The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will experiment with different options until one is found that treats the wastewater to meet the limits of its discharge permit from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, said federal on-scene coordinator Jason Booth.
“Unfortunately, the current system is not capturing all of the sediments we wish to filter out,” Booth said. “There is always a trial and error period when you do these kind of operations. We will continue trying different configurations for treatment until we get things right.”
The $240,000 treatment system, provided by Birmingham-based Rain For Rent, was delivered to the abandoned wastewater facility last month. EPA hoped to begin discharging treated water into nearby Shirtee Creek by March, but the strict water quality standards have not yet been met. Roughly14-17 million gallons of untreated industrial waste have remained at the Twin Street site since it closed in late 2010.
Booth said he has decided to delay further community meetings, which have been held regularly since EPA began work at REEF in October, until a viable water treatment is in place.
When the water is ready for discharge, Booth has said it will take about three months to completely empty the site, depending on the rate of discharge.
Aside from water testing, workers have been removing oily, and highly odorous, sludge found in one of the three basins onsite. The sludge is mixed with sawdust and dried soil before it is transported to an offsite landfill. They are also working to treat and empty various tanks, drums and other containers left at the abandoned facility.
EPA has previously treated the basins with hydrogen peroxide to kill bacteria that is the primary cause of the familiar stench REEF emits throughout the city. Booth said the odor may still return at times because they must occasionally turn on aerators in the wastewater basins to create an aerobic environment.
“When oxygen is present, it helps certain bacteria break down, nitrates and ammonia, which we need to lower in order to discharge into Shirtee Creek,” Booth said.
Air monitoring at the site will continue to assure levels of hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas produced by bacteria in the wastewater, remain in safe levels.
Contact Emily Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.