By Peak Johnson
Earlier this month, a strange substance started growing out of the wastewater treatment plant in Butte, MT. The slime-like material forced the county to send 550,000 gallons of partially treated wastewater into Silver Bow Creek.
Officials told The Missoulian, that the “brown, sponge-like material, which looks like froth on a root beer, is a normal part of the system that treats the county’s wastewater before it enters Silver Bow Creek.”
It’s bacteria that the wastewater comes into contact with inside a vat in the plant, however, “the bacteria grew out of the vat, engulfed the plant's entire floor, growing a couple of inches tall, and began oozing out of the building.”
“It rolled out the doors,” said treatment plant operator Matt Moore. “We had to open the garage doors to make room for it. It grew very quickly.”
Kristi Ponozzo, Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) spokesperson, said that the wastewater continued to be treated by the county, which was “screening out both large and fine material and then sending the dirty water into a tank where ultraviolet light kills E. coli bacteria.” Ponozzo added that “there are a lot of unknowns for DEQ at this point, but because of the high flows of the creek and the short duration of the partial shutdown, DEQ does not anticipate adverse health impacts from the incident.”
However, the situation did cause the county to shut down treatment operations for a few hours. Dave Schultz, public works director, said that the county is not sure what exactly caused the problem.
“We’re going to do a forensic analysis to see what we missed so we can interrupt this in the future,” Schultz told the Missoulian. “We want to understand this better so it doesn’t happen again.”
Karen Sullivan, the county’s public health director, added that she was “‘very confident’ the discharge into the creek would not affect people. Sullivan said E. coli would have been the health department's main concern.”
Sullivan also told the Missoulian “that no one gets drinking water from Silver Bow Creek.
Butte gets its drinking water from the Big Hole River and Basin Creek, both south of town and Moulton Reservoir, north of town.”
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Image credit: "Slime, June 2003" Melania Cook © 2003 used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/