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Debris in storm sewers causes problems

Keeping Ironton’s streets clean may not be just a matter of cosmetics, but of necessity.

Monday, May 14, 2001

Keeping Ironton’s streets clean may not be just a matter of cosmetics, but of necessity.

Last December, Mayor Bob Cleary and city wastewater superintendent John Haskins received a letter from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency stating the city has failed to meet two of nine minimum controls as a part of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits. These permits allow the city to discharge storm water directly into the Ohio River.

The EPA issue stems from trash in the city’s wastewater. Haskins explained there are two types of sewer lines in the city – storm sewer lines that discharge directly to the river and combination sanitary waste/storm water drains that go to the wastewater treatment plant.

Litter is trapped in catch basins designed to hold the everyday debris gathered on the road. The catch basins become overfilled when grass clippings, leaves, soda cans and bottles and other litter find their way to into them.

If the debris goes into storm sewers, explained Haskins, then the trash goes directly to the Ohio River, adding to pollution. If the litter goes into the combination sewer, then the trash goes to the waste water treatment plant where filters screen some of the heavier material. Items that pass through the filter have to be treated before released back into the river, adding to the cost of treating wastewater.

Another problem faced by wastewater employees stems from valves that stop the sewer from back-filling the lines.

Eight Combined Sewer Overflow, CSO, valves are located throughout the city. The CSO’s prevent wastewater from backing into the lines when the wastewater treatment plant reaches maximum capacity. The CSO’s divert water directly to the Ohio River, which includes the litter carried in the water.

The state’s EPA office has cited: "control of solid and floatable materials in the CSO discharge" and "proper operation and maintenance programs for the sewer system and CSO points" as areas the city has failed in maintaining. The letter from the EPA states that a street sweeping program was listed in the City’s Combined Sewer Overflow Operation and Maintenance Plan dated January 1998. Since then, the city has not had a street sweeper program.

The EPA recommends: " A regular street sweeping program should be implemented immediately to bring the City in compliance with this minimum control."

The EPA also recommends more preventive maintenance programs to bring the city into compliance with the other part of the deficiencies the EPA listed.

The letter states: "At this time, with the limited number of employees in the collection system, only reactive maintenance and regular cleaning of problem areas can be accomplished. The City needs to be able to perform preventive maintenance to the sewer system before this minimum control can be considered in compliance."

In order to bring the city in compliance, the mayor has asked city residents help out by eliminating the debris swept into the street. He is asking residents to take measures to eliminate grass clippings or leaves from entering the sewer system.

Cleary also asked city council, through the first reading of an ordinance, to approve the purchase of a street sweeper at Thursday’s meeting.

In the event the city does not fall into compliance with the EPA’s mandate, then, according to the letter from the environmental agency, some form of enforcement will be taken against the city.