After an explosion and fire at the Morris Forman plant in western Louisville, KY, it appears hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage will flow into the Ohio River before the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) is able to fully repair the damages, officials said.
“We essentially had to shut down the plant,” following the explosion and fire late Wednesday evening, said MSD Chief Engineer Steve Emly.
MSD is looking into whether lightning struck high-voltage electrical equipment, spokesman Steve Tedder said.
After more than 100 million gallons diverted around any treatment, Tedder said crews were able to restore chlorination, meaning the flow was at least receiving a disinfectant to help kill bacteria.
Tedder said MSD should be able to restore some treatment in the next few days but that it could be two weeks before the plant is fully operating. Morris Forman is the agency’s largest treatment plant, designed to treat 120 million gallons a day during dry weather and up to 350 million gallons a day during rainy weather.
Just the damage assessment alone could take a week, Emly said.
The plant has two main electrical feeds, and the blast destroyed one of them, Emly said, adding officials were investigating the cause.
Tedder said MSD reported the incident and spill to state and federal regulators, who in the past issued fines following major spills.
For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assessed a $101,000 penalty in late 2013 related to 250 illegal sewage discharges during the first half of 2013, totaling about 152 million gallons, MSD officials said.
One of those was a 95 million-gallon spill of storm and wastewater that overflowed into Pond and Mill creeks after a major equipment failure at the Derek R. Guthrie Water Quality Treatment Center in southwestern Jefferson County.
A thunderstorm passed through Louisville on Wednesday evening, and Tedder said if lightning was the cause, MSD may be able to make a case it could not have prevented the incident and no fines should occur.
The Morris Forman Water Quality Treatment Center, 4522 Algonquin Parkway, is in western Louisville near the Rubbertown complex of chemical plants.
Cleanup will begin when the problem is resolved, but MSD warned the public to avoid contact with the Ohio River in the area.
The fire report came in at 9:40 p.m. Wednesday and knocked power out at the plant until workers restored it 5:30 a.m. Thursday.
Officials said the fire caused electrical and mechanical damage to plant equipment and some flooding of equipment.