Terry Perry bent over and picked up a moist, thick, and black-as-coal handful of muck. “It’s just like mud,” said Mr. Perry, who for years has made a living selling the substance that looks like mud but is more than dirt and water.
That “mud” is the end product of everything flushed down every toilet in Toledo, poured down every sink drain, and then swept through every mile of sewer pipe. Sewage sludge — a pathogen-laden solid left behind in the wastewater treatment process after dewatering — has been a topic of debate for years.
The big questions always have been where to put the sludge and what to do with it. But in recent months, questions have arisen about its safety and its impact on Maumee Bay and Lake Erie. Phosphorus in the water is considered a contributing factor to algal blooms.
All the sludge created at the city’s sewer plant in North Toledo — about 50,000 tons a year — is trucked to Facility 3, the 500-acre, man-made, diked-in area that juts into Maumee Bay from Oregon. It was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1970s to house contaminated sediment dredged from the Maumee River and Maumee Bay shipping channels.
There, Mr. Perry’s company, S&L Fertilizer of East Toledo, mixes the sludge with material dredged from the shipping channels and a small amount of spent lime obtained from the city’s water treatment plant in East Toledo, to create a product called Nu-Soil. Under its contract, S&L sends Nu-Soil back to the city of Toledo to use as “cover” at the Hoffman Road Landfill.
But Nu-Soil has been used as fill for places such as Ravine Park in East Toledo, a retirees’ golf course, and a private residence on Manhattan Boulevard, city records show. Some is sold to farmers, Mr. Perry said.
Review of records
A Blade review of records from the city of Toledo and the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority shows a number of conflicting statements, including whether Nu-Soil has been presented as a so-called “Class A” product, which is considered pathogen-free, or as a “Class B,” which is considered to contain dangerous pathogens such as E. coli and fecal coliform bacteria.
For a dozen years, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency did not require S&L to track and report where the Nu-Soil went, state EPA Director Scott Nally said in a February, 2012, letter. But that changed as of Dec. 1, with the state requiring S&L to test Nu-Soil for pathogens and to keep records on how it was used.
The new Ohio EPA permit for the operation requires all the Class B pathogen-laden sludge be removed from Facility 3 within two years after dumping ceases.
“Currently, we do not have accurate records regarding the amount of Nu-Soil that has been removed from Facility 3 by S&L Fertilizer,” Mr. Nally wrote to Toledo Councilman D. Michael Collins, who has been concerned about the storage of 50,000 tons of contaminated sludge annually at Facility 3, along the shores of Maumee Bay.
The city’s own records on Nu-Soil going to the Hoffman Road Landfill raise questions about how much sludge is being trucked back and forth across the river and how much the city should pay for sludge removal.
A Sept. 10, 2012, record from Mayor Mike Bell’s administration states S&L had delivered 9,606 tons of Nu-Soil to the landfill last year up to that point. The same document stated that through September, 2012, S&L had billed the city $788,579 for sludge hauling.
A city record dated Oct. 31 states S&L had hauled 19,508 tons since December, 2011 — suggesting almost 10,000 tons was taken to the landfill during the months of December, 2011, and October, 2012. Sludge from other months ranged from 4,715 tons recorded in October, 2012, to 267 tons in April, 2012.
Even though the city gets the Nu-Soil at no cost and it has used the material as cover since 1988, 30,000 tons is stockpiled at the landfill because the Ohio EPA ordered Toledo to stop using it pending tests, said Toledo’s public utilities director, Dave Welch. “I am frustrated with the fact that this has gone down this path,” Mr. Welch said. “We have been using this for 20-something years, and all of a sudden I am told we can’t use it.”
Dina Pierce, a spokesman for the Ohio EPA, said that is incorrect. “They were given authorization in April, 2012, to use Nu-Soil as cover for idle sections of the landfill and they could still use it as daily cover,” she said.
Ohio EPA Director Nally called Nu-Soil “safe and benign.”
“They are hauling it and mixing it with the dredge material, so I was thrilled with the whole process,” Mr. Nally said. “Until the phosphorus issue arose, I was not as concerned ... Now that we are trying to get a better handle on the phosphorus issue, we have asked them to track the tonnage. It is not so much I am concerned over the biosolids.”
Mr. Collins is concerned about storing contaminated sludge at Facility 3. He’s questioned repeatedly if that has contributed to toxic algal blooms in Maumee Bay and Lake Erie.
A 2010 satellite picture from Bowling Green-based company Blue Water Satellite Inc. appears to show concentrations of E. coli and phosphorus around Facility 3. In a letter to a Blue Water distributor, Natural Resources Management LLC, the company’s chief technical officer, Robert Vincent, concluded Facility 3 probably was a source of the phosphorus in the bay, and possibly E. coli.
“The thing to do now is a stringent compliance that has not taken place,” Councilman Collins said. “There is no evidence that it is safe, because it leaches out. I asked the Bell administration to allow the University of Toledo to investigate the possibility of sludge leaking into the water and the university agreed to do it for $7,000, but the city refused to fund the study.”
The Blue Water Satellite data have been dismissed by Joe Cappel, the port authority’s director of cargo development, as unreliable, by Mr. Nally as unproved, and by Mr. Perry as nonsense.
“Ohio EPA believes that the science of detecting phosphorus and bacteria levels in land and water through satellite imagery is still unproven,” Mr. Nally wrote to Mr. Collins in 2012.
Mr. Perry, on Nov. 10 inside his East Toledo office, held up several poster-sized enlargements of the Blue Water Satellite image and pointed out that the identifiable E. coli and phosphorus are shown at the Maumee River’s mouth, not near Facility 3 in the northernmost corner.
Call for inquiry
Not everyone at the port authority is convinced sludge at Facility 3 is problem-free. Jerry Chabler, a port authority board member, took an interest in the debate after Mr. Collins and others raised the issue and since has said he would recommend asking the federal EPA to investigate.
Mr. Perry, Port Authority President Paul Toth, and Mayor Bell reject concerns over storing sludge at Facility 3. Mr. Toth and Mr. Cappel go a step further and support the removal of lightly contaminated dredge material from Facility 3 to be reused in S&L’s mixture at the city landfill, as fill, or on farm fields producing food. The port authority wants to keep Facility 3 as clear as possible to make room for shipments of material dredged to clear the shipping channel, Mr. Toth said.
“We have been working on beneficial reuse of dredge material certainly since I started with the port authority in 1988,” Mr. Toth said. “It’s an issue being considered all across the country.”
Mr. Bell said: “I don’t know why this keeps popping up. There is no issue.”
During a Nov. 30 trip to Facility 3, Mr. Perry explained Nu-Soil is made up of three waste products. His formula is 88 percent dredgings, 10 percent sewage sludge, and 2 percent spent lime.
S&L hauls 50,000 wet tons of Toledo’s sludge annually to Facility 3. Mr. Perry said a wet ton is 80 percent water and 20 percent solid, so he factors that amount as 10,000 dry tons of sludge. After curing three months at Facility 3, the water evaporates or sinks into the ground, Mr. Perry said.
As 10 percent of the Nu-Soil mixture, that sludge would create 100,000 tons of Nu-Soil a year. With the city accepting 25,000 tons of Nu-Soil a year at the landfill, that leaves 75,000 tons a year either still at Facility 3 or going elsewhere.
“We sell it on the open market and we never have any left,” Mr. Perry said. “We have been doing Class B biosolid land application for years.”
A city record obtained by The Blade shows 29,850 tons of Nu-Soil delivered to the Hoffman Road Landfill in 2010. An additional 6,529 tons was marked as delivered to the city, with Ravine Park listed as the destination, in 2010. The same record states 32,195 tons was sent in 2007 to the landfill and 19,971 tons to Ravine Park.
Before S&L’s exclusive city contract, a Toledo company called N-Viro International handled Toledo’s sewage sludge and turned it into a pathogen-free Class A product. N-Viro took 50 percent of the waste and mixed it with high alkaline products to raise the temperature and kill E. coli, worms, and fecal coliform. The company then sold its product to farmers across northwest Ohio for its fertilizerlike qualities.
S&L has taken the remaining sewage sludge to Facility 3 for years, but after the 2011 contract, it got exclusive rights to all the city’s sludge and is paid more than $760,000 by Toledo to take it off its hands.
City records show N-Viro was paid $1.14 million a year in both 2008 and 2009 for “waste water treatment.” S&L was paid $269,548 in 2008 and $210,174 in 2009 for “waste water treatment.” S&L was additionally paid $1.9 million in 2008 and $1.1 million in 2009 for “water treatment.”
The city’s award of the contract to S&L over N-Viro in 2011 was controversial. According to a Sept. 7, 2011, memo from Chris McGibbeny, department of public utilities administrator, N-Viro had the lowest bid — $22.60 per wet ton of biosolids hauled from the site. S&L’s price was $24 a ton to dump Class B solids at Facility 3. The S&L quote included 25,000 tons of “top soil free to the city.” The firm presented that as a $200,000 value, Mr. McGibbeny wrote.
That document lists several “pros” for selecting S&L, including that the firm has a pathogen-free Class A product — which it does not.
Records obtained by The Blade show the product was presented as a pathogen-free Class A product by the port authority because it was stored by S&L at Facility 3 for a year. A July 27, 2011, presentation by Mr. Cappel to the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments freight committee included a segment on “beneficial reuse” of dredging material that said Nu-Soil “is Class B material until it sits for one year, then it becomes a Class A.”
Mr. Toth on Wednesday said Mr. Perry told him a month earlier that Nu-Soil samples for the past six months all tested negative for pathogens, but Ohio EPA rules prohibit S&L from selling it as Class A.
“Here is the hair-splitting distinction. Terry will tell you that as soon as they take the sewage sludge and mix in the lime and the dredgings, the day that they do that, and test it, by testing, it qualifies as a Class A material,” Mr. Toth said. “That doesn’t mean they can sell it as a Class A.”
Spent lime, a by-product of the city’s drinking-water cleaning process, is used in the Nu-Soil formula. Spent lime is considered inert.
Results of three tests of Nu-Soil samples performed by A&L Great Lakes Laboratories Inc. in Fort Wayne, in November, 2009, July, 2007, and November, 2007, list the Nu-Soil samples as Class A material. The July, 2007, sample came from Ravine Park. None of the test results shows unacceptable amounts of pollutants such as lead, cadmium, mercury, or arsenic.
Mr. Perry said he’s never marketed Nu-Soil as a Class A product. He also denied ever claiming spent lime would kill off pathogens in the sludge or that leaving Nu-Soil to sit for a year at Facility 3 changes it into a Class A product. He said spent lime is added to the formula to “sweeten” the product.
“It comes [to Facility 3] as a Class B [and] it leaves here as a Class B … Class B is very well accepted out in the farming community,” Mr. Perry said in November during a visit to Facility 3. “We have contracts with the city of Perrysburg and we land-apply their Class B biosolids on farm grounds. There is nothing wrong with it.”
Land application of sludge is controversial nationally. Locally the issue is complicated because of the location of S&L’s mixing and the use of dredge material.
Under a federal grant, UT professor Kevin Czajkowski has been studying Class B biosolid application on farm fields for six years. “We did that study and some of the things we found was after application that tile drains for farm fields, that the water coming out of the drains, at times the bacteria were a little high,” Mr. Czajkowski said.
“But that was not consistent, so we did a DNA test and we looked at the DNA of E. coli in the ditch before application, after, and after a rain, and we found the biosolids had the same DNA so we could track the biosolids going into the ditch, so we knew it was going in.”
He also identified personal care products and pharmaceuticals in the biosolids going into the soil.
Contact Ignazio Messina at:firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6171.