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Violations Cited

A sewage treatment plant operator has been charged by federal officials with violating the Clean Water Act by discharging sewage without a permit.

Sanville Utilities Inc. constructed and operated a sewage treatment plant near Bassett, Va., EPA said. According to EPA, the plant had a capacity of approximately 40,000 gallons per day in 1999, when the defendant failed to pay the electric bill. After repeated attempts to get the plant to pay the bill, the electric company cut off the power and the plant began to discharge untreated sewage into a nearby creek.

Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) determined that the creek had a fecal coliform bacteria level 160 times the maximum allowable limit, EPA reported. Bacteria from sewage can cause infections and intestinal diseases in people who come in contact with contaminated surface waters.

If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum sentence of up to one year in prison and/or a fine of up to $25,000 per day of violation, officials say.

Waiver Extended

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) supports extending a waiver that would allow San Diego to treat sewage at levels below those required by the federal Clean Water Act.

In a draft wastewater permit recently issued, the EPA said it would grant the city's request to renew the waiver for five years. The Metropolitan Wastewater Department has operated with a waiver since the early 1980s that allows the city to use advanced primary treatment rather than secondary treatment on sewage discharged into the Pacific Ocean.

"The EPA's draft wastewater permit is fair and reasonable," San Diego mayor Dick Murphy pronounced. "I do think that it will protect our ocean environment without imposing undue financial burdens on the city's ratepayers." City officials have long said that some of the Clean Water Act's provisions are stricter than necessary for ocean environments.

Contamination Prompts Process Switch

In Maryland, a state official said a switch to a disinfection process using chlorine ended the flow of contaminated wastewater from Hagerstown's sewage plant into Antietam Creek, but the city's top sewer plant official disagrees.

Disinfection was one of two main steps in the sewage treatment process stopped when the plant was partially shut down. The plant was shut down after chemicals killed sewage-eating bacteria the plant uses to make wastewater more treatable.

"With the chlorine in place as a temporary fix, the dumping of untreated sewage into the Antietam Creek ended. They are removing the pathogens that we're concerned about," Maryland Department of the Environment spokesman Richard McIntire says. The treatment process did improve with the use of chlorine, Hagerstown water pollution control manager Rick Thomas confirms. But about 5.6 million gallons of partially untreated wastewater was still going into the creek each day for up to a week, Thomas says.

The chemicals toluene and xylene, which are common in plastics, insecticides, paint and many other manufacturing products, were the contaminants that killed the bacteria and prompted the shutdown, Thomas explains. Although the chemicals have been identified, it was not known who put the chemicals into the sewer system and how much of the chemicals made their way to the city plant. "It narrowed it down to a zillion possible culprits," he says. "The chemicals could have been dumped by a business or someone trucking it in and dumping it in manholes."

Thomas says it was highly unlikely the chemicals came from a residence because it would take a large amount of the chemicals to affect the plant as they did.

When the plant was shut down, the high-purity oxygen used in the treatment process was turned off. The city uses the oxygen to help the sewage-eating bacteria thrive and to make the ozone used to disinfect the wastewater. The phases of the treatment process that filter out large material and sludge continued as normal while other parts of the treatment process were stopped.

Without ozone to disinfect the wastewater, high levels of fecal coliform bacteria flowed into the creek. The Hagerstown plant switched to using chlorine to disinfect the wastewater as it left the plant.

The public has been advised not to come into contact with the creek. State officials inspected wildlife on the creek and found no ill effects from the contaminated wastewater. McIntire and Washington County health officials have said the polluted wastewater would pose no risk to drinking water since any contaminants would be diluted by the creek and later the Potomac River.

The Latest Carbon Treatment System

U.S. Microbics Inc. has announced that its wholly-owned technology subsidiary, XyclonyX, recently filed a patent application for the "Treatment of Contaminated Activated Charcoal" with the United States Patent Office.

The new invention relates to the treatment of carbon filtration systems and the use of microorganisms for removal of contaminating hydrocarbons from such systems.

The patent application follows from the successful field trials using a blend of hydrocarbon-eating bacteria to regenerate used carbon from water treatment systems used in refineries and similar to carbon filtration systems used by consumers in their kitchens.

The system, called Bio-GAC, was developed in response to industry demand for an economical alternative to offsite regeneration of spent carbon. Not only is offsite regeneration expensive, it is time consuming, ties up additional carbon inventory, and only 50 percent to 75 percent of the original carbon is returned from the regeneration process.

The typical industries with potential beneficial use include:

  • Local potable water treatment companies, boards and districts

  • Ground water remediation sites

  • Oil and gas production, transportation, pipeline, bulking, refining, distribution, retail and gas stations

  • Commercial and industrial facilities with wastewater production and/or permit requirements to treat facility discharges

  • Chemical and petrochemical facilities

U.S. Microbics plans to capitalize on its patent and patent-pending technology by forming strategic alliances and joint ventures within the carbon industry. Continued revenue streams are expected through licensing of the technology with both upfront fees and ongoing royalties.

GE Entering the Treatment Market

In a move that will launch GE into a new business segment and add $1 billion in annual sales, GE Specialty Materials, a unit of General Electric Co., recently announced that it has entered into an agreement to acquire the water treatment services business of BetzDearborn from Hercules Inc. for $1.8 billion.

BetzDearborn is a global service company providing engineered chemical treatment of water and process systems in industrial applications. It is the second largest industrial water treatment service business in the world. Globally, the water treatment business segment is a $6-billion opportunity.

Chlorination Suit Is Filed

Twenty-five women already have filed suit against Chesapeake, Va., and nearly 170 have expressed the intention to do so, claiming that spikes in the amount of chlorination byproducts in their water caused their pregnancies to terminate in miscarriages in the 1980s and 1990s, theWashington Postreported.

Although no formal study has been done on the miscarriage rate in Chesapeake, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of a high rate of miscarriage, and some women suffered multiple miscarriages in the 1980s and 1990s, the newspaper reported. The suit seeks $1 billion in damages.

The lawsuit alleges that the city did not inform residents that levels of chlorination byproducts, which are formed when chlorine used to disinfect water mixes with organic matter, sometimes spiked more than 10 times above supposedly safe levels, the newspaper reported.

Chemical and water industry officials have debated whether chlorination byproducts can be linked to birth defects, calling the body of scientific information inconclusive, according to the Post. "To have liability, in our opinion, you have to prove there's a cause and an effect," Chesapeake city attorney Ronald Hallman told the Post. "I haven't seen any study that has proven a causal connection."

However, a study done by the California Department of Health Services, which analyzed 5,000 pregnant women, found that women who drank more than five glasses of tap water per day with 75 or more parts per billion of chlorination byproducts were 65 percent more likely to suffer miscarriages, the newspaper reported. Pregnant women often are advised by their doctors to drink several glasses of water per day.

The suit against Chesapeake is being considered a landmark case in the issue over chlorination byproducts, and is being watched closely by other communities.