Rules and Regs: Septage Processor Caught in Budding PFAS Problem

Also in this month's update, a New York restaurateur faces huge fines for lacking a septic permit

Rules and Regs: Septage Processor Caught in Budding PFAS Problem

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Biological Recycling Co., a New Hampshire company that processes septage and spreads sludge on fields, has been notified by the state that it is the likely source of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) contamination of private drinking water wells. PFAS is an umbrella term for a category of chemicals used in a wide variety of products, including nonstick cookware and military-grade firefighting foam.

Because of the contamination, Biological Recycling Co. of East Kingston is supplying bottled water to six affected homes near its property, according to news reports. Because there is no public water source near the homes, the likely solution will be a water treatment system at each house, says Jim Martin, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Services.

A news report says tests of four drinking water wells discovered combined concentrations of perfluorooctanoic acid and perfluorooctane sulfonate (also called PFOA and PFOS) ranging from 83.5 ppt to 174.8 ppt. The state standard for water is 70 ppt. Seven of 10 groundwater monitoring wells on or around the company’s property exceeded standards. 

The state accuses company owner Daniel Bodwell of spreading nonresidential sludge on land. Judy Houston, a DES enforcement engineer, was quoted as saying that Bodwell did not mention an intent to stockpile and compost dewatered septage, and this is not covered by his permit. The state also accuses him of building an unpermitted lagoon to store material, and the state says groundwater on that part of the property is too high for safe construction of a lagoon.

Only household sludge may be land spread because septage from schools or commercial buildings may contain cleaning chemicals that contain PFAS, Houston says. 

“Until (Bodwell) can verify with his septic haulers what kinds of sources the material comes from, we don’t know if it came from just toilets. It could be janitors’ sinks at a school or nursing home,” Houston says, according to the news website “There would be the potential for PFAS in wax strippers or degreasing products in kitchens.” 

New Hampshire isn’t the only place where PFAS is a budding issue for the wastewater industry. All sewage sludge tested by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection was contaminated with PFAS, according to news outlet The Intercept. The state tested 44 samples from farms and other facilities that spread compost made with sludge, and all samples showed at least one PFAS chemical. Only two of the samples had PFAS concentrations below the standard that Maine set in early 2018. 

In March, the state reported it would temporarily stop sludge spreading when milk from a dairy farm in Arundel was found to be contaminated with PFAS that likely came from sludge used as fertilizer.

There are currently 37 bills in Congress that address PFAS chemicals. One would add PFAS to the federal government’s Toxics Release Inventory. Another would require blood tests for Defense Department firefighters. A third bill would list PFAS under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund environmental cleanup program. A fourth would phase in a complete ban on the manufacture and distribution of the substances. 

When the National Defense Authorization Act passed the Senate in June, it carried an amendment that requires manufacturers to report air and water discharges of PFAS chemicals, adds PFAS to the list of chemicals tracked by the U.S. Geological Survey and requires public utilities to test tap water for PFAS chemicals. The House of Representatives is expected to consider the bill. 

PFAS have been made since the 1940s and are used in a wide variety of products including carpet, fabric, paper packaging and some firefighting foams. Two members of the chemical family, PFOA and PFOS, were voluntarily phased out by manufacturers and replaced with a new class of PFAS compounds called GenX. 

Although research on the effects of PFAS is not complete, results so far suggest that high concentrations in humans may increase cholesterol levels, decrease response to vaccines, increase risk of thyroid disease, decrease fertility in women and increase the risk of high blood pressure or preeclampsia in pregnant women. 

Suffolk County Considers Fees to Raise Infrastructure Funding

A bill in the New York Legislature would let Suffolk County voters decide whether to charge themselves for wastewater projects, but the measure is not gaining traction. 

A fee on each gallon of water could raise up to $70 million for water projects including nitrogen-removing onsite systems, municipal sewer expansions and wastewater plant upgrades. Advocates of the bill estimate an annual cost of $60 to $70 for the median user, but the Suffolk County Water Authority, which does not support the idea, estimates an annual cost of $165 for the average household.

Suffolk County, which occupies the eastern tip of Long Island, is plagued with algae blooms tied to high concentrations of nitrogen, and in turn tied to the large number of cesspools used for home wastewater treatment. The county and some municipalities have passed laws requiring nitrogen-reducing onsite systems in all new construction and remodeling projects.

New York Restaurateur Faces Huge Fines for Lacking Septic Permit

Also in New York, a town of Carmel board member faces fines of up to $37,000 per day for not having a septic permit for his lakeside restaurant. Blu restaurant, owned by council member Mike Barile and a partner, has a drainfield under its parking lot, he told state inspectors, according to The Journal News of White Plains.

The field is 50 to 80 feet from the shore of Mahopac Lake, which supplies water to 450 families. The onsite system was to have been repaired in 1991 when it served a smaller hamburger stand, but no documents exist to show the repair was completed, the newspaper says.

Iowa’s Private Wells Have a Contamination Problem

According to an investigation by the Environmental Working Group and the Iowa Environmental Council, private wells in the state are contaminated with unsafe amounts of coliform bacteria and nitrate. Both contaminants enter groundwater from farms, and both are linked to human health problems.

Between 230,000 and 290,000 state residents depend on private wells for their drinking water, yet in 16 years of testing, only 55,000 wells were tested for nitrate or bacteria. Of the wells tested, 22,000 were positive for coliform at least once. More than 4,300 wells tested positive for bacteria every time. The Onsite Observer, newsletter of the Iowa Onsite Waste Water Association, summarized the study.

Septic Tanks in Wyoming City Leaching Nitrate Near Aquifer

The Laramie (Wyoming) City Council recently received a report saying septic tanks near the city are leaching nitrate in an area where the Casper Aquifer is especially vulnerable to contamination. The aquifer supplies about 60% of the city’s drinking water.

The study — funded primarily by Albany County and with some contributions from the city — found high levels of nitrogen and ammonia as deep as 35 feet. The sandstone of the aquifer starts at a depth of 25 feet.

Elected officials at the meeting questioned how much they could do since the septic systems in question are just outside city limits.

Washington Wineries to Pay New Wastewater Discharge Permit Fees

More than 150 wineries will pay new permit fees as part of a rule revision by the state Department of Ecology.

Large and midsize wineries now must have a wastewater discharge permit like those required of manufacturers. The new rules limit irrigation with recycled water that was used to clean bottles, barrels, tanks and other equipment. The rules also govern storage ponds and use of water on dusty roads. Wastewater containing cleaning chemicals and organic matter could be a source of pollution, the department says, but it also has never documented such an incident.

Rules apply to wineries that make at least 17,835 gallons of wine or juice annually. Fees range from $296 to $33,196 annually depending on production.

Clallam County, Washington, Proposes Septic System Fees

Also in Washington state, the Clallam County Board of Health is proposing a $13 annual fee on septic tanks to fund its onsite management program. Historically, the program has been funded with grants, but officials say funding hasn’t been sustainable, according to the Peninsula Daily News. The county’s environmental health division requires regular onsite inspections, ensures failing systems are repaired and maintains records.

A fee on each system would generate about $260,000 annually and fund 2.5 staff jobs. The board is considering eliminating fees to review contracts and system status reports. That would cut revenue by about $34,000.

There are about 20,000 onsite systems in the county, and since 2007, about 700 have failed. The county is northwest of Seattle along the top of the Olympic Peninsula.

If approved, the fee would take effect in 2021 when grant money runs out.


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