News Feature | November 27, 2017

Navy Wastewater Treatment Plant Exposed Workers To Unsafe Conditions For Years

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga, Associate Editor, Water Online

puget.reg

Unsafe, potentially negligent, practices at a wastewater treatment plant in Washington state nearly killed employees according to a recent report.

“Tim Combs of Bremerton lost 100 pounds in a matter of months, underwent three major surgeries in two years and had two-thirds of his stomach removed to treat gastric ulcer disease. He also suffers from depression, anxiety, dizziness, sever tooth loss and decay, headache, and stomach pain,” according to KING 5. “Combs’ doctors said his health issues are the result of being exposed to toxins such as cyanide gas for seven years at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (PSNS).”

According to the report, PSNS managers operated an unsafe wastewater treatment facility there from 2006 to 2013, violating state and federal laws in the process. Among the slew of issues found to be practiced at the facility were failures to test alarms, the use of inadequate ventilation systems, and a lack of hazard training for workers. All of this is particularly concerning given the type of wastewater treatment conducted at the facility.

“The shipyard’s work overhauling and decommissioning ships and submarines creates multiple hazardous waste streams that must be treated before discharge into the environment,” KING 5 reported. “The hazards include cyanide contaminated water, the known carcinogen hexavalent chromium, acids, chlorine, PCBs, lead, mercury, and other heavy metals.”

It wasn’t until five years after the plant opened that these issues were addressed and by that time, much of the damage had already been done.

“Managers did not take serious measures to address the problems until 2013, by which time some workers had been sickened by the chemicals,” according to U.S. News. “Former plant supervisor Kevin Albert says the workers’ subsequent medical problems ‘could have been prevented.’”

Albert himself is a victim of the poor conditions at the facility and was instrumental in getting it shut down.

“The plant was finally shut down in 2013 after Kevin Albert was promoted to shop supervisor,” King 5 reported. “He said his failing health and chronic problems at the plant led him to demand that experts come to thoroughly test the air during routine work hours… Employees had to evacuate the building five times during the five days of testing.”

To read more about worker safety at wastewater treatment plants visit Water Online’s Labor Solutions Center.

Image credit: "Puget Sond at Dusk," Michael Li, 2012, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/