City pays EPA fine for incorrect reporting, monitoring of biosolids

Arsenic levels in sewage sludge exceed allowed amounts

The Jefferson city council at its Aug. 27 meeting approved a consent agreement/final order with the federal Environment Protection Agency for violating regulations pertaining to the disposal of biosolids in 2016-18. The final order levies a $13,900 penalty against the city.

The EPA requires the filing of an Annual Biosolids Report by Feb. 19 for the preceding year by cities that apply less than 290 metric tons of sewage sludge to land per year. According to the consent agreement, the city didn’t file its 2016 report until Aug. 14, 2018. The 2017 annual report was filed Aug. 13, 2018. Both were considerably late.

The city reported 48 dry metric tons of sewage sludge was applied to 24 acres in 2016 and that 81 dry metric tons was applied to 40 acres in 2017. However, the city hadn’t done any of the required pollutant monitoring in either of those years. The 2016 and 2017 annual reports provided only estimated pollutant levels and application rates arrived at by extrapolating data from 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2018.

The city was also fined for exceeding the allowed amount of arsenic in the sewage sludge that was applied in 2018 and the first quarter of 2019.

The 2018 annual report documented a concentration of arsenic of 178 milligrams per kilogram; the maximum allowed concentration is 75 mg/kg.

Data submitted for June 2019 showed the sewage sludge contained a concentration of arsenic of 111 milligrams per kilogram.

The consent order lists three violations: failure to sample biosolids; failure to timely submit biosolids annual reports; and failure to comply with ceiling concentration limitations.

City administrator Mike Palmer told the council that there were some oversights at a time of staff transition and that new requirements were put into place at the same time.

In approving the consent agreement the city neither admitted nor denied the factual allegations and legal conclusions contained in the EPA’s formal complaint. The city waived its right to contest any issue of fact or law, and to resolve the matter without a formal hearing.

According to Palmer, the fine was reduced because of the city’s cooperation, and the fine could have been “much, much higher.”

[The EPA estimates that arsenic in detectable amounts in 100 percent of the sewage sludge in the U.S.  “Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey Statistical Analysis Report” EPA. January 2009. EPA-822-R-08-018.]

[According to the Centers for Disease Control, long-term exposure to high levels of inorganic arsenic, which is found in drinking water and in some foods, has been associated with skin disorders and increased risks for diabetes, high blood pressure, and several types of cancer. Human exposure to organic arsenic is primarily from seafood. Organic forms are arsenic have not been found to be toxic to humans.]

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