By Peter Chawaga
A maintenance check turned surprisingly grim last week at a Birmingham Water Works facility in Alabama.
“Employees with Birmingham Water Works made a grisly discovery during a routine walkthrough this morning,” WBRC reported in a news video. “They stumbled over what appears to be a dead body in their basin just inside of the water intake at the … pump station.”
The body, identified as that of a 23-year-old male, was found at about 7:30 a.m. at the Anthony L. Barnes facility — a historic pumping station named after the first African-American chairman of the Birmingham Water Works Board. Though the authorities were notified immediately, a cause of death was not yet known at the time of this writing and an investigation appeared to be ongoing.
Per AL.com, “Birmingham police spokesman Sgt. Johnny Williams said the death is unclassified at this point. The victim will be taken to the coroner's office to determine cause and manner of death.”
WBRC did report, however, that authorities indicated there was no evidence of foul play.
Though the presence of a dead body naturally raised some alarms about potential contamination of the water supply, officials assured news outlets that any drinking water sent from the facility to local residencies or businesses will be treated.
“A spokesperson said residents should not be concerned about contamination because the water in this facility still has yet to go through the purification process,” per WBRC.
This appears to be a first for the Birmingham Water Works staff, but it has dealt with animal remains found in the intake before.
“There are times where maybe a deer may fall in and they’re dead — or some type of animal — and we remove that before we put [the water] through our intake; so, no, it’s not a threat or anything to the water source,” Birmingham Water Works Spokesperson Rick Jackson told WBRC. “The water has to be treated.”
This may have been a novel case for Birmingham, but a nearby facility recently experienced a rare and potentially dangerous incident of its own. In March 2019, a different Birmingham Water Works facility experienced a hazardous chemical release, sending 50 employees to the hospital.
“An accidental mix of sodium hypochlorite (which is essentially bleach) and ferric sulfate caused a chlorine off gas at our Shades Mountain Filter Plant,” the water works wrote on Twitter, per an ABC 7 report at the time. “We use these components to treat water as our normal practice, however they are not meant to be mixed together.”
To read more about how water treatment plants deal with accidents, visit Water Online’s Resiliency Solutions Center.