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Dr Pepper sewage stench shook Houston City investigator

By Ben Bouckley+


Photo taken by local resident outside BioViper site on November 14, 2013
Photo taken by local resident outside BioViper site on November 14, 2013

A Houston City official hit Dr Pepper Snapple with a nuisance ordinance violation last month after the sewage stench from its BioViper wastewater treatment plant made her feel sick. can reveal the news after studying the official report written by Diane Williams, from the City of Houston Department of Health and Human Services, Bureau of Pollution Control and Prevention (BPCP), which was released to us following a public information request. By all accounts DPS has now resolved the issue at its plant.

In her Complaint Investigation Report written on November 21, Williams reports investigating a complaint from a local resident regarding a ‘sewage odor’ coming from Dr Pepper plant at 2400 Holly Hall Street that they alleged had been a problem since the BioViper (far right in our photo) first fired up in April 2013.

On November 6, Williams said the complainant called her stating that the sewage odor from the anaerobic/aerobic plant – made by Baswood Corporation, which is chaired by Hollywood actor Edward Norton – was very strong.

‘Foam shooting out of one of the tanks…’

Arriving at the site that day, Williams said her Photo Ionization Detector (PID) to check for airborne concentrations of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) registered zero parts per billion (ppb), but she traced a strong sewage odor back to the Dr Pepper system.

“I stayed at the location for approximately 40 minutes, and was getting a headache and experiencing nausea. The effects of the odor stayed with me for two hours,” the official wrote.

After requesting a meeting with Dr Pepper plant manager, Stan Fehr, Williams returned to the site on November 7-8 and confirmed the odor again.

“When I went to the location on November 8 2013, I observed foam shooting out of one of the tanks [see this video shot by a local resident on the same day ],” Williams noted.

“The foam was flowing down the side of the tank onto the ground around it and was accumulating into a large puddle,” she wrote.

 “The puddle of foam was going into the rocks around the fence line separating the Dr Pepper property from a business park next to the facility,” Williams added.

'Houston, we have a problem'

Williams met Fehr on November 8 with two colleagues who are wastewater treatment experts, and Dr Pepper’s health and safety manager Christi Campbell told her that the firm chose the BioViper because it was environmentally friendly and was sold on the premise that it was virtually odour free.

Campbell and Fehr admitted that the system had a problem and said they were aware of the odor issues, and wanted to be good neighbors, given complaints from local residents and businesses.

Touring the site, they assured Williams that carbon filtration system – to route BioViper exhaust gases through carbon bed filters that adsorb odorous fumes before environmental discharge – would be installed from November 18.

But Williams said she would issue a citation for violation of Houston city’s Nuisance Ordinance (CC 409, Sec 10-451) for the “escape of any gases, dusts, fumes, mists and sprays”, as well as a Notice of Violation of City Ordinance for the overflowing tank, given the discharge threat to storm sewers.

City keeps watching brief on BioViper

Tanwir Badar, Engineer, Bureau of Pollution Control & Prevention, Department of Health & Human Services corroborates Williams’ account, in an addendum to her report, adding: “The new carbon adsorption system was installed as of November 22 2013 and is now part of the operation.

“We will have to wait to assess its performance efficiency from the number of complaints we receive in the next few weeks.”

Chris Barnes, Dr Pepper Snapple director of corporate communications, told last Thursday: We are pleased that the carbon filter is in place and is doing its job.”

But despite allied reassurances from the City of Houston, one local resident told this publication: “I just hope this really is true, and that we will no longer be exposed to these noxious fumes.”

“Also odd is the fact that the City of Houston is not going back to inspect their [Dr Pepper’s] work,” she added, noting that the only visible change to the BioViper was more PVC piping around tanks and “a little device that looks like an air intake-type valve on top of the tanks”.

“I know when city permits are pulled for projects of this magnitude (supposedly $75,000+), the city inspectors always return to the site for their stamp of approval,” she said.

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