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ERG REPORT VOLUME 1, NUMBER 1, April 2001, Spring Report
Quinte Waste Problems & QUINTE WASTE SOLUTIONS: Waste Management Issues for the 21st century
Quinte Watershed Cleanup Inc , a citizen's organization based in Belleville, Ontario, has been busy during the winter examining local waste management issues, presumably the same issues facing communities across the country. Here is a summary, moving from west to east across the region.
The Richmond landfill site and its proposed expansion by Canadian Waste Services continues to be a festering sore on the east flank of the Bay of Quinte watershed. Liquid waste leachate from the site (400,000 gallons in 1998) is routinely trucked to the Napanee STP for treatment and disposal. This is one of a number of examples locally where STP's are being used for a function for which they are not designed, the treatment of potentially hazardous waste.
A Tyendinaga citizens group, the Local Committee of Concerned Residents opposed to the expansion proposal, gave a presentation to QWC early in the New Year. Unfortunately rather than promoting the Doctrine of High Grade Waste Reduction as the solution to the problem, the group suggests incineration as an alternative. It needs to be understood that land filling and incineration are ultimately one and the same process and that by setting up this dichotomy the community is divided, thus playing into the hands of the proponents.
An outstanding article about the Richmond landfill, Canadian Waste Services, and its U. S. parent company appeared in a local paper, The Intelligencer, a few months ago detailing problems with current landfill practices locally and around the continent. This piece could well serve as a foundation for local understanding of the issues presented by the landfill and its expansion.
Quinte Health Care Corp
Waste management at the Quinte Health Care Corporation was an issue in the local press in November 2000. It was revealed that unregulated and polluting methods of waste management continue to be used by hospitals throughout the province. Good alternatives have been developed by such organizations as Health Care Without Harm but apparently the local corporation has been preoccupied with other matters and has not taken up the challenge. Audits of QHC waste management practices have not been made available.
Belleville Water Treatment Plant Tour, February 14, 2001
This tour was conducted for QWC members by the plant manager. The WTP is the result of a redevelopment project costing $41 million. The project was initiated 6 years ago by former Mayor Shirley Langer for the municipality of Belleville, which owns and operates the facility. The results are very impressive indeed considering that the plant is able to take raw water from the Bay of Quinte and turn it into a good product which nicely meets public health provincial water standards.
Because chlorine is used in the water treatment process trihalomethanes such as chloroform are present in tap water but for the most part are within guideline limits. By modifying water treatment to add chlorine at the end of the process rather than at the beginning lesser amounts of the chemical are needed. Taste issues remain, but these are related to compounds in the water which apparently do not present any health risks to consumers. However the taste issue continues to drive the bottled water and home water filter industries in the community.
The waste product from the WTP is the aluminum sulphate flocculant which is collected at the end of the process and sent by sewer to the local STP for treatment and disposal. All of the contaminants which enter the plant at the intake pipe and are removed in the process are contained in this sludge. Presumably therefore it is a form of hazardous waste, although the WTP does not actually test its chemical content, and neither is there any regular monitoring of the chemical content of the raw water coming into the plant.
One interesting side issue that emerged on touring the WTP is that of water fluoridation which Belleville, like many communities, continues to use without much recent review of the current state of understanding of the issues. As is made clear in a recent interview with Dr. Hardy Limeback, professor of preventive dentistry at University of Toronto (GG Video, 2000), the form of fluoride added to drinking water (to achieve a level of 1 ppm) is not pharmaceutical grade sodium fluoride, as one might expect, but rather hydrofluorosilicic acid , which is actually a waste product collected from the phosphate fertilizer industry. Dr. Limeback claims that this form of fluoride includes other compounds as well, for example lead. Thus a hazardous waste has actually been redefined as a product which is then added to the municipal water supply. Presumably the various hazardous elements are subsequently removed in the water treatment process along with other impurities.
Dr. Limeback points out that the whole process of water fluoridation is now recognized by many as redundant anyway, as it is now felt that benefit to dental health can be entirely gained by topical fluoride treatments at the dentist's office as well as from fluoride toothpastes and oral supplements of pharmaceutical grade. Further, the incidence of dental fluorosis has risen in communities which fluoridate and there are ongoing questions about other health effects possibly attributable to fluoride such as osteoporosis. Dr. Limeback recently did a study comparing fluoride content in bone from residents of the cities of Toronto and Montreal, which do and do not fluoridate their water respectively. Average levels in Montreal were about 25 ppm, and in Toronto 2500 ppm. As fluoridation has only been used for some 25 years in many communities the long term effects of fluoridation on human health remain unclear.
Belleville Sewage Treatment Plant tour, Wednesday April 11.
Another Wednesday afternoon group of QWC stalwarts was conducted on a tour of the STP by the plant manager there. At the Belleville STP the primary step in sewage treatment includes the addition of ferric chloride for removal of phosphorus. This method is effective enough that tertiary treatment for Phosphorus is not needed. Secondary aeration and settling then occurs, and the clarified water from the process is then sent to the Bay of Quinte after a final treatment with chlorine gas. Sludge that remains behind in settling tanks then goes to digesters, initially anaerobic and then aerobic, and finally to storage tanks where in a liquid form it awaits collection by contractors for application to local farm lands.
Problems remain in the system despite the recent expansion of the plant with the addition of enlarged secondary treatment tanks. One problem occurs during some rainstorms, when water from storm sewers which are cross connected to the sanitary sewers throughout the city overwhelms the capacity of the plant, which then has to go on "bypass". This means that raw or minimally treated (chlorinated) sewage goes directly to the Bay of Quinte, either at the main plant or at a pumping substation.
Another issue is that MISA, the Municipal Industrial Strategy for Abatement, in which there was regulation and requirement of notification by industry of chemical discharges into the sewers, is now largely defunct. In essence there is no monitoring of chemical pollutants as they enter the system.
An area of great current interest is the whole matter of sludge application to farmland. The operator of the Belleville STP is OCWA, the Ontario Clean Water Agency, currently still a crown corporation. Acting through the operator, the owner of the STP which is now the municipality of Belleville pays a contractor such as Terratec or Azurix to dispose of sludge. The contractor in turn seeks out farms willing to accept the material. It was not clear to us whether farmers get paid by the contractor for use of their fields, but the farmers now have to pay for their own monitoring of chemicals which could accumulate on a field over a period of time. Metals monitoring is the main requirement, although apparently through provincial guidelines rather than regulations. Whether this approach is effective is a matter of considerable interest, and one about which Maureen Reilly of Kirkfield has written at length.
Overall one has the impression that STP's are thus being used in part as hazardous waste treatment plants, and that agricultural lands to which sludges are applied are the recipients of a variety of chemical compounds in addition to the intended organic wastes. (Another example of this inappropriate use is a proposal being floated by the remediators of a local hazardous waste site to pipe leachate from that site, contaminated as it is with metals and mono and poly aromatic hydrodrocarbons, for treatment at the Belleville STP. This approach seems inappropriate given existing pressures on sludge quality locally.) One is left with doubts about how well regulated this whole area is and what the long term consequences for agricultural lands which are subjected to this largesse will be.
Another issue is the occasional use of sludge dewatering and landfilling as an alternate route of sludge disposal. Last year for example, because of a very wet spring and early summer, contractors could not spread biosolids on farm land until later in the season . Therefore large stocks of sludge accumulated at the STP and to disperse the stockpile the MoE issued a CoA for dewatering of the sludge so that it could be transported and deposited at the Richmond Landfill site.
Norampac: Pulse Enhance Steam Reformation
The great Norampac-Dombind saga continues. Sessions in court between the three principal parties, Norampac (a merger of divisions of Domtar and Cascade International Pulp and Paper) , the MoE, and the Sierra Legal Defense Fund have been fast and furious this year. Norampac continues to delay the inevitable day when they will have to cease spreading Dombind on area roads. The Sierra Defense Fund is representing the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, the Ontario Cottager's association, and Quinte Watershed Cleanup. These groups object to the ongoing distribution of the waste black liquor, contaminated as it is with low levels of dioxins, furans and metals (the "hazardous waste redefined as product" phenomenon again) , over the watersheds of Eastern Ontario as has been the practice for a number of years.
The ultimate solution to this problem will come when chlorine is no longer used in the pulp and paper process. Dioxin-like compounds are the inevitable byproduct of that treatment. In the Trenton case the raw local pulp component is not the source of the problem as chlorine is not used at the plant. Rather it is recycled fibre collected from around the world and which was produced elsewhere using a chlorine based process. Thus it is an irony that recycling, a process that that environmentalists promote, is actually the source of this local problem.
The solution that is promoted by all parties with status at the hearings is a unit called a Pulse Enhanced Steam Reformer, patented by Thermal Chem, a U.S. firm. Interestingly there is no existing prototype in operation on the continent. However, the MoE, under pressure from the NGO's to find an alternative solution to the use of Dombind has issued a CoA for the facility to be built at the Trenton plant. This facility, judging by its description in the US EPA literature, seems to be another subspecies of hazardous waste incinerator. The Steam reformer works in two stages. In the first stage, Gasification (recall coal and wood gasification, of historical and present interest at a number of sites around the Bay of Quinte) of the black liquor is accomplished by passing it next to superheated sodium carbonate fluidized beds, with a residue of unknown composition being left behind presumably for disposal as hazardous waste. In the second stage the gas thus produced is burned and used as an energy source, part of which is fed back to sustain the first stage.
The hope is that the dioxin contaminants present in low concentrations in the black liquor are destroyed in the process. However there is no evidence to support this favourable outcome according to the MoE Approvals Branch. Thus the plan is to encourage Norampac to build this facility at a cost of perhaps $30 million or more; to do monitoring of stack emissions (although how often is not clear; current proposals for hazardous waste incinerators in Canada envision annual testing only); and then to shut the facility down if it does not meet Canadian air quality standards. At present there are only interim standards for dioxin emissions in Canada , although CCME, Canadian Council of ministers of Environment, are said to be developing Canada Wide Standards. . These kind of hazardous waste disposal facilities are typically designed to operate for twenty five years.
Startech Plasma Arc Furnace (for municipal solid waste)
And finally, on the western front, U.S Army technology may soon be imported to obliterate the used corn flakes boxes and other household and hazardous wastes of Brighton/Northumberland.
According to a recent article (April 13, 2001 Community Press) the Brighton Town Council has taken a great interest in Plasma Arc Furnace technology developed by Startech Inc to the extent of having had a tour of a demo facility belonging to the company and located in Connecticut. Indeed, the Canadian promoter representing the U.S. company Startech says that "We don't have to get approval from the municipalityWe need to get one plant up and running here before the public perceives this as a safe form of waste management. The investors are in place. All we need is a willing host in a strategic position, near a landfill site and close to the 401."
The theory here is that electricity at high voltage is applied through an electrode in the unit so that its waste contents are atomized and transformed to a few elements, hydrogen gas and silicates (sand). Sounds like a real magic machine. In a sense it is as it was originally developed for the destruction of chemical weapons in the U.S. Listed on the stock exchange the company is looking to improve its profit margins by extending its application to municipal solid waste. Using this high technology to deal with household garbage seems rather like applying a sledge hammer to a wine glass when you are finished your drink, rather than washing the glass. With respect to emissions from the facility we have seen no data but the promoter claims on their web site to be able to meet and exceed the proposed US EPA dioxin standards "by a factor of 12.5 million."
However as Paul Connett of Work on Waste USA, a chemist at St. Lawrence University who has global and long experience in this field said on April 13, 2001 when we put the question to him: "When it comes to waste there are no magic machines. Dioxin emissions are a red herring. Our task is to find ways of avoiding waste in the first place and separating it into its components is the second. Recover resources, not destroy resources. Plasma arc is a very complicated system - it might prove useful for small volumes of highly intractable residues but it would be silly to use on municipal waste." In other words Dr. Connett is suggesting that it's an inappropriately high tech solution for a low tech problem.
And now, finally, and in the nick of time..QUINTE WASTE SOLUTIONS
In the face of these challenges the future of waste management remains bright with possibility. An example is the regional Quinte Waste Solutions Centre in Trenton which celebrated its 10th anniversary in October 2000.This reuse-reduce-recycling-hazardous waste collection centre began through the efforts of Shirley Langer and Bob Argue a short decade ago and is now the destination for all "We Recycle" trucks which service the Blue Box collection system in Quinte. It is a model for North America as it approaches what we refer to as a High Grade Waste Reduction system and represents waste management as if the future mattered. Bob Argue was honoured for his leadership at the dinner by the initiation of an academic environmental scholarship in his name.
Thus there are lots of interesting environmental issues in the region which deserve monitoring by citizens. We may not have another planet to go to if we don't manage to keep this one reasonably tidy.
A. C. Goddard-Hill
Eastern Lake Ontario Environmental Research Group