Richmond holds meeting over smelly air and chemicals from wastewater treatment plant

An emergency Richmond City Council meeting was held on Tuesday to discuss concerning air quality issues caused by the wastewater treatment plant.

Chemical and sewage-like odors were detected over several days last week and led to complaints by residents in Point Richmond.

"We have people who are dizzy, we have people who are nauseous," said resident Philip Rosenthal. "We don’t really know what the hazardous effects are on the school children whose elementary school is literally at the other end of this block."

The latest incident is just one of many air issues over the last couple of months including flaring events at the Chevron refinery and stinky stench from the City of Richmond wastewater treatment plant.

Records shows hazardous hydrogen sulfide wafted through the air for several days. Veolia, the company that manages the plant now faces violations from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District for the elevated concentrations of the chemical.

But for hours, no alert and notice to the public was issued, city officials said Tuesday.

"My biggest frustration was Veolia’s lack of communication," said councilmember Cesar Zepeda whose district includes the plant and surrounding community. "It took over 30 hours before we received any type of communication from Veolia."

Last week’s incident prompted Zepeda to call for the special council meeting. He said that Veolia’s leadership team would be in attendance to answer questions and hear from residents and city officials.

"We demand action," said Zepeda. "Our community demands better and we deserve better."

There have been persistent air quality problems and odor complaints dating back decades. Questions have also been raised about reports and air readings over the years.

Veolia blames the latest sewage smells on construction and the replacement of an outdated exhaust fan and draining of a wastewater process tank. It’s part of a $42 million project to rehabilitate portions of the plant, the company said.

"We regret that this work may have inadvertently created an odor issue for neighbors," Veolia said in a statement. "We will continue to implement measures to mitigate odors at the wastewater plant."

Mayor Eduardo Martinez told KTVU on Tuesday that the company has had a checkered past and leaders need to clean up their act and the air in the community.

"I was at the Port, I drove by and there was still a smell even after they said it was corrected," he said. "They haven’t done what they’ve said they would do or what they’re required to do."

Some residents agreed and said Veolia has been running foul for years. But they also put the blame on city leaders and regulators for not holding the company accountable.

"It was the city’s choice to bring them in and they’ve had multiple opportunities to replace this company that either can’t or won’t solve this problem," Rosenthal said.

City leaders said all options are on the table and that includes taking legal action against Velonia to ensure air quality improves and incidents are lessened.

"I want Veolia to be honest," said Mayor Martinez. "And I want the world to know we won’t be another Flint."

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at and follow him on Facebook and X @BrooksKTVU