Arizona Town Tackles Odors Stemming From Restaurant Grease Traps
Hovering over an open manhole, Bill Hurd took a long metal pole and poked at the gray liquid in a grease interceptor below.
On a recent Tuesday morning, Hurd was working with the executive chef at Eddie V’s Edgewater Grill to conduct the restaurant’s annual “Fats, Oil and Grease” inspection.
The water was scummy, filmy and smelled like the burp of a Tupperware container full of leftovers past its prime.
“Super,” said Hurd, who works in Scottsdale’s water-resources division. “Everything is just the way it’s supposed to be.”
Even though the water looked bad and smelled funky, the north Scottsdale restaurant passed its inspection with flying colors. That’s because conditions in grease traps can get much worse.
Fats, oils, grease, along with food leftovers that restaurants send down kitchen sinks, wind up in underground grease traps. Grease interceptors are designed to allow grease and liquid to separate and prevent the grease from entering – and possibly clogging – the main sewer system. But those interceptors must be regularly pumped and flushed. If not, food and grease end up in an interceptor too long, creating hydrogen sulfide, which produces a foul “rotten egg” smell in the surrounding area. It also can corrode manhole covers and sewer pipes.
The problem has become more noticeable in areas where clusters of new restaurants have opened in recent years, attracting residents from throughout the Valley as well as tourists.
Scottsdale is considering policy changes that would ban food disposals from restaurant kitchens and implement fees that would fund additional inspectors. Tempe already has taken steps to curb the problem.
In Scottsdale, the managers at Eddie V’s regularly pump the interceptor and clear grease and food bits that sit inside, but there are some restaurants that let the slurry in their interceptors fester too long.
The city wants to clamp down on those odor offenders to keep the air smelling clean and sewer systems clear.
Having to constantly repair or replace damaged infrastructure costs the city and taxpayers money, said Marshall Brown, the general manager of Scottsdale water resources.
Almost 100 percent of Scottsdale’s sewer complaints stem from the rotten-egg smell that is generated inside restaurant grease interceptors that aren’t properly maintained, Brown said. But the city only has one inspector to visit the more than 2,000 restaurants in Scottsdale.
And the problem has gotten worse with the growing trend of mixed-used planning, where clusters of restaurants, houses and offices are encouraged on a single development.
The most notorious offender is the Scottsdale Waterfront area southwest of Scottsdale and Camelback roads. Since about 2007, pedestrians strolling through the development’s high-end boutiques and restaurants have been holding their noses, complaining about odors wafting up from area sewer lines.
Chemicals are being fed into the sewer lines near the Waterfront as a temporary fix for reducing odor. But Brown and other city officials hope a series of reforms will provide more than a Band-Aid solution.
“The Waterfront was highly publicized, but to be honest with you, we’ve got half a dozen to a dozen more situations like that out there that are just as bad,” Brown said.
Fats, oils and grease
Scottsdale isn’t the only city dealing with these problems, said Christopher Kiriluk, chairman of the Arizona Fats, Oils, and Grease (AZFOG) Group, made up of several agencies, cities and towns working to control odors from commercial food establishment grease traps.
Some cities are stepping up their FOG efforts because of the recent economic downturn, Kiriluk said.
Jim VanDercook is the president of Eddie V’s Restaurants Inc., which includes the Roaring Fork, Wildfish Seafood Grille at the Scottsdale Waterfront and Eddie V’s Edgewater Grill.
VanDercook said complying with city regulations and keeping grease interceptors and sewers clean is important for everyone.
“We think it’s the right thing to do for the environment,” VanDercook said. “We want to be a first-class restaurant from all angles, from where we source our fish to our maintenance.”
In January 2008, Tempe implemented new ordinances banning commercial garbage disposals from new restaurants or ones undergoing major renovations.
“If we decrease the amount of solids we’re sending down the sewer, our costs are decreased,” said Nikki Ripley, communications and media-relations director for Tempe.
Scottsdale is considering a similar ban, except it would apply to existing commercial food establishments as well.
Banning commercial garbage disposals would force kitchen staff to throw leftover food into trash cans, keeping it out of the sewer system, Brown said.
Michael Pastiack, owner of the 92nd Street Cafe and Bar on Shea Boulevard, has his doubts about banning garbage disposals and other regulations.
Pastiack said his kitchen staff already throws food away in the garbage and that grinders help break things down before they get into the sewer system.
He’s concerned about how new regulations might affect his business.
“It still needs to be thought out better,” Pastiack said.