Tag Archives: sewage sludge

The murky management of Guelph’s sewage sludge

A Four Part Series

Note to readers: This is the third part of a special guelphspeaks exclusive series of the state of the city and the many unanswered questions that taxpayers should be asking.  As usual, guelphspeaks urges all viewers to tell their friends and family to follow the blog that works to keep citizens aware of how their city works. No smoke and mirrors, just the unvarnished commentary and facts.

Part Three

                Sewage treatment saga

Posted September 21, 2012

Why spend an estimated $20 million to build two stainless steel glass-lined storage silos for collecting processed sewage sludge, most of which is currently going into landfill sites?

Has the 2011 request for proposal (RFP) to build the storage tanks been completed and a contract awarded?

Has the storage tank construction begun at the wastewater treatment plant?

How is this project being financed?

What are the terms of the contract with Lystek, the human waste fertilizer company based in Cambridge, to take Guelph’s sewage sludge and convert it to liquid to be spread on agricultural lands?

Does Lystek’ system infuse dewatered sewage sludge with raw sewage from porta-pottys, septic systems and aircraft toilets to liquify for distribution?

What are the dangers to residents of consuming food products grown on lands fertilized with human waste?

Are consumers warned of potential dangers of foods grown on lands fertilized with human waste?

Why spend more money to turn human waste into fertilizer when experiments with the Lystek system in the past five years has resulted in utilizing only 15 per cent of the sewage plant output?

Are the storage silos going to store sewer sludge from other municipalities?

Why is 85 per cent of Guelph’s sewage sludge being transported to three different landfill sites in Ontario and the U.S.?

Is the plan to stop transferring the material to landfills?

Why hasn’t the city informed the public in clear terms what the plan is to dispose of sewage sludge?

When staff is questioned, why is there an embargo on revealing sewage waste plans?

What is the position of the federal and provincial health and environmental authorities in respect to using human waste as agriculture fertilizer?

              Stimulus projects

Why spend federal/provincial infrastructure stimulus funding on bicycle lanes, Sleeman centre time clock?

Why was it necessary to call the $30 million note with Guelph Hydro to finance stimulus projects?

Did the city meet the federal/provincial stimulus completion deadlines in order to obtain the qualifying grants?

If not, were taxpayers forced to pay additional funds to complete the stimulus projects?

Are all the approved stimulus projects completed?

If not, what projects remain to be completed?

Would it be a good idea to inform taxpayers of the status of these projects that have disrupted the city for some three years?

Tomorrow, September 22, the fourth part of this series discusses the staff’s response to a council directive to maintain a three per cent 2013 property tax increase.

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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.



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