MID CITY — Saint John’s Health Center has been cited six times since December for sewage system violations, resulting in $9,000 worth of fines as City Hall has ramped-up its efforts to bring the hospital into compliance.

The citations were for pumping excessive amounts of dissolved sulfides — raw sewage that can give off a rotten egg odor — into the sewer, and come after at least two years of complaints about noxious fumes from residents who live near the hospital and from Saint John’s nurses.

Tests have repeatedly shown that the hospital’s waste pumping system fails to meet City Hall’s standards, said Gary Welling, City Hall’s wastewater administrator.

“For most of 2009 they’ve been out of compliance,” he said. “When an industrial user isn’t able to get into compliance one of the things we do is increase the monitoring activity.”

Tests are being run on the health center’s sewage system several times per month, part of increased enforcement regimen that began in December, Welling said.

Saint John’s has been fined a total of nine times since December of 2008, according to City Hall records. In recent months, water division officials referred the matter to the City Attorney’s Office — an unusual though not unheard of step. The attorney handling the issue, Ybin Shen, could not be reached for comment this week.

City Hall’s enforcement actions are paying off, Welling said, though the hospital was cited twice for violations in March.

“They’re making a concerted effort now. They’re starting to pay attention and working at this.”

The hospital recently began renovating its sewage pumping system, and Welling said he expects the hospital to be in “substantial compliance” by the end of May.

The problem seems to stem from three pits where sewage is stored before it’s pumped into the public system. A design flaw may be creating “dead zones” that prevent some sewage from being regularly pumped out of the pits, Welling said. Renovation of one pit has been completed and work to fix the other two is ongoing.

“While the situation does not pose an immediate health risk, we take this matter very seriously and have been working closely with the city to resolve the matter as quickly as possible,” a spokesman for Saint John’s said in a statement.

A registered nurse who works at Saint John’s, Jack Cline, said fowl smelling odors continue to irk some employees at the hospital and have prompted others to complain of watery eyes.

“Some of the nurses are afraid that it’s toxic,” he said. “It’s more of a nuisance than anything to me.”

One room normally used for treating patients has been placed off limits because of the stench, he said.


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