Collins pursues sludge-dumping investigationWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Most Toledo City Council members may believe the sludge debate is over, but Councilman D. Michael Collins isn’t satisfied.
Council voted 9 to 3 in October to send all of the city’s bio-waste to the man-made island on Maumee Bay. That’s about 50,000 tons a year.
S&L Fertilizer has leased property on the island for decades, accepting a portion of the city’s waste, mixing it with other materials and sending some remains to the Hoffman Road Landfill. The result is called “Nu Soil.”
Until recently, N-VIRO handled Toledo’s bio-waste. The company would take about 50 percent of the waste and mix it with high alkaline products, which raises the temperature and kills E. coli, worms and fecal coliform. The company sent its product to farmers across Northwest Ohio for its fertilizer-like qualities, said Robert Bohmer, vice president of N-VIRO.
The city made the deal with S&L on the condition that the company produce at least $200,000 worth of top soil annually. But Collins and Council members Lindsay Webb and Rob Ludeman smell trouble.
“I will not give up my pursuit until I can honestly say that the practice is safe,” Collins said.
Collins, who has been adamantly opposed to the practice since council started discussing it, has been requesting records from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), scrutinizing testimonies from S&L officials and also Lucas County Port Authority officials. The port authority oversees the island.
N-VIRO, which lost the bid to S&L, has also complained to the Ohio EPA that the site is not properly equipped to handle the volume of sludge and that drainage pipe-like systems called weirs could be dripping toxins loaded with phosphorus and E. coli into the bay.
Ohio EPA spokesperson Dina Pierce said that these pipes only drain substances if they are activated and that the sites are monitored.
But Collins sent records requests to the port authority and the Army Corps of Engineers inquiring about the locations of the original weirs that were installed in the 1970s.
The drainage pipes are one of many concerns among the contract’s dissenters. Webb said she fears that “horrific” odors already emitting from the landfill will worsen as spring approaches and S&L brings a heavier volume of waste to the site.
Ed Irelan, manager of the Solid Waste Landfill, said he is waiting on test results to determine whether he can use the Maumee Bay site’s “Nu Soil” as top soil.
Numerous constituents have complained to Webb of noxious odors that she, herself, experienced on a 50 degree day in December when she took a walk near the site. The fumes sent her home with a headache and an upset stomach, she said.
A matter of science
For Collins, the debate is a matter of science.
When it comes to processing sludge, there are two outcomes, Pierce said. Class A bio-solids and Class B bio-solids. Class A materials have been treated to reduce pathogens to such low levels that anyone can use these materials anywhere.
In Class B soil, 98-99 percent of the pathogens have been removed and it is unlikely to spread disease. The city can use Class B material at landfills, but needs an EPA permit to spread the muck elsewhere. Once approved, farmers can use it in fields, depending on the crop, as long as the area is restricted from human contact for a designated numbers of days.
Cities can also use the product at places like public parks as long as they fence off the area for a year.
S&L’s new permit, which is still in the draft stage, authorizes the company to make Class B product.
A letter from the Department of Public Utilities raised alarm for Collins. It stated that no Class B material from N-VIRO or S&L had been delivered anywhere but the landfill.
But according to city records, the company made deliveries to Ravine Park in 2007 and again in 2010. Pierce said the city filed the appropriate paperwork for the reclamation project to be approved.
Other nonlandfill places the mud has gone include the Retirees Golf Course, a private residence and a cemetery.
“This is not dirt,” Collins said. “This is human excrement that has been put through processes but still contains the presence of E. coli.”
Collins said his next step is to look through the records to verify whether the EPA approved these sites. He said he wants to question why and under what circumstances it is acceptable to spread this kind of material at public parks.
The councilman asserted that independent scientists should test the mud at S&L’s Facility 3 on Maumee Bay. He talked to two environmental science professionals: Daryl Dwyer from University of Toledo and Jeffrey Reutter from The Ohio State University. He said the two confirmed his concerns warrant a scientific investigation. Neither returned requests for comment.
Such a test would cost about $7,000, Collins said. Most other Council members turned him down. Under the current permit, the city is liable for any environmental damage.
“The question which they gave to me was, ‘Where are we going to get the money?’” he said. “And my answer was, ‘Where are we going to get the money if we’re wrong?’”
Terry Perry, the head of S&L, declined to comment on how the waste is mixed and treated or on Collins’ concerns or the controversy.
The city conducted its own water testing and the results were clean, said Councilman Joe McNamara. But Collins is calling for an independent testing.
McNamara voted in favor of sending the sludge to the Maumee Bay facility. The EPA has not raised concern and the city’s water test showed that the facility was not causing harm, he said. He has toured the site and said that few people understand just how large and how strong the structures are that are meant to contain the human waste.
“The argument that Councilman Collins is making is akin to condemning all airplanes because it’s possible if you fly, you could die in a fiery crash,” McNamara said.
The Water Environment Research Foundation, a not-for-profit research organization, released a study in 2006 asserting that many microorganisms such as bacteria and parasites do not travel far through bio-solids so the potential for groundwater contamination is minimal. Their study also states that these microorganisms in bio-solids are unlikely to become airborne.
McNamara cited the study as another piece of scientific evidence that the pathogens in sludge would not become a problem on the bay.
Before the facility even receives the waste, the material sits at a wastewater treatment plant for long periods of time. Pathogens die off in this process, Pierce said.
The threat of contamination is there, McNamara said. But the likelihood is so minute that he said he is not going to rush to the worst-case-scenario conclusion.
One report from a company called Blue Water Satellite, Inc. shows high phosphorous content around the island. But the high phosphrus content is not concentrated directly around where Facility 3 is located. McNamara said that it is unfair to attribute the phosphorus to S&L.
McNamara said he is willing to reconsider if he is ever shown any alarming scientific evidence that that facility has a pollution problem.
“[Collins] will not let this go; it’s like a crusade for him,” he said.
Ludeman opposed the change.
“I try to be as logical a guy as I can in life,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like a prudent thing to put human-waste-sludge on the banks of the source of one of largest freshwater sources in the world.”