‘Case of Phantom Polluter’ unsolved


By Tom Joyce - [email protected]



An incident in Mount Airy unofficially dubbed “The Case of the Phantom Polluter” apparently will go unsolved.

However, a city official says the municipality has recovered from the mysterious introduction of an unknown substance into the city sewer system about a week ago, which is believed to be an isolated event.

Its most-noticeable effect from citizens’ standpoint was a putrid smell that emerged on the evening of April 10 and lingered for a couple of days. Local authorities reported receiving many from citizens concerned about the odor.

The problem subsequently was traced to the Mount Airy Wastewater Treatment Plant off U.S. 52-South, where it was determined that the smell stemmed from an abnormal discharge, or “slug load,” of an acidic substance into the sewage system.

This was described as a one-time type of wastewater discharge that was not routine and possibly contained a high concentration of a pollutant or pollutants. The substance involved lowered the pH level at the plant and caused the foul odor, which officials said did not pose any risk to the community.

While Mount Airy public works personnel have been unable to identify the source of the pollutant — despite a systematic check last week of manholes and lines in the collection system feeding the waste-treatment plant — they can report that the problem is history.

“The odor is gone and our treatment process seems normal,” Public Works Director Jeff Boyles responded Monday regarding the present status of the situation.

“The good news is we have been able to treat it (the pollutant) at the wastewater-treatment plant and protect the receiving stream. Neither the public nor the environment were in danger during this event.”

If whoever is responsible for discharging the pollutant is somehow linked to pumping it in at a manhole or releasing it from an industry, that party could face penalties.

“The person might be subject to enforcement action if we determine the dumping was illegal, but since it has gone away and seems to be a one-time event it will be very difficult to determine the cause,” the public works director added.

“We will continue to monitor our system to try to prevent this from happening in the future.”

By Tom Joyce

[email protected]

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

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