February 8, 2011

New York DEC Approves Changes to Animal Carcass Digester

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The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation approved the five major operating changes implemented by Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine on Jan. 31 to prevent another accidental discharge of animal carcass byproducts.

Cornell has made several alterations to the operating procedure at the digester facility to prevent more accidents, according to Paul Jennette, a Cornell biosafety engineer.

Jennette attributed the December malfunction to a programming error, which he said has since been corrected. Jennette also expressed confidence the new precautions and the programming correction will prevent further mishaps.

“We have implemented a variety of precautionary measures to a system that is used in facilities throughout the world and is recognized as a proven, state-of-the-art technology,” Jennette said. “The programming problems have been corrected, and we have added programming, procedural and physical safeguards to prevent a recurrence of the problem.”

Jennette said he and his colleagues did not take such measures in the past because they were unaware of the programming error.

On Dec. 10 and 11, the animal carcass digester at the Vet College released 1,600 gallons of hydrolysate and 90,000 gallons of water into the city’s wastewater treatment system and the stormwater collection system flowing into Beebe Lake and Fall Creek. A similar incident occurred in February 2010.

After both cases, Cornell officials assured the community that the fluids were not hazardous.

Walter Hang, president of the local environmental agency Toxics Targeting, said the new operating procedures should have been implemented after the first digester malfunction.

“How come they didn’t do this originally, prior to the two uncontrolled releases?” Hang asked, calling the DEC and Cornell’s actions “just unfathomable.”

Hang added that, while the changes to the digester’s operations were positive, the DEC should require Cornell to disclose the contents of the wastewater.

“How many accidents is it going to take before the DEC requires full disclosure?” Hang said.

As part of the new precautions, a Cornell employee is required to be present when the machine starts operating, filling up, draining or rinsing. Additionally, alarms are now in place so that overflows do not remain unnoticed for hours, as happened in December.

Employees will perform yearly checks of the temperature and pressure alarm system and a map of the vicinity has been added to the digester’s spill prevention report. Spills of hydrolysate or other chemicals will be reported to the New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation Spill Hotline.

Original Author: Eliza LaJoie