Point Richmond stink: city council demands answers

Point Richmond stink: city council demands answers
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District said its investigators were closely monitoring odor complaints at the Richmond wastewater treatment facility. Photo/Linda Hemmila

Last update: December 8, 2023, 4:30 p.m.

The Richmond City Council will hold an emergency meeting next week to discuss an "unbearable smell" that has reportedly blanketed the area surrounding the wastewater treatment plant in Point Richmond.

According to a statement by Bay Area Air Quality Management District, inspection staff issued a public nuisance notice of violation to the City of Richmond Wastewater Treatment Plant and Veolia Water North America for violating Air District Rule 1-301 because of documented sewage-like odors traced to the facility on December 5, 2023.

Veolia Water North America, which is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the city's wastewater treatment facility, will provide an update on the odors at a special city council meeting on December 12, said District 2 Councilmember Cesar Zepeda. Construction at the facility caused a reportedly "overwhelmingly awful" smell in the neighborhoods surrounding the plant.

“I keep getting notifications on my phone that Veolia is still blowing up,” Zepeda said at the end of Tuesday’s city council meeting. “It’s been a big issue the whole day. There have been all of these notifications. I think we need to hold them accountable.”

On December 4, contractors at Veolia replaced an outdated fan and drained a wastewater processing tank in preparation for a new connection to aeration basins. The construction is part of a $42 million upgrade project, according to a statement by Veolia.

“Unfortunately, two odor sensors at the fence line indicated above-typical levels of hydrogen sulfide beginning Monday evening after construction had commenced,” the statement read. “Those readings dropped by the following day as Veolia staff worked through Monday night adding chemicals to the emptied basin to arrest the odor-producing process and flushing the basin with chlorinated water.”

Zepeda said Veolia would provide a report detailing the incident, actions to prevent this from happening again, and the next steps in this project.

“They will come back again in January/ February to present their further findings and to provide an overall update of the Richmond Wastewater Plant,” Zepeda said.

Richmond Mayor Eduardo Martinez, who released a statement on the stink, said Veolia is denying the city real answers and solutions.

Richmond Mayor Eduardo Martinez said he began receiving alerts that hydrogen sulfide levels had spiked in the area.

“An unbearable smell has blanketed the area surrounding the wastewater treatment plant. I was at the Port on Monday afternoon, and my staff and I were overwhelmed by the awful smell. On Monday evening, we began receiving alerts that hydrogen sulfide levels had spiked in the area,” Martinez wrote.

Martinez said Veolia did not provide any communications to the city until 27 hours after the first alert following multiple inquiries from city staff. When they did respond, it was “beyond insulting.” Martinez said, sharing a communication from Veolia.

“We investigated odor complaints out in the community using our portable H2S meter and could not find any elevated H2S readings last night or earlier today. The perimeter H2S meters that have been alerting everyone are also suspect.”

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District received nine air quality odor- complaints reporting sewage-like odors in the Point Richmond area, according to an incident report released on Wednesday.

"Air district inspection staff traced ongoing odors to the City of Richmond Wastewater Treatment Plant/Veolia (facility), located on Canal Boulevard in Point Richmond.

"Air District inspection staff observed that the facility’s hydrogen sulfide (H2S) fence line monitors registered elevated readings during the noted air quality complaint occurrence times, with a peak reading of 345.8 parts per billion (ppb)/5-minute average recorded at the facility’s South Side monitor at 9:05 a.m.," the report said.

"The facility has been conducting onsite planned construction projects that may be the cause of the recent rotten egg odors in the Point Richmond area," wrote the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

According to the air district, the ongoing projects are projected to last through the week and will likely result in continued rotten egg odors. The district is currently evaluating the incident for any violations of district regulations.

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