Portsmouth Mayor Jane Murray said in an April 26 correspondence from then-service director Jeff Peck to Craig Gilliland, director of Facilities Management at SOMC, “As you recall on April 5, 2010, the residences at 2501 and 2505 Shawnee Road experienced flooding of their basements with sanitary sewer. I met with you on Wednesday, April 2, 2010, about this and presented to you a bag full of debris that was taken from the manhole where SOMC is connected to the sanitary sewer …”
Peck revealed that some of the material recovered was commercial-grade brown paper towels. Also in the mix were items such as pads used for EKG testing.
Leann L. Sammons, vice president of Health and Safety at SOMC, said the hospital received a letter from Murray in June (2010) that alleged that SOMC had been improperly disposing of waste that was clogging the city’s sewer lines along Shawnee Road.
Sammons said there had been other discussions about the accusation, and that it had been put out to the public. But she said the June letter was the first correspondence the hospital had received from Murray.
“We have engaged in conversation with her, various leaders in the organization, and to date we have asked for evidence because we do care, because we want to see what the residents, what the city workers believe they are finding, because if there is a problem, we want to fix the problem if there is something coming from our facility,” Sammons said. “And so we have not been presented with any convincing evidence at this point that there is any improper waste disposal that is coming from the hospital.”
Sammons showed a photo of a plastic bag of some items found in the sewer off of 27th Street, and said one of the items may have been a stick-on contact used in performing an EKG.
Sammons said Murray had called several times to request meetings with them, but Sammons and Arnett were not at the facility when the calls were received. However, Arnett, Sammons and Murray were scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon.
“We will be meeting with Mayor Murray … to see what she has to share with us,” Sammons said. “And we will be listening hard and taking notes, and hearing what she would like to share with us. We are committed to do whatever is appropriate to ensure that we are not clogging city sewer lines.”
So how did the meeting go?
“Not well,” Murray said, “I’m very disappointed in the meeting that we had. I specifically requested that SOMC come with a plan to get the materials out of the system. It’s unlawful for any of these wastes to enter our sewer system. Instead of coming with a system, they said they were there to listen to our concerns.”
Murray said the city has given SOMC a history of how the problem developed. She said an 8-inch sanitary line comes from the hospital and goes into a 36-inch storm water line that comes from the hospital. That is where it combines with the storm water. It then goes into the Lawson’s Run facility to the city wastewater plant.
“Mr. (Steve) Canter, engineer from Environmental Engineering Services stated that he would be glad to meet with hospital engineers to review some possible options,” Murray said. “And that we would need the hospital’s site maps and building designs to see how the lines all run.”
Murray said that until that was accomplished, and until a permanent solution to the problem was found, that hospital personnel inspect the manholes and remove debris on a seven-days-a-week basis.
“But they declined to address that, and said they would be glad to work with the city on our sewer problems,” Murray said.
Sammons said hospital engineers are now inspecting the manhole (on 27th Street) on a regular basis.
“Neither she (Sammons) nor Mr. Arnett mentioned that,” Murray said. “But specifically, today, our sanitary sewer crew arrived to inspect the manhole, the one on 27th Street, and found SOMC personnel there pulling materials out of the manhole.”
Murray said the city had wanted SOMC to install a device to trap the material at their sanitary lines before it goes into their storm water line, gather the material, then take it out and dispose of it.
“None of this material is to ever get into our sanitary sewers,” Murray said. “It’s a combination of solid waste and possibly hazardous waste, and possibly infectious waste. We don’t know. I’m going to ensure that the correction inspections to occur as soon as possible.”
Sammons said, even though the hospital is in complete compliance with the EPA, they will be taking an additional step to ensure nothing is disposed of improperly in the future.
“One of the things that we are doing to go above and beyond is installing two grinders,” Sammons said. “The easiest way to describe these grinders is that they are humongous industrial-strength garbage disposals.”
One grinder is to be installed at SOMC in the line that runs to the 27th Street sewer line. The other will be installed at the facility where the line comes out and runs to the 25th Street sanitary sewer.
The “Muffin Monster,” as it is called, is used to shred problem solids in pulp and paper, petroleum and food processing applications, and, in this case, to grind up trash and debris that can plug sewer lines or overload a pump station.
Arnett said reports out of the city that anyone from SOMC had admitted to wrongdoing in any way are false. He said SOMC will continue to monitor the sewage situation and support the city in their endeavors to improve the local sanitary system.
“We want to be good neighbors,” Sammons said. “We care greatly about the community. We are here to serve the community. And we want to be here in 50 years and 100 years for the generations to come. And part of that is making sure that we treat our neighbors respectfully as any good corporate citizen should.”
Frank Lewis may be reached at (740) 353-3101 Ext. 232 or firstname.lastname@example.org