Sewage treatment plant source of horrible odors at Marana sports park

Published: May. 17, 2016 at 11:34 PM MST|Updated: May. 18, 2016 at 5:34 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - We're finally getting answers to a question we've been asking for months: What is causing the horrible odor in the town of Marana?

As many suspected, it's coming from the Tres Rios Wastewater Reclamation facility. Many know it as the Ina Road Sewage Treatment Plant.

Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation Department Director Jackson Jenkins said the odor comes from hydrogen sulfide.

A federal government website describes hydrogen sulfide as a "colorless, flammable, extremely hazardous gas with a 'rotten egg' smell."

The smell is bad in the area around the plant, especially at Pima County's Mike Jacob Sports Park near Ina Road and Interstate 10,  right next to the plant.

Jenkins said that several months ago more sewage than normal had to be piped into Tres Rios which put an extra load on the system, and that's what's causing the smell.

He said the sewage rerouting is temporary.

Children and adults play a variety of sports at the sports park. Players and workers have been concerned about the horrible odor.
"There's no describing it. It's just very pungent and very foul," said Shelley Moreno, who plays volleyball at the park.

"We have friends that stopped coming here because of the smell actually. So we used to bring our kids out and they couldn't handle it. I mean they would gag. It's pretty bad out here," Joleen Smith said.

The operators of the sports park got an email this week in which the plant manager stated that were are high hydrogen sulfide concentrations in a building.   
The email states, "We have the doors open but we have a large fan pushing fresh air into the building. This the only way we can keep the atmosphere safe for plant staff."

So the smell is let out into the atmosphere.

"The doors are now open and it seeps all the bad air out and we're smelling it every day," said the operator of Mike Jacob Sport Park, Lou Ciurca, co-owner of Championship Sports.

"You're nauseated. You get fatigued, burning eyes. It's hard to breathe. Your chest feels restricted. You gag. Sometimes we've had to vomit," Ciurca said.

He said his real concern is about possible long-term health effects.

Jenkins said the hydrogen sulfide is diluted by the air outside the plant.

"That dilution of the atmosphere and the wind is so many many times greater than what's in that room that anyone nearby or downstream should not have any concern about health risks. There could be some nuisance odors," Jenkins said.

Jenkins said the priority is the health and safety of workers at the plant. He said there are air monitors in the facility, plus, the workers must wear personal monitors.

Asked if all the millions of dollars in improvements to the wastewater system were not enough or not done well enough, Jenkins said, "Ina Road which is now called Tres Rios, historically has not smelled and we've improved upon it. It doesn't smell again. It's even better. Except right now, because of some changes in the system, we have a single small-unit process that isn't quite being managed or covered through the design that's there, and we're going to make those tweaks to get it back to normal."

Jenkins said more odor scrubbers will be installed by the end of the week.

He said the rerouting of extra sewage to the Tres Rios plant should be over by the end of the month.

He said then the plant will continue to be monitored and if more fixes are necessary, they will be done.

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