Eastman Chemical Company continues to bring their power back online after a system-wide shutdown Wednesday, when their wastewater treatment facility released 295,000 gallons of diluted wastewater into the Holston River.
The company responded by putting their emergency response plans into action, including notifying all municipalities downstream that get their drinking water from the river.
While a select few were notified, not all emergency personnel downstream were. "It was about 10:35 and said they'd had a power failure and had some spillage. At that time it was still spilling and then they contacted us a little bit later and said they had got it stopped from going into the river," Church Hill water plant operator Keith Herron said.
According to Herron, the flow of the river is about a mile an hour which gave the water plant some lead time. "We're 8 to 12 hours time lead. So at 3 p.m. Wednesday evening we just shut down and stayed down to 6:30 Thursday morning, so we didn't pump any water during it," Herron says.
There was a slight increase in the pH levels at one point during the day. "We did notice just a slight raise in the pH. It got up where it normally is, mid-sevens to upper sevens. It got up to the low eights for a small time period. It's back down to 7.5, 7.6 now," Herron said.
The warning system worked, but not for everyone; the Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency, which is also downstream, was not notified. "I called the Sullivan County Emergency manager, Jim Beam, and talked to him. He advised me that there had been a situation and then I went to state and got the information from them," says Hawkins County EMA Director Gary Murrell.
Murrell first learned of the spill when News 5 called to find out whether they had been notified. "First Utility was notified around 10:40. Like I said, we weren't notified of anything until I made the phone call after the media called me," Murrell said.
This was a breakdown in the emergency notification process that we will continue to investigate.