EPA beginning process to kill REEF odor
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is halfway through a competitive bidding process for a technology that will kill the odor-causing bacteria at REEF, federal on-scene coordinator David Andrews said Tuesday.

“The lime that was originally placed in the wastewater during the emergency response is used to chemically mask the odor, but this technique is a long-term treatment to actually kill the bacteria that produces the hydrogen sulfide gas,” Andrews said.

The same method is used in oil mills, he said, and the results last about three to six months or possibly longer with the colder weather working to its advantage.

“Our No.1 priority is getting rid of the odor, because that is the issue of greatest public concern, and it’s also a problem for us as we’re working at the site,” Andrews said. “At first, I thought the only way to get rid of the smell was to get rid of the water, but then EPA consultants told us about this process to eradicate the bacteria in place, and that made me happy, because it will allow us to eliminate the immediate issue and deal with the waste at a reasonable pace.”

In the meantime, EPA has brought in two trailers, mowed the overgrown grass around the Twin Street facility and is controlling access to the site.

Andrews said an Emergency Response Team from New Jersey has arrived with more sensitive air monitoring equipment to test the levels of hydrogen sulfide and a range of other materials at and around the site. EPA is expanding its analysis during the early morning hours when the odor is typically at its worst, he said.

The long-range plan to treat and remove the 13 million gallons of wastewater that remain at the facility is coming together as well, Andrews said. EPA initially hoped to save time, resources and money by pre-treating the water on-site and discharging it to the neighboring J. Earl Ham treatment facility, operated by the Sylacauga Utilities Board. However, that plan is being met with hesitation from the board, which cut off REEF discharges in 2010, claiming they caused it to violate permitted levels of TKN, a nitrogen and ammonia compound.

Utilities Board General Manager Mike Richard said even if the water is pre-treated to a high standard, the J. Earl Ham plant is not capable of processing it much further.

“We told (EPA) what troubles we had with the materials from REEF in the past and that they would have to have it fairly clean before we could even consider taking it,” he said. “Even then, I don’t think it’s a very feasible option.”

Richard said the Ham facility, which is not used for the water supply, handles domestic waste and cannot break down all of the materials in the industrial wastewater, particularly TKN.

“The TKN is bound with chemicals called amines, and our process is not able to break that bond, so I don’t see any benefit in sending the waste through us,” Richard said. “Our concern is that we would just be diluting it, not treating it.”

Richard said they remain open to discussions with EPA, but cannot make a final decision until test results from the water can show it meets their requirements.

To prevent involvement in future situations like REEF, the Utilities Board adopted an item banning wastewater from centralized wastewater plants as part of its sewer usage ordinance in November 2011.

The state has also taken measures to avoid another REEF. In May, Gov. Robert Bentley signed an act requiring certain centralized waste treatment facilities to post a performance bond or other financial insurance in an amount sufficient to properly close the facility if it were to cease operations or fail to comply with state environmental regulations.

Because REEF is in bankruptcy, EPA will likely seek reimbursement for cleanup from former customers of the plant, including a number of local industries and businesses.

For updates on REEF from EPA, visit www.epaosc.org/reefwaste.

Contact Emily Adams at eadams@dailyhome.com.

© 2012