Contaminated water from the Gatlinburg wastewater treatment plant is no longer flowing into the little pigeon river. Last night at around 7:30 p.m. wastewater treatment was restored and sewage is no longer heading for the Little Pigeon River.
Following the early morning of April 5 rainfall across the South, two Veolia Water North America employees, John D. Eslinger, 53 and Donald A. Storey, 44 died in a basin wall collapse at the Gatlinburg sewage treatment plant.
Four employees from Veolia Water were attempting to perform a high flow routine; a standard procedure where workers make adjustments to valves in a wastewater basin that helps equalize the contents of each basin. A wall holding untreated wastewater collapsed around 9 a.m.
Around 2.61 inches of rain fell at the nearby Gatlinburg visitor center, leading some to believe the tank could not disperse the treated sewage into other tanks, to balance out the load.
The cause of the collapse is still under investigation, both internally and by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Other agencies are performing individual investigations.
“The Department of Labor has been on the scene since early Tuesday morning. They will conduct interviews with other employees, review logs and the companies disaster mitigation strategy,” says Jeff Hentschel. From the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce,
Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Helton asked the community of Gatlinburg to join him in keeping the deceased in there thoughts and prayers. He praised the city and Veolia Water for “pulling together an excellent team to determine what happened and move forward.
It typically takes around 6 to 8 weeks to perform a complete and thorough investigation, which will then be made public. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is investigating the environmental impacts of the spill. The Environmental Protection Agency has also been on site to investigate.
“This does not impact the drinking water supply”, John West, of TDEC says. There have been warning signs posted by the river for bacteriological contamination, but as West explained this is posted every swimming season. It does not change activity on the river.
The city has requested that businesses and individuals conserve water.
“The number one priority now is to mitigate the environmental impact and to work to bring the waste water treatment plant back online, ” says Cindy Ogle, Gatlinburg City Manager.
According to Dale Phelps, Utilities Manager for the City of Gatlinburg, a chlorination process began where liquid bleach is added as a disinfectant to the sewage discharge. This started last night, April 6 at the recommendation of TDEC and is ongoing. “We have sampled stream flow to determine the correct amount of disinfectant and have adjusted accordingly,” says Phelps.
Bob Miller, National Park Service Management Assistant stated, “to my knowledge the Little Pigeon River has never been sampled in the park. This does not affect the native brook trout, which reside in high elevation streams. It could affect the rainbow and brown trout which are not native to the area.” No one from the National Park Service has gone to check on the fish habitat in the Little Pigeon River.”
Keavin Nelson, President of Veolia Water North America, East Region stated that the company takes this situation very seriously.
“We have extended support to the families and made grief counseling available to them and the affected employees.”