December 14, 2010

Vet College Discharges Wastewater From Animal Carcass Digester, Again

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For the second time this year, the College of Veterinary Medicine accidentally discharged wastewater from the animal carcass digester into Ithaca’s wastewater treatment facility and the stormwater collection system that feeds into Fall Creek and Beebe Lake.

The incident happened late Friday night when “a combination of mechanical and automated control failures” caused the digester — which mixes waste derived from the animal carcasses with potable water and sterilizes it — to overflow, according to a statement by Vice President for Facilities Services Kyu-Jung Whang.

The malfunction caused the release of about 93,000 gallons of the mixture — 3,000 gallons of hydrolysate effluent and about 90,000 gallons of the potable water used as a dilutant.

The digester had finished its sterilization process at the time of the overflow and the wastewater was not a biohazard, Whang said in the statement.

“Monitoring data indicate that the digester had completely finished its six-hour, 300-degree-Farenheit treatment cycle before the incident occurred, meaning there was no biological hazard associated with the release,” he stated, adding that pH tests on Saturday confirmed that the water was fully treated.

The University will ensure that the water is safe through continued tests, Whang said.

“Additional testing will be performed by an independent laboratory to assess the relative dilution of the discharge,” he said.

Upon discovering the malfunction, University workers turned the machine off, and it will not be used as Cornell works with state organizations to investigate the incident.

“Digester operations have been suspended while Cornell works with the State University Construction Fund to investigate and correct the underlying problems, such as working with the manufacturer to address mechanical and programming failures,” Whang stated.

Friday’s overflow was the second such mishap since the Vet College began using the digester last year. The college previously used an incinerator to dispose of animal remains, but that process is now forbidden under state environmental regulations.

In a similar incident in February, a faulty valve caused the machine to release wastewater into the Ithaca sewage system, raising concerns among residents about the potentially hazardous nature of the water, despite University assurances that it had been fully treated.

The latest malfunction is leading some local residents and environmentalists to criticize the University’s handling of the machine.

“I think it is just pathetic that these uncontrolled, so-called accidental releases keep occurring. I think it calls into question Cornell’s ability to operate that system,” Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting in Ithaca, told The Ithaca Journal.

Original Author: Eliza LaJoie