled to a farm. And he said plant operators were actually told by one of their engineering firms to stir up the sludge. "I wish it wouldn't have happened," said Berry. "But when you have old, dead sludge at the bottom that hadn't seen the light of day in three years, and to bring it up, it just stripped off ammonia, it stripped off everything. And we had this horrendous smell, I mean really bad, for probably three to four weeks."

Optech recently installed red hoses over its digester, so a chlorine chemical mix could neutralize the smell. Berry said so far, it seems to be working. The smell isn't as bad as it was.

But that isn't stopping councilman Fitzpatrick from getting people to sign petitions that encourage the wastewater authority to clean up the west Biloxi plant. "If they can't control Optech at this plant," said Fitzpatrick, "I'm going to be asking the board to fire them, break that contract, because they're not running this plant properly." Fitzpatrick will make a presentation to the wastewater authority on June fifth.

The head of that authority is Kamran Pahlvan. He said operator error at the west Biloxi plant created a toxic condition that caused the horrible odor. Pahlvan expects the situation to be cleaned up within a week.