Wipes break wastewater plant machinery; smell worsens

Muskegon County

EGELSTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Sarah Alspach lives off Hilton Park Road near Muskegon, not far from picturesque Wolf Lake. She’s also not far from something much less scenic: the Muskegon County Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“Horrid. It’s worse than rotten eggs. It’s bad,” Alspach said of the facility, which sometimes smells even from miles away. “On hot, humid days, you definitely smell it lingering.”

The foul odor is spreading, so much so that Egelston Township officials recently received at least two complaints.

“This is not how it’s supposed to look. In fact, it has never looked this way before,” plant director David Johnson said of the ‘setting cell’ at the outdoor facility, which is covered in tangled up debris. “We’ve never seen this before, where we’ve had some of the sludge rise up and make a mat on top of the surface of the water.”

The facility uses aerators to bring oxygen to the wastewater and help keep the odor down. The problem is that many of them aren’t working. Johnson said they were broken by a buildup of wipes that people have flushed away.

“I’ll call ’em ‘flushable wipes’ in quotes there,” Johnson said. “Sure they flush, but they don’t break down.

“We have not been able to keep those (aerators) going because of the amount of rags that have come into the system,” he continued. “We deal with it every year, but it just seems this year that it’s worse than ever.”

Workers have started pumping fresh water into the treatment plant’s settling tank and plan to pump the wastewater out.

But the sludge has been there since Monday and Johnson admits workers aren’t yet exactly sure how to fix the problem.

“When do we expect to get it resolved? I don’t know,” he said. “My advice to the public is to bear with us. We’re going to get the problem rectified as soon as we can.”

As officials work to clear the air, there is a way residents can help:

“Don’t flush the wipes down the toilet,” Johnson urged. “They can cause a lot of damage.”

This summer, the facility will be installing a piece of equipment that will help filter out the wipes. Workers hope that will prevent the problem from happening again.

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