EPA mandates testing of sludge siteWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
S&L Fertilizer, the company that handles all of the city’s sludge, must hire a consultant to determine the impact the company’s Maumee Bay site might have on the Maumee River and Lake Erie.
As first reported at www.toledofreepress.com on March 12, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has mandated “meaningful water and soil sampling data” through computerized models and sampling plans as a result of numerous complaints surrounding the facility. The company’s consultant would have to hand in results within two years of the contract’s start.
“It’s a legitimate concern; there are good questions being asked,” said Dina Pierce, spokesperson for the Ohio EPA. “Obviously the western basin is a very sensitive area from an ecological standpoint.”
Most complaints have flooded in from N-Viro, the company with which the city contracted prior to switching entirely to S&L.
Councilman D. Michael Collins, who has hammered the agency with records requests for months regarding S&L, shared similar concerns with N-Viro, Pierce said.
S&L has operated under the city’s permit for years but new regulations require that the company apply for its own. The permit is still in the draft stages, and the agency is amending pieces of it based on concerns that emerged during the public comment period, Pierce said. The particular sampling that the EPA will now require of S&L is not standard for all permits of this type, she said.
“The question keeps getting asked over and over and this is an attempt for us to say, ‘Let’s just do it,’” she said.
She pointed out that S&L’s facility takes up only a small portion of the entire island on which it sits. Sampling could also help determine to what extent environmental impact is attributed to the company compared to the entire area, which the Lucas County Port Authority operates. The island has been filled with dredging material for decades, so it is unlikely that any potential problems would be the sole responsibility of the sludge facility, Pierce said.
“We’ve done inspections out there and we see no evidence that there is any run-off getting into the lake from S&L operations,” she said. 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.
Terry Perry, the head of S&L, did not return phone calls for comment.
N-Viro produces what is considered a Class A biosolid, while S&L produces a Class B. This means that 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 it 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 number of days. Cities can also use the product at places like public parks as long as they fence off the area for a year.
Collins has been researching the stipulations of this rule and trying to verify that all Class B biosolids have been accurately accounted for. A letter from the Department of Public Utilities raised alarm for Collins months ago. 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 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.
The city made the deal with S&L on the condition that the company produce at least $200,000 worth of topsoil annually. Collins and council members Lindsay Webb and Rob Ludeman voted against the contract. The city had completed its own testing of the surrounding environment and results came up clean.
Collins insisted that the city ought to employ an independent consultant to test the soil at the facility, but most Council members declined. Council president Joe McNamara, who has called Collins’ investigation into the sludge facility a “crusade,” said he thinks the EPA’s mandate is a relief. Council had asked an EPA representative to attend council meetings during the decision-making process in the fall, but the agency declined, McNamara said.
McNamara solidly stood by the city’s positive test results and denounced the idea that “testing the mud” for bacteria and phosphorous, as Collins suggested, would prove anything.
“I think that it’s great the EPA has come up with a scientifically sound measure to test if there’s a problem,” McNamara said. “If it discovers something that we didn’t think was happening, we’ll stop. This puts the debate to bed.”
Not for Collins.
“It was in bed and this is now the awakening of the issue. We will now find out what we were afraid to find out if in fact the practice is not safe,” Collins said. “I feel this amplifies a response that council was not willing to do and that was to protect the environment by insisting that a study be done.”
Tags: Caitlin McGlade, D. Michael Collins, Department of Public Utilities, Dina Pierce, Joe McNamara, Lake Erie, Lindsay Webb, Lucas County Port Authority, Maumee River, N-Viro, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Ravine Park, Retirees Golf Course, Rob Ludeman, S&L Fertilizer, sludge