Remarks about illegal sludge dumping challenged
A news story last week about illegal dumping of sludge at the site of the former town landfill in 1999 was challenged by Paul Robertson, one of three Jamestown Wastewater Treatment Plant operators.
Robertson said he and his colleagues believe the report reflected poorly on the plant workers. He said that the team has won awards for their work, and that the record as they know it clashes with the record detailed in the Sept. 29 story.
In last week’s edition, the Jamestown Press reported that the landfill “was used for trash burial from 1954 to 1984 and local wastewater sludge disposal from 1975 or earlier to 1985. Illegal wastewater sludge dumping from off-island was discovered in 1999, and cleared, but no official was ever implicated for the violations.”
Available records about the landfill show there were two documented episodes of sludge dumping after 1985. The record includes a report that wastewater sludge dumping in 1989 were attributed to off-island sources that were not otherwise identified, and that sandblasting grit was spread in 1999 in the former sludge spreading area.
Robertson said he was aware of the grit incident in 1999, but has been unable to track any other sludge disposal violations within state reports about the wastewater plant. “If there were violations, it should be in those reports,” he said.
Access to records
Access to all landfill records on file with town officials is being filtered by Town Solicitor Lauriston Parks, who last month ruled that any access must be requested in writing and cleared before the public records are cleared for inspection. Most Jamestown public records have been made available by oral request, with access usually given immediately.
1989 sludge According to documents on file at the state Department of Environmental Management, “The Jamestown wastewater treatment plant became aware (in 1989) of companies transporting sewage from off-island sources onto the island for treatment and disposal.” The town consultant wrote in early 2004 to the DEM that “it is rumored that (the landfill) served as a dumping location for waste materials that may include chemical pollutants. Although undocumented, samples from this site should not be considered reliable indicators of untainted background levels.”
According to town records, as a result of the 1989 findings, Jamestown restricted acceptance of sewage waste from only two companies in an effort to ensure that only island waste was being processed.
Robertson suggested that differences in facts or interpretations of reports might reflect the variations among such terms as sludge, septic materials and similar words. He said illegal dumpings are serious and he did not know why violators, if they existed, were not identified and penalized.
In a follow up to the 1989 data, the DEM reported it tested 11 of 12 private wells that abut the landfill. One abutter, the owner of the Vieira property in 1989, declined to give access for the well testing.
Testing of abutters’ wells has been renewed as a factor in the ongoing evaluation of the former landfill site, with some reports being made that abutters declined previous offers of tests, but that the state is again asking the town to test the drinking water wells of abutting property owners.
In early 1999, the DEM reported finding the grit and that the grit was mixed into the sludge at the landfill. The DEM said testing showed that the grit-sludge mixture was “not hazardous.” But nonetheless it was not allowed at the site, and the DEM ordered the town to remove it to the Central Landfill in Johnston. In a follow up inspection, DEM found a small portion of the grit remained; state directed the town to finish the removal, which was completed at that time.
According to reports in the Jamestown Press at that time, town officials authorized the dumping of grit at the landfill because it was mistakenly believed that the grit was considered “clean fill” and could be allowed at the landfill. Later, it was determined that even if “clean,” the grit should not have been taken to the landfill because it was closed to all dumping. The grit came from the contractor who sandblasted and repainted the town water tower on Howland Avenue.
Sludge tests Subsequent testing showed that no solid waste materials were found in sludge composting area, which is about one acre of the upper end of the landfill, according to GZA GeoEnvironmental, consultants to the town on landfill matters.
The tests also showed “no evidence of significant residual waste. Elevated arsenic concentrations were observed…(and) fall within the range of naturally occurring values for Rhode Island soils,” a GZA report said.
According to available town records, sludge dumping at the landfill “involved the composting of sewage from the town wastewater treatment plant. . . . As of December of 1998, sludge composting is no longer done at the site. It is now incinerated in Woonsocket.” Robertson said his records show the sludge composting was allowed in 1999 but it could not be readily determined why his reports and the landfill records have a discrepancy of one year about that factor.
According to the DEM documents, primary and secondary wastewater treatment sludge was placed in what was termed “the sludge trenching area.”
The DEM report noted that the town started to compost its sludge in 1985, “mixing it with wood chips and leaving it exposed to the weather on a concrete pad . . . for a three week period (and then) spread on the landfill soil cover.” Subsequent tests showed high fecal coliform counts, up to 9,000 units when no more than 1,000 were allowed, but GZA attributed those results to animal droppings and not the sludge matter.
Steven Goslee, town director of public works, said this week that the town trucks all of its dewatered wastewater treatment plant sludge to Woonsocket, as specified by the DEM. “No sludge goes to the landfill,” he said.
He said the wastewater filtered fluids are treated with chlorine once for dumping into Narragansett Bay, as permitted, and as is usual during the winter. The filtered fluids are treated twice with chlorine for transfer to the town-owned golf course to be used to water the greens there, he noted. The double treatment is required because standards are stricter for the re-use of the wastewater fluids, Goslee said.
The fluids used for watering the greens is a current topic because the town wants to install a special filter for the pipe serving the golf course, and they are negotiating with the course lessee about costs for the filter.
Goslee said the filter is not specifically required by any authority, but is needed, as determined by appropriate engineering. He said the new filter will increase efficiency and ensure that the water is adequately treated and not create any situation in which the flow would have to be disrupted. The filter will be added when the treatment plant undergoes renovation soon.