April 29, 2010

Vet School Adopts New ‘Failsafe’ Measures in Waste Filtration System

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After the accidental dumping of animal carcass wastewater into the sewer system in February, the College of Veterinary Medicine has developed what it describes as failsafe measures to prevent another slip.

The college has installed a new valve that will only discharge waste into a sewer system if someone consciously unlocks and then turns it, according to Paul Jennette, the biosafety engineer at the college.

“The incident highlighted another opportunity to add a failsafe measure to make the system redundantly safe,” he said.

Dan Ramer, chief operator of the wastewater treatment facility in Ithaca, said that the animal wastewater dumped in February did not have any negative impacts. The facility processed the water normally, so that no toxic chemicals entered the lake or water supply.

“No real action was required,” he said. “We wrote a couple of reports to our regulators, and we really don’t expect any further action.”

Currently, instead of being dumped in the sewers, the treated biological waste from the carcasses — called hydrolysate — is shipped 120 miles to a facility in Watertown, N.Y. There, it is treated with chemicals and digested by bacteria, which creates methane as a byproduct that can then be burned to generate electricity.

The Ithaca treatment plant and the college are now working out a deal to transport the hydrolysate to the treatment plant in Ithaca instead of the one in Watertown. The plant would like to accept the waste, as long as it is not transported through the sewer system and it is found to be safe, according to Ramer.

The MRB Research Group is currently conducting a study into the safety of the hydrolysate for the Ithaca treatment plant. The study so far seems to show that the facility can handle the materials, Ramer said. The full results of the report are expected to be released in the upcoming weeks.

The Sewer Joint Committee, which oversees the treatment facility in Ithaca, has been tabling any resolution on the agreement until the full results of the study become available. Rich DePaolo, one of the members of the committee, said that he expects a vote on the issue at the committee’s next meeting on May 12.

“I do not know whether it’s safe to take the waste, I’m not sure if anyone knows if it’s safe,” DePaolo said. “I’ve always been somewhat skeptical, but I’m keeping an open mind, and I think everyone on the committee is keeping an open mind as well.”

In the past, the animal carcasses were incinerated. The new disposal method seeks to limit the negative effects of the incineration on the environment. The University’s goal of sustainability can be furthered if the waste is routed to Ithaca, according to Ramer.  By routing to Ithaca instead of Waterton, the University would conserve fuel in the shipping process.

“It makes a lot more sense to truck it three miles here instead of 120 miles to Watertown,” Ramer said. “We just have to do our due diligence to make sure this facility can properly handle the materials.”

Original Author: Juan Forrer