Synagro, the nation's largest biosolids developer, hosted what actually was a very informative Q&A session last night before a hostile audience of about 70 people at Plainfield Township Volunteer Fire Company. The company brought a panel of six experts to answer questions about plans that Synagro and the Green Knights (now I know why they are green) have for a little bakery at the Waste Management landfill. They won't be baking Krispy Kremes, but instead plan on using excess heat from the Green Knights Electricity Generator to bake sludge cakes. This will then be converted into Class A sludge pellets, the same thing you can find at any Home Depot. You can see a visual description below. Audience members wrote questions on cards, which were then posed to panelists by former State Representative Rich Grucela, who was recruited to act as an unpaid and neutral moderator.
It was an impressive panel that included Jim Hecht, Synagro's Project Developer; Pam Racey, a Synagro business development manager who has already spearheaded eight of these heat drying projects; John Goodwin, a Synagro engineer who has been involved in the startup and commissioning of biosolid projects for 24 years; Frank DeSantis, a NESTEC, Inc.engineer with expertise in pollution control and heat recovery; Ned Beecher, Executive Director for North East Biosolids and Residuals Ass'n (NEBRA); and Dr. Herschel "Chip" Elliott, who is actively engaged in the national debate on the land-based recycling of biosolids.
Nobody asked why a shit expert like Dr. Elliott would have a nickname like Chip, but that would have been my first question. He is the only panelist who was being paid.
|Jim Hecht got heck|
What are biosolids? To answer that, I have to talk about shit, the stuff that comes out of your ass, unless you're a judge. Shit makes its way to a waste treatment plant, where it is called sludge, but you know and I know that shit is shit. Once it's treated, it gets promoted and is called sludge. Biosolids are treated sludge.
Let's face it. Until going to the bathroom is outlawed, we are going to have sludge and biosolids. That's just the way it is. Garbage in. Garbage out. The question is what do we do with it. Some like to incinerate it, which can expose the immediate surrounding area to airborne pathogens. Others dump it in the ocean, which kills surrounding sea life and explains that unusual flavor in your sushi. Still others heap it into your local landfill, where in concentrated form, it begins to leach into the soil and ground water.
The solution to pollution is dilution. That's what Synagro makes possible. It makes sense to spread it over a large area like a farm where it actually does some good. We buy these pellets at Home Depot for our gardens. But this audience was so virulently opposed to the idea that there was no way they were going to be satisfied.
|Rich Grucela had a tough job.|
Here's what the panelists said in response to questions.
1. Beecher made the point that waste when it arrives at a waste treatment plant is in its most toxic form. But industries with toxic byproducts must remove them before sending the waste on its way. People who work at waste treatment plants are no sicker than the population at large.
2. The biosolids being produced are what are called Class "A" and are free of pathogens. They will be heated to a temperature of 176 degrees, according to Dr.Elliott. He said the heat kills them. When confronted with a statement that the heat would have to be 3000 degrees, Dr. Elliott said that if that is true, you should not drink pasteurized milk, which occurs at 72 degrees Celsius (161 degrees Farenheit).
3. Goodwin stated that 300 tons of sludge will come in every day, and 100 tons of pellets will go out. The remainder is water. According to Goodwin, that water will be released into either the Little Bushkill or Waltz Creek after being treated to remove any contaminant.
4. There will be increased truck traffic, according to Hecht. But it's about 14 trucks total per day. The operation will run 24/7. If a truck is involved in an accident en route, Synagro is responsible for cleanup and has crews on standby. It transports 11 million tons of biosolids per year.
5. Hecht has two concerns himself. The first is odor. There are scrubbers to ensure that the only odor people will notice will be the odor from the landfill. His second concern is the Little Bushkill, which is an impaired stream as a result of pollution that has nothing to do with Synagro.
6. Synagro was caught up in a bribery scandal in Detroit nearly twenty years ago. But neither Synagro nor any of its employees were ever charged with criminal activity. Charges were brought against a consultant. Hecht said that, after that incident, the company decided to investigate every person before doing business with them.
"There are tons of science out there," said Racey. "The whole topic is emotional because it starts out with human waste." On the basis of the groans that came from the audience, I'd say she's right. But one woman who held her hand up the entire evening made clear she just doesn't want it. "I don't have the degrees you have,"she told the panel. She thanked them for what they said,and periodically admonished others who were acting up. But she is against the shit bakery.
"This is our community," this unidentified woman said. "You people don't live here. We have the landfill. We have enough. The Green Knights get enough money."
There were questions about the Green Knights and their money, buy Synagro was unable to answer them and the Green Knights gave no answers.