Contaminated wastewater was illegally dumped into storm drains - Albuquerque Journal

Contaminated wastewater was illegally dumped into storm drains

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

At least 300,800 gallons of contaminated water were illegally dumped into storm drains at the Transit Department’s West Side facility between 2014 and 2016, the city’s Inspector General found.

The reason?

The hose used to carry wastewater from the steam clean and bus wash bays to an underground tank – where it would be decontaminated – wasn’t long enough.

Instead, that water – along with oil, grease, brake and transmission fluids and cleaning products – made its way to a retention pond south of the facility near Unser and Interstate 40.

The Feb. 28 report lays most of the blame on one supervisor who repeatedly ordered employees to empty the contaminated water into storm drains instead of addressing the hose issue.

“There is sufficient evidence to substantiate that the maintenance supervisor improperly used his authority to mislead and train employees to improperly discharge the contaminated water from the steam clean bay and bus wash facility into the storm drainage system,” the report states.

Water from the bus wash and steam clean bays is supposed to be transported to underground tanks that would separate contaminants from the water before it was discharged into the retention pond.

The report said the supervisor instructed employees under him to only discharge water to the storm drain on weekends, so management would not notice.

Employees told the OIG the supervisor was intimidating and often reminded them that “employees can be replaced.”

Once a manager discovered an employee discharging water into the storm drain, a hose of appropriate length was ordered and the practice ceased in the summer of 2016.

Rick De Reyes, a spokesman for the transit department, said two maintenance supervisors and another employee are currently in the disciplinary process as a result of the incidents.

Current employees will be retrained and incoming employees will be trained in properly disposing of wastewater.

A transit employee said in the report that the storm drains would eventually drain to the Rio Grande, but Jerry Lovato, executive engineer with the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority, said it’s unlikely the contaminants traveled that far.

Lovato said water from the West Side facility, known as the Daytona Transit Facility, drains into a city earthen channel and storm drain system until it enters the concrete Amole del Norte channel, which empties into Amole Dam, an AMAFCA facility.

Amole Dam, which is gated, drains to the Middle Rio Grande Conservation District, but Lovato said the gate is normally closed.

“Given the amount of flows discussed in the report, it is very unlikely that the water reached the Amole del Norte channel,” Lovato wrote in an email. “This is due to the fact the majority of the system is earthen upstream of the Amole del Norte. I am pretty sure that most of the water ponded in the first two ponds and did not travel much further downstream.”

The report was provided to the New Mexico Environment Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The city has hired an environmental engineering firm to collect and analyze soil samples in the area.

NMED spokeswoman Allison Scott Majure said the state has partnered with the EPA investigating the incidents, as the EPA is responsible for enforcing the federal Clean Water Act in the state.

Majure said a draft of the Daytona Transit Facility Inspection Report will be released next week for evaluation by the EPA.

“In the meantime, NMED staff are working with the responsible party (City of Albuquerque), and the EPA to finalize a Sampling Analysis Plan (SAP) that will define the scope of sampling to be conducted, including an array of chemical constituents that may have been released,” Majure wrote in an email. “The SAP and the EPA Inspection Report will drive the next investigative and enforcement steps as well as any potential cleanup activity, while we work together to see that New Mexico’s surface water is protected.”

Safety violations found

OIG interviews with transit employees also revealed safety concerns for transit workers.

One employee interviewed mentioned the Transit Department was fined $55,000 by the state’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau, which administers standards of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state workplace safety laws, for unrelated violations.

De Reyes said the city corrected all the violations to federal and state specifications and the fines were not enforced.

“Once it was demonstrated to them that corrective action had been taken on every single one of their concerns, they did not fine us,” De Reyes said.

Majure said fines are often waived for public sector employers if violations are corrected by the prescribed due date.

“In this case, CABQ corrected the violations prior to the due dates so the penalties were ‘deemed paid’ in accordance with statute,” Majure wrote.

According to documents, 14 violations, which are unrelated to the illegal discharge issues, were found during 2017 inspections that stemmed from employee complaints.

Four of those were ranked as serious violations.

One such violation which incurred a $10,000 penalty detailed vehicle lifts at both the Daytona and Yale Boulevard facilities that were in poor condition.

“The rotary lifts must be very carefully lowered so that it doesn’t get too off-balance and the bus on it falls off,” the citation reads.

Other citations included:

⋄  Workers were required to work atop 16-foot buses with no fall protection. ($10,000);

⋄  There were no lock out/tag out procedures when working with high voltage, intended to ensure electricity is off while employees are working on electrical components. ($10,000);

⋄  At the Daytona facility, fuel leaking from nozzles was collected in uncovered plastic buckets. ($10,000);

⋄  Electrical insulation gloves for employees conducting electrical work were not tested every six months. ($5,000);

⋄  Electrical panels were found with exposed wires and internal components. ($5,000).

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