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Jefferson Co. not a likely site for D.C. sewage

April 19, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Officials with a sewage treatment facility in Washington, D.C., have considered disposing some of the plant's waste on a field in Jefferson County, but a contractor working on the project backed off the idea after deciding West Virginia's regulations were too restrictive, an official with the facility said Tuesday.

Officials with the contractor are "collecting their thoughts" about the proposal and it still might be considered, said Chris Peot, an engineer with the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant in Washington, D.C.

After Jefferson County Commission members heard about the proposal, they were concerned how the operation could affect the county's environment, particularly the county's groundwater.

The Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant handles sewage treatment for the D.C. area and surrounding communities, Peot said.

Treated wastewater from the plant is disposed into the Potomac River and the leftover "biosolids," or human manure, is used as fertilizer in forests and fields, Peot said.

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The plant generates about 1,200 tons of biosolids a day, Peot said.

Commission member Rusty Morgan said he was concerned about any industrial materials that would be in the waste.

Peot said the waste from the plant includes some industrial waste, but the plant does not have a lot of heavy industry customers and said that part of the waste is "extremely clean" based on federal Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Most of the spreading of biosolids on fields is done on farms in Virginia, Peot said.

Farmers are not paid to accept the waste and it is applied to fields by contractors working for the Blue Plains facility, Peot said.

"Farmers all like it. It's free fertilizer," Peot said.

Within the last year, a farmer in Jefferson County has expressed interest in accepting some of the waste, Peot said. Peot declined to identify the farmer or his farm's location.

Officials with Synagro Inc., a contractor with offices in Champlain, Va., began looking into the proposal and started studying the state's regulations for such an operation, Peot said. Synagro officials interpreted the regulations one way and state Department of Environmental Protection officials interpreted them a different way, Peot said.

Because Synagro officials had concerns about the state's requirements, they backed off on the idea, but Peot said the proposal has not been abandoned and it might be considered again in the summer.

Despite concerns from commission members, Peot said he has not heard of any reports of groundwater contamination from the biosolids being spread on fields.

"There are some people who may take issue with that, but we don't have any complaints from the state. It's a sensitive issue because it's human waste," Peot said.

Commission member Dale Manuel has filed a Freedom of Information request with the Department of Environmental Protection to determine what information the agency has about the proposal.

Once that information has been received, Manuel wants to meet with local officials who are experts in the field to discuss the situation, he said Tuesday.

Manuel said he has been reading about the practice of sewage waste being dumped on fields and while it is considered an excellent fertilizer, communities need to be careful about what they are receiving.

"This has two sides, and I don't have all the facts," Manuel said.

Morgan said using sewage waste for fertilizer is attractive to farmers because commercial fertilizer is becoming expensive.

Morgan said he has been reading about the practice on Web sites and while it is presented in a positive light on some sites, some people state adamant opposition to it on other sites.

Morgan said he has received calls from Jefferson County residents about the proposal and "they are absolutely opposed" to it.

Morgan said he thinks the county could pass a law controlling such operations.

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