Heavy rain forces sewage to bubble up at Wastewater plant in Portland

(Photo: WKRN)

PORTLAND, Tenn. (WKRN) – A sewage leak at the Portland Wastewater treatment plant has some employees concerned about their health.

After heavy rains recently, it became apparent the system was being overloaded.

News 2 went to the plant to see what was going on and quickly discovered a strong stench, and it was coming from a grassy area where raw sewage was bubbling up.

We asked public works Director Thomas McCormick about the problem and possible health concerns.

(Photo: WKRN)

“I would say it’s something you don’t want to get into,” he said, adding, “I am very concerned about this.”

McCormick explained that storm water gets inside of the sanitary sewer, causing it to bubble out through the ground.

“We have had a lot of storms recently. When water comes that fast, the infrastructure gets over whelmed and storm water gets inside the sanitary sewer and it’s bubbling out right here,” he said.

McCormick continued, “There are plans right now for a plant upgrade. TDEC has approved one part that will eliminate this, and there are plans, designed, submitted, and approved, and now getting prices to get it fixed.”

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News 2 spoke with a city employee on the condition of anonymity who says when there is heavy rain raw sewage bubbles through the bolts that hold down the toilets.

The employee said there was as much as three to four inches of raw sewage inside the building and employees were coming and going during that incident.

“Sometimes it gets inside the sewer shop itself, and they put a plug inside the drain to stop it from getting in but sometimes it still gets in on a large rain event,” McCormick explained to News 2.

When asked what he’s told the employees, if they’re forced to be around it, McCormick said this is the kind of the work they do.

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“They are around it a lot in the system. That is the sewer collection department. That is the water water treatment plant. So they are used to this environment, and they know not to get it on them, and they are professionals at it,” he explained.

McCormick also told News 2 the city is planning to spend close to $40,000 to fix the problem. It should take a month or so.

In the meantime, he says the system will probably overflow again if it rains hard enough.

Late Thursday afternoon, officials with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation weighed in, telling News 2 it has pursued enforcement action with the city in the past, once leveling fines totaling $250,000.

TDEC officials say the city has acted responsibly and submitted new plans for an upgrade and expansion to gain compliance. The department

Click here to read the Consent Order from April 2017 that outlines violations, penalties and next steps for the utility to get into compliance, according to TDEC.