Pasadena wastewater plants hit with compliance issues, same company under fire for Kingwood plant

Mycah Hatfield Image
Wednesday, July 26, 2023
Concerns after violations at 2 wastewater plants in Pasadena
After multiple violations, 13 Investigates dug into the issues at these two Pasaenad plants. This comes as nearby residents reported a bad smell.

PASADENA, Texas (KTRK) -- Wastewater treatment plants in Pasadena, operated by the same company that has come under fire for issues with another Houston-area plant, have received violations from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The city has two facilities, New Vince Bayou and Golden Acres, that are run by Inframark. The purpose of the facilities is to speed up the process of purifying used water. After the purification, the water flows into nearby bayous.

According to the EPA's website, violations have been identified in nine out of the last 13 quarters at the Golden Acres Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP). The New Vince Bayou was found in violation in the most recent quarter.

"This is supposed to be a best-case scenario where you have control, where you have engineering, you have people monitoring stuff," Dr. George Guillen, a biology and environmental sciences professor at UH Clear Lake, explained.

Both plants were found to have higher levels of pollutants in the water that had already been treated than is allowed.

"That means the water has a lot of viable bacteria that are indicative of human waste or whatever, and so that means there's an increased risk of exposure to pathogens," Guillen said.

In June, one of the months when levels were found to be elevated, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality showed a complaint filed regarding an odor at Golden Acres WWTP. An environmental investigator was assigned to look into it. The case is listed as closed. ABC13 has asked TCEQ what the investigation determined.

Guillen explained that a "good sewage plant" should not smell bad.

Pasadena's water treatment plants flow into Armand and Vince bayous. Neither is used as a drinking source.

Residents should avoid touching, drinking, or getting into the bayous.

Inframark, the company that operates both plants, was put in the hot seat after residents reported strong odors coming from the plant it operates in Kingwood.

According to a search warrant executed by Houston police on that facility in February, the plant was at one point found to be "upset," which means not functioning properly, with "sludge spilled on the grounds and the aeration and clarifiers in distress." Lab reports from a third party that were given to Inframark were reviewed and found to show the plant was operating at peak efficiency. A member of the City of Houston's Public Works Department told investigators that what he saw contradicted the lab reports.

HPD said the investigation is still ongoing, and there are no updates.

Following the issues in Kingwood, the city of Houston terminated its contract with Inframark.

ABC13 asked the city of Pasadena if they planned to continue working with Inframark. They did not answer that question.

We also asked both Inframark and the city of Pasadena what the issue was with their wastewater treatment plants, what risk it posed to the public, and why the consistent violations.

Inframark sent a statement to ABC13 saying:

"We are aware of the recent compliance issues at the Vince Bayou and Golden Acres plants. We have taken corrective actions while working with the City to make upgrades to the facilities to achieve compliance with all regulatory requirements. We take these matters very seriously as compliance with regulations is of the utmost importance to us."

The city of Pasadena responded by saying:

"TCEQ, under their TPDES permit program, operates under contract from EPA to run the wastewater treatment plant permit program for EPA in Texas. Pasadena has a TPDES permit for Vince Bayou and does not need an NPDES permit from EPA. The Texas TPDES permit for Vince Bayou requires electronic self-reporting monthly to TCEQ of influent/effluent data including violations of permit conditions using their NetDMR system. The City is required to file explanations on violations with TCEQ. The electronic NetDMR data is the Texas TPDES data base but also is fed into EPA's national database that can be searched at this web address under their ECHO system (Enforcement and Compliance History Online). EPA can bring enforcement action in some cases but is rare as they have a contract with Texas to enforce the Clean Water Act."

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