MEMPHIS, Tenn. — WREG Investigators uncovered more than a hundred pages of documents revealing how the state of Tennessee says the Germantown water crisis unfolded, which includes the results from several water tests.
Germantown officials said the water is now safe, but the several day-long crisis left many confused and frustrated. The documents dig deeper into the diesel spill that contaminated the city’s water system.
144 pages of monitoring records from the state’s Department of Environment and Conservation were uncovered through the Tennessee Records Act.
On July 20, 2023, the city put out an emergency alert warning nearly 40,000 residents, businesses, and a hospital to stop drinking the tap water until further notice.
Germantown officials said they had been getting complaints of water smelling like fuel, and they quickly pinpointed the problem.
They said the contamination was caused by a fuel spill from a generator’s diesel engine that had to run because the Southern Avenue Treatment Plant was without power.
State records say that same day, the city notified the local field office for the state’s Division of Water Resources, and the state visited the Southern Avenue Treatment Plant.
The next day, state officials met with the Shelby County Health Department, and they directed Germantown to collect at least 15 samples in and around the areas of suspected contamination.
On July 22, those samples were collected and the results were received. Results showed detections of of diesel range organics in some areas.
Germantown was directed to keep flushing those areas.
On July 23, the state stated more tests were conducted. The public was notified to flush their lines, resulting in more complaints about water having an odor.
The lab also sent this email to the city stating the contamination at the Southern Avenue Treatment Plant “appears to be some type of Motor Oil,” and “does not appear to be a Diesel Fuel contamination in this sample.”
We asked Germantown officials for clarification Sunday evening. On Monday, officials told us the lab determined that the sample may contain Hydrotex, a food-grade lubricant used in the system to oil wells and pumps.
State records say on July 24, Germantown switched to a new environmental contractor to determine the extent of the spill in the soil.
According to the documents, a deteriorated plug was found on the water line going into the Southern Avenue clearwell. It was reported to have been replaced, and water was resampled. It showed no detection of diesel contaminants.
Germantown was directed to conduct 30 more samples, and more tests were done at the plant. On July 26, those samples showed no detections, documents say.
Since then, Germantown blamed part of the spill on human error. An employee was fired for reportedly filling the generator and spilling closer to 250 to 300 gallons of diesel fuel.
Germantown says they will continue to run tests and keep the public updated.
WREG will continue to dig deeper and press for answers. Updates will follow as information becomes available.