Is Dundalk a harbinger of waste disposal trouble for Guelph?

Posted September 17, 2012

The Ontario Community of Dundalk is currently divided over a project being constructed in the town’s Eco-Park to process municipal biosolid sewage waste from communities as far away as 100 kilometers.

What are biosolids?  Plainly it is the sludge material left over from treatment of sewage at a municipal sewage plant.

The Dundalk Organic Material Recovery Centre (OMRC) is being built by Cambridge -based Lystek International. Lystek specializes in commercializing biosolids treatment technology from wastewater facilities. They claim that the Lystek processed sewage sludge, although it still contains all the toxic metals, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, makes a liquid biosolids that has lower bacteria and may have less odour.  Because it is liquid, there is more of it than the dewatered biosolids.

Guelph’s sewage operation produces approximately 20,000 tonnes of dewatered sewage sludge every year.  Lystek equipment was piloted in Guelph and by 2007, an agreement was signed, requiring the city to buy and install a full commercial-sized Lystek operation in our city at a cost of  $1.25 million.

But Guelph puts only a small fraction of its sewage sludge through the Lystek system.  For the past 5 years only about 15 per cent of the Guelph wastewater plant sludge output was processed through the city- owned Lystek equipment, for distribution on farmer’s fields.

Distribution to farms is undertaken under the Ontario Nutrient Management Act regulations through a contract to Terratec, a subsidiary of the giant American Water Services. Spreading the product can only be done between April and November because of weather conditions. Also, many farmers are concerned about damage to land and livestock if they use treated human waste as fertilizer. No organic farms can use Lystek’s products or any kind of sludge.

So what happens to the rest of the sludge? The Guelph sewage plant never sleeps. It is a never-ending process of treating human waste. Accordingly, 85 percent of the dewatered biosolids from Guelph goes into landfills in Ontario and the United States without running through the Lystek equipment.

Back to Lystek’s Dundalk operation. Although still under construction, it has not been approved by the Ministry of Environment (MOE). Is all this starting to sound familiar? Has not Guelph’s $34 million wet waste-composting plant yet to receive MOE approval to commence full operation?

Burbling in the background of all this is a concerted effort by a University of Waterloo professor to sell a sludge system that doesn’t address the toxic metals, chemicals and pharmaceuticals found in Guelph’s biosolid sewage sludge.

The science supporting this is beyond my pay grade.

What I do understand is the danger of spreading Lystek treated human waste on pastures and fields.  Sewer wastes come not only from homes but also from industries, hospitals, porta potties and airlines.  Why can’t human waste be spread such as manure from farm animals, a practice used for centuries? Because the toxic elements in human originated sewage waste can filter up through the food chain to our tables from agriculture lands using the stuff.   For example, cows feeding on Lystek treated pastures could ingest sludge- tainted food and pass it on to unsuspecting families and food processing enterprises.

Once Lystek finishes processing sewage from the municipal plants, the finished product is not a nice, fluffy dried compost, it’s a stinky, liquid slurry. They claim is it is perfectly safe to use as fertilizer.

Now here’s the kicker. In 2006, the City of Guelph issued a request for proposal (RFP), to build a super-sized biosolids storage facility, then estimated to cost $11 million. It is now estimated to cost more than $20 million. This was planned to store Lystek’s “product” until it could be disposed in the warmer months.  The planning that went into this would permit Lystek to pump in biosolid material obtained from other Ontario communities.  But since Guelph can only find a few farm fields to spread with Lystek, why store the Lystek when they can’t even spread the current output?

The city’s rationale is that the current practice of sending biosolids to the landfill would end and the result would be the nirvana of recycling sewage for the public good.  But the public good is not served by delivering toxic metals and chemicals to our food lands. And clearly farmer demand is very limited.

Guelph has built its $34 million wet waste composting plant to convert home-produced organic materials.  The design called for processing 60,000 tonnes of wet waste per year. But the city produces only 10,000 tonnes per year. To the rescue comes Maple Reinders, the plant designer and contractor. Through its subsidiary company, Aim Environmental, a contract with the Region of Waterloo guaranteed another 20,000 tonnes per year.

This still leaves another 20,000 tonnes in total capacity remaining.

It is possible to mix treated biosolid sewage sludge with residential wet waste to produce usable compost?  While current Ontario regulations make this unlikely, it may be coming in the future.  As an aside, in Denmark, they burn the biosolids to heat their buildings.

Could Guelph be planning to use its new Watson Road composter to process liquid biosolids? This would create the mother of all ammonia smells providing an even greater public protest.

What are the terms of the contracts made with Lystek and Maple Reinders?

Or are we stuck with a white elephant on Watson Road that is overpriced and overbuilt? Why should Guelph taxpayers spend $20 million to create housing silos for storing sewage plant sludge that has little or no market?

This party is only beginning.



Filed under Between the Lines

2 responses to “Is Dundalk a harbinger of waste disposal trouble for Guelph?

  1. Glen N. Tolhurst

    The situation with with the Guelph storing of sewage plant sludge reminds me of a Ronald Reagan quote: “Government is like a baby. An alimentary canal with a big appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other”. It would appear to be very applicable to Guelph council.

    • Glen N. Tolhust: I like it! Ain’t it the truth. While Reagan had a nice turn of phrase his image as the 20th Century Republican icon is overstated. Anyway,They named an airport and aircraft carrier after him.

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