News Feature | March 15, 2019

20+ Years Out Of Service, Indiana WTP Still Incurring Massive Costs

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

Even though a local water treatment facility was closed more than two decades ago, a city in Indiana is paying more than $500,000 to maintain it due to a dangerous leak.

“Griffy Water Treatment Plant was decommissioned for 23 years but is costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in cleanup because of mercury released by trespassers,”Indiana Daily Student reported. “City of Bloomington Utilities [CBU] first discovered mercury in 2017 and hired a contractor for environmental cleanup. In summer 2018, CBU found more mercury in a different part of the building. They realized the mercury was coming from equipment broken by trespassers. No cases of mercury poisoning were reported.”

The facility supplied drinking water from nearby Griffy Lake from 1925 to 1996 via water meters, per a previous report from the Daily Student. This old equipment, which was kept in the facility in case CBU ever needed to reopen it, is believed to be the source of the mercury leaks.

“City of Blooming officials suspect people have been breaking into the plant and disturbing old water meters that contain mercury,” according to Indiana Public Media. “Mercury exposure can lead to a host of health problems, especially to babies in the womb.”

James Hall, assistant director of environmental programs for CBU, said that there would have been no issue, and no ongoing cost, at the decommissioned plant had it not been for vandals. But because the old equipment has spilled mercury, expensive security and cleanup measures have been deemed a requirement.

“The city has spent roughly $140,000 on security guards, about $40,000 on temporary night lighting, $8,500 on permanent night lighting and $340,000 on the environmental cleanup since July,” per the Daily Student.

Hall estimated that another $200,000 to $400,000 will be needed to complete a full cleanup following an Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) review of the city’s site investigation plan.

“Hall said there are many factors that contribute to the process of environmental cleanup such as contractors schedules, communicating with IDEM and weather, which has prevented workers from cleaning up the sub-basement of the building that is severely flood[ed] when it rains,” per the latest Daily Student report. “Hall said they tested three layers of the ground around the plant and identified all areas outside the plant where mercury levels were above contamination levels.”

Following the environmental cleanup, it appears the city is fed up with the costs this decommissioned plant brings them. According to the report, it is considering either selling or demolishing it.

To read more about how water and wastewater utilities deal with chemical spills, visit Water Online’s Resiliency Solutions Center.