EPA will conduct "inspection audit" of Detroit water treatment plant

Feb 11, 2016

Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The US Environmental Protection Agency says it will conduct an inspection of Detroit’s wastewater treatment plant.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the EPA confirmed plans to do a “performance inspection audit” next month.

“Staff from the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality will also be involved in this audit, to assess current lab procedures and compliance with federal requirements under the Clean Water Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program,” the statement reads.

It goes on to say that when the audit is final, “the EPA will make the report available to the public.”

Such EPA inspections are not routine, according to current and former plant employees. “Compliance monitoring under the NPDES Program takes place largely at the state level,” according to the agency’s website.

An NPDES inspection manual describes a performance audit inspection as a “more resource-intensive review” of an NPDES permit-holder that “evaluates the permittee's procedures for sample collection, flow measurement, chain-of-custody, laboratory analysis, data compilation, reporting, and other areas related to the self-monitoring program.”

Detroit’s wastewater treatment plant has a history of repeated NPDES violations.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department was under federal court oversight from 1977-2013 for those violations.

DWSD no longer operates the drinking and wastewater treatment plants, though. The new, regional Great Lakes Water Authority, which emerged from Detroit’s bankruptcy process, took over operations at the start of this year.

In October 2015, some current and former treatment plant employees said that retirements and layoffs, especially of technical staff over the past three years, threatened water quality and worker safety.

The EPA was not clear about what prompted the audit plans, however.

Representatives for the MDEQ, GLWA and DWSD did not immediately return requests for comment.