A Day in the Life: Environmental Program Inspector

Charlotte Water communication intern, Jake Dube is on a quest to learn every different job at Charlotte Water. This past week he spent a day with Environmental Program Inspector: Shannon Bryne. Come and join him and his camera as they adventured along with Shannon for the day.

Shannon starts out her day in the office at 8:00 am. I meet her at her desk, we gather all the gear and equipment we need for the day and head out to the truck. Shannon turns the keys. The truck engine roars, and we are on the way.

Shannon typically completes five to seven inspections a day. What does an Environmental Program Inspector inspect exactly? why, grease traps of course! Every food service provider is required to have a grease trap. This ensures grease does not get into the wastewater pipes and cause an overflow. Shannon (and others on her team) makes sure these traps are functioning properly.

We pull up to the first inspection and walk into the store. Shannon introduces herself and asks to meet with the manager. The manager comes to the front and invites us to follow her back to the office. Shannon explains why she is visiting and asks to see the most recent grease trap cleaning receipt.

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Patiently Waiting

Shannon tells me about all the different rules that must be followed by the businesses. Determining how often the trap needs to be cleaned depends on the size of the trap. 1,000 gallons or more means they require quarterly cleaning. Some restaurants use more oils than others, and in those cases, Charlotte Water may suggest more frequent cleanings to maintain a well-functioning grease trap.

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Old Receipt

The manager eventually finds a receipt, though it is from a few years back. Since she does not receive the most recent receipt, she happily gives the manager her card and informs the manager to contact her once she gathers the proper the information. She takes notes on her tablet and heads outside to check the trap!

The first things first… create a safe work environment. Shannon pulls out the cones and places them around the work area.

Next, She uses a tool that scans air levels inside the trap (this is so Shannon does not breathe in dangerous gases). She places it in the manhole and after a moment it beeps, signifying the safe workspace. She pries off the manhole covers and takes a look inside.

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Testing the manhole

She gestures me over to come and look. Shannon points out the top layer of grease. If a trap is cleaned often, the outlet will just look like dirty water. Sometimes, a hard layer of grease can form on top. Based on her initial analysis, she says this needs to be checked by the Sludge Judge; one of her many tools for inspections. She heads to the back of the truck and grabs the tool.

Sludge Judge

The Sludge Judge is a clear tube that Shannon sticks down into grease traps. You trap the grease and examine it.

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Judging the trap

Shannon examines the levels for a few moments and says this trap passes the examination. She releases the cap and the contents fall back into the trap. Then, we head to our next inspection.

As we sit in traffic Shannon shares the tricks of the trade. Shannon is incredibly knowledgeable about her work and passionate about protecting the environment. Ever since she was young she’s deeply cared about keeping the planet clean. She remembers fondly how as a child she would pick up litter every day on her street. Her job helps her continue this goal of a clean planet and this puts a smile on my face.

Traffic finally lets up, and we arrive at our next inspection.

Not all grease traps are the same; just like any product, there are competitors and different variations. Shannon says that facilities may have a grease trap inside the kitchen. Just like this one.

Trap GIF

We head inside the store and are greeted by the owner. She gladly takes us to the back to show Shannon the new grease trap they had installed. Shannon says this is the “Cadillac” of grease traps. What makes this trap special is the four separate compartments and screens made of carbon fiber. The extra compartments help clean the traps more thoroughly. Shannon says the carbon fiber means it is a grease trap that will never need to be replaced, unlike other traps.

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The “Cadillac” grease trap

Shannon’s job isn’t just inspections. Often she does public education. In the case of this facility, they had just recently opened. They didn’t know how to set up cleanings for the traps.  Shannon gladly gives her a packet of companies that do inspections and cleanings and left the owner with her business card in case she had any more questions.

The owner is relieved and thanks’ Shannon for her help. Shannon says its all part of the job. What Shannon won’t say, but I will is… Shannon rocks. We pack up and head to the next inspection

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Inside look

A few inspections later and we are at the last one of the day. As we get out of the truck, Shannon notices a storm drain right outside the storefront. She heads over for a closer look. What I thought looked like rust, was actually dried grease. We peer down and see a grease build up. Concerned, Shannon follows the line to the storm drain on the street. So much grease has been poured down, that there was a grease build up all the way in the street storm drain.

Shannon and I go inside for the inspection to see if they have all the proper equipment and cleanings done. They had it all. With all the proper equipment, it was confusing to so much grease being poured into the storm drain out front.

Shannon reminds the owner to dispose of all grease properly. She then gives them a Flow Free poster. As we leave she tells me the county will handle it from here.

I ask why the county would look further into the issue. Shannon informs me that Charlotte Water manages drinking and wastewater pipes but not stormwater pipes. Shannon documents the issue on the stormwater watcher app and passes along the information to the right folks. We get in the truck to head home.

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I learned so much from Shannon during my day. She is boundless with knowledge and very passionate about her job. One thing I will remember is how much Shannon cares for her work. She’s helping keep Charlotte clean.

Shannon was smiling all day long. Born and raised in the greater Charlotte area, it is clear that she loves this city and is happy to help keep it clean. Thank you again, Shannon!

Be sure to check in next time of A Day in the Life. Stay tuned to hear about more of Charlotte Water through the eyes of a summer intern!