Ask Ines Flores about her job as an environmental investigator IV, and she will quickly tell you it is not for the faint of heart, or queasy of stomach.
“Have you ever smelled the inside of a grease trap!?!?!” she exclaimed. “Somedays you want to cry with the citizen and others you want to not smell, not see, not breath!!”
Yep, this sounds like a stinky job. And not one that anyone with a light constitution would handle well. But Flores is THAT professional who can handle the job, as demonstrated by her recent promotion with the City of Houston FOG Special Waste Program this past October.
For the uninitiated, FOG stands for Fat, Oil and Grease (kind of explains itself). According to the website, this group keeps track of these particular waste from commercial and residential establishments (if you’re ever wondering what that old chicken grease smell is around your neighborhood, chances are someone might have poured the grease down the sewer and over time it’s clogged up).
As part of the Houston Health Department, the FOG-Special Waste Program monitors these waste products to ensure the city’s environment is protected from said pollutants that could harm residents and the ecosystems.
“We want to protect the citizens and the environment from the potential hazard that may result from unauthorized waste releases and to deter illegal introduction of pollutants into the sanitary sewer system, storm sewers, street rights-of-way and other unauthorized places” Flores said.
In her new role as an environmental investigator IV, Flores supervises six field inspectors to ensure they have the necessary support to conduct investigations pertaining to sanitary sewer overflows and routine inspections.
“Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSO) pose a health and environmental hazard,” Flores explained. “It is our job is to ensure that when a SSO occurs, we address the citizen with education and enforcement.”
She remembers her first assignment as a FOG inspector: it was a routine inspection of a food establishment. She checked to ensure that the establishment were cleaning their grease trap and that they provide all the necessary documentation.
“I educated them on the best management practice dealing with fats, oils, and grease,” she said.
The assignment she remembers the most happened when she addressed a complaint regarding sewage odor, milky white water, and fog inside a bayou that ran for miles.
Conducting a joint investigation with Houston Public Works, the teams determined the source of the illegal substance found in the water ways. They also discovered that a City of Houston main overflowing miles away from the bayou was impacting the storm drainage.
Although HPW immediately stopped the overflow, they soon discovered the overflow was caused by fats, oils, and grease blockage, Flores said.
“There was one permitted establishment from that impacted line. That’s where I conducted my investigation on the location and took samples on a regular basis,” she recalled.
Further investigations at the location revealed someone was pouring grease into the storm drain, which was most likely the corporate of the FOG been observed inside the bayou. The Houston Police Department Environmental Unit was called, and a felony case is under review, Flores said.
Just like most public service positions, Flores said her duties at the FOG Special Waste Program are truly inspirational because not a lot of people know who they are, what they do, and the great asset they are to the city.
“Imagine a city where there is constant sewage leaking in the streets, in your home, in our bayous. Our hard-working investigators go above and beyond to prevent and educate the public to minimize the impact of sanitary sewer overflows,” she said.