Below is a story which appeared in the Winter 2013 edition of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s (MDEQ) internal e-publication, DEBQubicle, regarding recent efforts to resolve an odor issue at Ford’s Sterling Axle facility. The article was written by Rem Pinga, Air Quality Division, Southeast Michigan District Office.
As an inspector with the Air Quality Division, part of my job is responding to odor complaints. Identifying the source of the odor and finding a solution can be a difficult task. However, my recent experience with the Ford Motor Company Sterling facility (Ford Sterling) proves that a lot can be accomplished through partnership and good communication.
For several years, the AQD’s Southeast Michigan District Office would receive intermittent natural gas odor complaints from citizens, Consumers Energy and the City of Sterling Heights Fire Department.
During one of the complaint episodes, I met with representatives from the City of Sterling Heights Fire Department, Consumers Energy and Ford Sterling to discuss and address more than 50 citizen natural gas odor complaint calls that Consumers Energy had received and responded to, without discovering a leak. At that time, I was informed that this was an on again-off again situation that was costing Consumers Energy hundreds of man hours responding to false gas leak complaints. Consumers Energy suspected that the odor may be coming from the Ford Sterling facility’s Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP).
The Ford Sterling facility WWTP operates a fully enclosed waste oil/coolant reclamation process (permitted with a fume scrubber control system). The used wastewater gets stored to any of three – 300,000 gallon capacity open wastewater storage tanks for treatment prior to discharge to the city sewer system.
I had long suspected that these open wastewater storage tanks could be the source of the natural gas odor complaints. However, during complaint investigations, I had not been able to verify odors with intensity, frequency and duration to cause an AQD Administrative Rule 901 odor violation. I also could not find an underlying applicable requirement (UAR) for the facility to enclose these tanks to help curtail odor emissions.
As the AQD District contact for Ford Sterling, I have always maintained open communication and a good working relationship with my facility contacts, including negotiations to resolve noncompliance issues. On several occasions, I have also had the opportunity to work with Ford Motor Company corporate environmental representatives and participate in quarterly meetings between Ford Motor Company and the AQD Southeast Michigan District. At these meetings, I took the opportunity to discuss the odor concerns from the WWTP open storage tanks and encouraged them to continue to look for a solution that might address the matter.
Last year, I was informed that there was an approved budget put in place to install controls on the tanks that would eliminate the odors. I’m happy to report that on Dec. 14, 2012, I received an email with an enclosed picture showing that the tanks have finally been covered with piping system to exhaust displacement air from the now enclosed tanks to the fume scrubber system in order to control potential odor emissions. In the same email, the Ford Motor Company corporate environmental contact for the Sterling Heights Axle facility showed gratitude and appreciation for AQD’s cooperation in getting this project done.
I believe this is a great example of the importance of maintaining a good relationship with the facilities we regulate. Because of our history of trust and open communication, Ford Sterling was willing to identify a solution to a problem and implement controls on their own, without an enforcement action, ultimately improving the air quality in the area.