The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality is investigating whether the city of Pocatello is properly dumping fluids from city vehicles.
The Idaho State Journal reported that the environmental agency began the probe after the newspaper began asking questions about a video that shows a city tanker truck dumping a dark-colored liquid at a city maintenance yard.
DEQ manager Doug Tanner confirmed the probe and says the city is fully cooperating.
“We have been in contact with the city,” Tanner said. “But we still have follow-up work to do.”
Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad said the city uses the yard as a dewatering site for storm water and wash bay waste, and that after evaporation is complete the waste material is taken to a landfill.
Hanna Sanger, the manager for Pocatello’s Science and Environment Division, said the video doesn’t tell the whole story.
The maintenance yard is surrounded by berms, accessible only by a gate marked with a “No Trespassing” sign. It’s near several homes. Sanger said the yard is where city trucks deposit water removed from storm drain systems, including catch-basins and pipes throughout the city.
A paved area under the soil at the yard contains the liquid and prevents it from entering the Portneuf River located directly adjacent to the yard, Sanger said.
“After it dries, we can scoop it up and take a much smaller mass of material and properly deposit it at the landfill, or if it’s really contaminated, we take it to another facility,” Sanger said. “It saves a significant amount of money because we’re not bringing water up to the landfill.”
The newspaper obtained the video, which it published on its website, from a former city employee turned whistleblower. The former employee said he feared he wouldn’t be able to find another job if he came forward publicly.
Austin Hopkins with the environmental group Idaho Conservation League said if volatile chemicals from the yard were to enter the soil and the nearby Portneuf River, there could be very harmful consequences. Some of the homes located near the yard get their water from private wells, making them more susceptible to the potentially harmful effects of the dumping.
Sanger said that given the recent interest from the DEQ, the city will test the water collected from sump pumps below city vehicle washing facilities for any volatile chemicals. The city is also analyzing the location of the maintenance yard dumping site and its proximity to the Portneuf River.
“We understand we need to test material,” Sanger said, adding that she does not feel the liquid being dumped is damaging the environment.
“We are not releasing this material into the riparian corridor,” she said.