Noxious smell stirs debate in Georgiana

Published 4:24 pm Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Turn on the kitchen sink faucet and a nauseating smell fills the air. The same thing happens when you shower. And your clothes hardly ever come out of the washer smelling April fresh.

Washing machines are rusting out. Water is being boiled before it’s consumed. And it has people in south Butler County worried.

Call it The Great Stink. The frequent occurrence of high levels of sulfur dioxide in the City of Georgiana’s water supply is causing homes and residents to smell like “rotten eggs,” causing concern among many of its citizens, including Mayor Mike Middleton’s wife.

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“Believe me, I hear about it every time my wife steps out of the shower and it’s happened,” Middleton said during the public forum held after the council meeting on Tuesday night.

What is causing so much of the colorless gas, frequently used to reduce residual chlorine in municipal water systems and in treating sewage and industrial wastes, to show up in the city’s water supply?

Blame it on Georgiana’s antiquated infrastructure, says Middleton.

“The pipes are extremely old. They get stopped up regularly.  That prevents the chlorine from going in as it should and the strainer from working like it should,” Middleton said. “We have had the water checked several times and we have been assured by ADEM the water is safe to drink,” adding that the unpleasant odor was “not a sewage smell.”

Having the system repaired would cost $2,000, money Georgiana does not have in its coffers, the mayor said.

“We have ordered the supplies needed and they should be here by Thursday. We are going to do it ourselves (at a cost of $200) by replacing the pipe and strainer,” Middleton said.

When attendees pressed him as to why the noxious smell is found so frequently in their water these days, Middleton said, “When I get up in the morning and the water is bad, I call and have the water checked. They can clean out the filter in the morning and by lunchtime, it is clogged again.”

Residents expressed frustration with paying for water they are afraid to drink; worries about long-term effects of the high concentrations of SO2 in their water, and concerns about what the next step will be if the planned DIY repair is not effective in eliminating the malodorous water in their homes.

Many asked, “Where is the water board and what are they doing?”

Middleton said the city’s water board is a separate entity from the city council and they do not actually meet on a regular schedule.

Council member Lisa Lowe said she had contacted a water board member on Tuesday who said they were unaware of the problem with the city’s water supply, other than “a slimy feel to the water.”

“Now that it has been brought to their attention, surely they will get together about this matter,” Lowe said, adding, “I would hope anyone who has a problem like that would feel they could bring it to City Hall.”

Residents said they will be watching and waiting to see if the proposed repairs solve the stench.