They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so for our report on the Deer Island tour, let’s see a few. A tour group from GMWEA. VRWA, and NHWPCA visited the huge, state-of-the-art wastewater plant on October 3 and got a good eyeful. Thanks to Elizabeth Walker and Wayne Graham for the photos!
If you were a member of the tour group and have photos or comments to share, please send them! We’ll post them here.
NOTE: This tour is at capacity, and no more registrations are being accepted. Sorry! But return to this site in October for more about the Deer Island WW plant and the tour.
Operators, administrators, engineers, planners, educators – don’t miss the bus! Join GMWEA, VRWA, and NHWPCA for a tour of the huge, state-of-the-art Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant in Winthrop, Massachusetts! This is a rare opportunity to get a close-up view of one of the 20th century’s most challenging and successful environmental improvement projects — and to earn 2 TCHs.
Serving 2.3 million people in 43 Boston-area communities, Deer Island is the largest waste water facility in New England and the second or third largest in the US. Its average influent flow of over 300 mgd and maximum storm-influenced flow of over 1,280 mgd are accommodated while discharging consistently clear effluent through its 24-foot diameter, deep-ocean, gravity-fed 9.5-mile outfall tunnel. A total of 5,000 miles of sewer pipe serves the facility.
Completed in 2001, this mammoth plant’s design and construction reflect the desire to minimize environmental impacts, of every kind, on Massachusetts Bay. Its renewable energy systems, for example, provide more than half of the island’s electricity through a combination of methane biodigesters, wind turbines, solar power, and hydro-electric generation.
The tour will be guided by plant process engineering staff. Adding a deep insider’s knowledge, they will tentatively be accompanied by their former colleague, Charlie Tyler, who retired from the plant in 2017 after over 25 years of involvement in planning, design, construction, start-up, and process operations there.
GMWEA has chartered a bus for Thursday, Oct. 3, to transport attendees to the plant. The bus will depart from the South Burlington Department of Public Works (104 Landfill Road, South Burlington, Vt.) at 6:45 a.m. It will make two additional stops: at the Upper Valley Plaza/JC Penney Plaza (250 N. Plainfield Rd., Unit 202, West Lebanon, N.H.) at 8:15 a.m., and at the New Hampshire Mall (1500 S. Willow St., Manchester, N.H.) at 9:45 a.m. Attendees can be picked up any of the locations.
After the tour, the bus will leave Deer Island at 2:30 p.m. Passengers will be dropped off in Manchester at 4:00 p.m.; in West Lebanon at 5:30 p.m.; and in South Burlington at 7:00 p.m.
The Vermont DEC has confirmed that tour participants will receive 2 TCHs (for the tour, but not the bus ride!).
The charge for the day’s activities is $65 per person. Attendees need to pack a lunch and dinner — meals are not provided, and stops for food are not planned. Light refreshments and snacks will be available on the bus, or you can bring your own. Alcohol is not permitted.
This is our third post on poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), that ubiquitous and troublesome family of 5,000 “contaminants of emerging concern.” In this post: the risk of PFAS in public drinking water systems, and the current state of affairs in Vermont.
In Vermont, concern spiked after the 2016 discovery of PFOS and PFOA, two of the oldest and best-researched PFAS, in private wells in the Bennington area. The contamination was determined to be due to pollution by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, which recently agreed to a $40 million settlement with the state. One result was that, during the 2019 session, the Vermont Legislature gave PFAS close attention, emerging with Act 21, signed by Gov. Scott. The bill:
Requires testing of all public drinking water systems by December 1, 2019 (specifically, 650 public community water systems and non-transient, non-community water systems serving 25 or more people over a period of 6 months per year);
Establishes a drinking water health advisory level of 20 parts per trillion, in aggregate, of five PFAS, which, if exceeded, requires publication of a “do not drink” advisory and planning for remediation;
Mandates research into potential sources and impacts of PFAS over the next five years;
Gives the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources authority to establish drinking and surface water MCLs by, at the latest, January 1, 2024.
But is there really a significant risk to public drinking water systems?
The U.S. EPA’s “Third Unregulated Contaminant Rule Data Summary”
of January, 2017 (surveying PFOA, PFOS, and four other PFAS from 2011 to 2016) reports
on tests at 4,920 public water systems.
Very few tested as at or above minimum reference levels, ranging from
.1% of sites for PFBS to 1.9% of sites for PFOS and 2.3% for PFOA.
On the other hand, that data is now three years old; only
six types of PFAS were surveyed; and the health reference MCLs of 70 ppt were
much higher than Vermont’s 20 ppt.
More recently — May, 2019 — the Environmental Working Group and Northeast University, using data from the Pentagon and local water utilities, reported PFAS contamination at 610 sites in 43 states, including some public drinking water systems.
Michigan, with 192 known contamination sites, was the
most-impacted; however, of the 65 sites found to have MCLs over the federal
limit of 70 ppt in a study conducted by the state in 2018, none were
municipal systems. (Three school water systems did show contamination; the rest
were military-related, industrial, firefighting, or mining sites.)
But the data keeps coming in – and it merits close attention. The August 30, 2019 Orange County Register reports finding “reportable levels” of PFAS in 11 source wells operated by Southern California public drinking water agencies – levels that will require remediation (and alternate water sourcing) under newly-legislated limits. In Los Angeles County, 32 of 138 county wells exceeded limits, resulting in closure of 4 wells.
The best solution for PFAS is prevention and interception at high-concentration sites. But can these “forever chemicals” be eliminated from water that’s already contaminated?
Yes. Granular activated charcoal filters and reverse osmosis are being used to successfully remove PFAS in Michigan, California, and elsewhere. Of course, water quality professionals and regulators have to ask: But at what cost, to whom?
New research developments also have promise, as high-tech solutions are being devised to address the problem. At the international CleanUp 2019 conference, as of this writing being held in Australia (Sept. 8 – 12), the company AECOM unveiled DE-FLUOROTM, a process of electrochemical oxidation that removes 90% to 100% of PFAS.
Admittedly, only time will tell if the technology proves viable, affordable, workable in diverse contexts, and without unforeseen effects of its own. But AECOM is likely only the first major corporation to be drawn by the lure of marketable — profitable — remediation products/processes.
All of which leaves us wondering what we can expect from the current round of testing in Vermont. The answer: Like everything else about PFAS, we’ll just have to wait and find out!
GMWEA would love to hear from water system operators and administrators about their experiences with the testing process! Please send perspectives to Daniel Hecht, executive director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is the second post on poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), those problematic “contaminants of emerging concern.”
Writing about PFAS is difficult because the landscape is
changing so fast. During the last year,
this family of 5,000 human-made chemicals has caused increasing consternation
among drinking water and wastewater professionals and regulators. As awareness of their prevalence — in our
bodies, food, consumer goods, industrial products, and water – grows, at least
20 alarmed state legislatures have crafted policies to confront the problem.
Above: Firefighting foam is among the most concentrated sources of localized PFAS contamination.
In the last couple of months, national and regional water and wastewater organizations have jumped into the issue with member advisories and Congressional testimonies. As GMWEA’s Government Affairs committee members can attest, water quality professionals’ inboxes are often jammed with PFAS-related bulletins from the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), Water Environment Federation (WEF), American Water Works Association (AWWA), and many others.
Coherent, consistent policy related to PFAS is hard to
establish for a number of reasons:
The scientific and regulatory issues are complex
— and hard to quickly convey to preoccupied policy-makers.
There are so many PFAS, with so many vehicles
for human exposure; their sources, transport and persistence characteristics, and
health effects vary widely.
Their health effects have, for the most part,
not been confidently ascertained. As WEF
states about H.R. 2500 (see below), “With limited research into the health
effects of the 5,000 PFAS compounds and no established analytical methods and
treatment methods for wastewater effluent, this amendment is bad policy.”
Misconceptions abound, sometimes prompting hasty
decisions in attempts to protect the public health.
Above: PFAS foam on a Michigan lake, residual from mining operations. Photo thanks to the Detroit Free Press.
Where things stand in the U.S. Congress:
In July, both houses of Congress passed legislation on PFAS as part of the National Defense Authorization Act – but the House and Senate versions differed. As of this writing, the House bill, H.R. 2500, has provisions that would regulate PFAS under CERCLA, the Superfund legislation passed in 1980. CERCLA has strict stipulations about retroactive liability, which WEF says “could place the burden on FPAS ‘receivers,’ such as wastewater and drinking water agencies.'”
The Senate version, S.1790, does not include these provisions, and the various water associations are advocating for terms more like the Senate’s; the bills will have to be reconciled in conference during September. However, to add to the confusion, President Trump has signaled he’ll veto the bill in either form!
The national and regional drinking water and wastewater associations strongly support government action to protect public health, but warn of “unintended consequences” of legislation. The sheer lack of information about PFAS and the risk of local liability are their chief concern.
Of particular concern is the misconception that wastewater treatment plants generate or add PFAS. They don’t — treatment facilities only convey what they receive from influent.
The best solution is to prevent PFAS from entering the wastewater stream — to identify sources, prohibit certain commercial uses, and focus on origin-specific mitigation.
Wastewater treatment plants — that is, the communities that they serve — are unable to afford the expense of measuring, monitoring, and removal of PFAS arriving at facilities.
Trace amounts of PFAS in wastewater plant effluent, and in biosolids, could potentially enter groundwater and thus drinking water sources. However, according to the North East Biosolids and Residuals Association (NEBRA), except in “a few worst-case scenarios” when treatment plants have received exceptionally high concentrations from industrial and other points of origin, impact on drinking water sources is not likely to exceed established concentration limits. NEBRA stresses that PFAS do not “originate” with biosolids but from sources higher up the wastewater stream – the best place to intercept them.
Next: PFAS regulation in Vermont and indications — or lack thereof — of the likelihood that PFAS show up in public drinking water systems.
PFAS! The acronym brings up goosebumps on citizenry, regulators, and water quality professionals alike. Though these human-made chemicals have been around for 70 years, they’ve stepped into the emerging toxins spotlight this year, and concern is growing.
Here’s a sampling of news headlines from throughout the U.S.
on July 28:
Pentagon Announces PFAS Task Force to Address
Farmers Are Losing Everything After “Forever
Chemicals” Turn Up In Their Food (BuzzFeed News)
New York to Get Federal Funds for PFAS Health
Study (Lexington Herald Leader)
Water System Operators Told to Test for PFAS
Contamination (Greenwich Time)
Three Connecticut Rivers to be Tested This
Summer for PFAS Chemical Pollution (Hartford Courant)
“Markedly higher” Levels of 2 PFAS Found in the Blood
of NC Residents (WECTV)
Yakutat Officials Wary of State’s PFAS Double
Standard (Alaska Public Media News)
This post will lay out the basics on PFAS; future posts will discuss current efforts by Vermont and other New England states to learn more about PFAS and to reduce human health risks associated with them.
What are PFAS, and why are they nicknamed “the forever chemicals”?
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances comprise a family of almost
5,000 compounds, being invented and manufactured continuously since 1940. They’re called “forever chemicals” because
that’s what they were designed to be – highly durable, resistant to grease,
solvents, biodegradation, photodegradation, and heat.
They’re used in hundreds products, notably non-stick cookware, heat-resistant industrial materials (and processes), water- and stain-resistant sprays, carpets, food packaging, dental floss, paints, cleaning products, and firefighting foams.
That means we have lots of opportunities to be exposed to
them. During Congressional testimony on
July 24, Glenn Evers, a DuPont chemist for 22 years, claimed that 99% of
Americans have PFAS in their blood and body cells. And, Evers warned, “these chemicals stay in your blood and don’t
leave. . . . there is not a single bacteria, mold, or virus, anything that will
ever break this molecule down.” He
went on to say, “You can’t kill this beast. You can only control it.”
How are humans exposed?
As the above suggests, we’re exposed from the moment we fry our breakfast eggs on a non-stick pan until we floss our teeth before bedtime. The US EPA lists the following as the most common means or sources of exposure:
Eating food packaged in PFAS-containing materials or food grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water
Eating fish or wild game with high concentrations of PFAS
Inhaling or having skin contact with commercial household products, including stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, etc., containing PFAS
Inhaling or having skin contact in workplaces, such as production facilities or industries using PFAS (e.g., chrome plating, electronics manufacturing or oil recovery)
Drinking water – whether from a well, a municipal supply, or bottled – that has been contaminated or packaged using materials/equipment containing PFAS
For babies, drinking breast milk from mothers who have been exposed to PFAS
What are the health dangers?
Definitive answers may not be available, yet. While concern is universal among health authorities, high-confidence clinical literature is hard to find. This is in part due to the fact that, with new PFAS continually being invented, there hasn’t been time to assess their health effects.
PFOA and PFOS have been better studied; in lab animals, according to the US EPA, they have been shown to affect function of reproductive, developmental, endocrine, and immunological systems, and have caused tumors.
Among humans, the most consistent findings are increased
cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings
low infant birth weights
reduced immune response
changes in liver function
kidney and testicular cancer (for PFOA), and
thyroid hormone disruption (for PFOS)
But which of the 5,000 PFAS are most toxic? What degree of health impairment results from what level of exposure, over how long? Is there a safe level? What products, foods, or circumstances cause the greatest uptake by the human body? How can consumers minimize their exposure?
Well, as the ATSDR – Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry – explains, mildly, “Scientists are still learning about the health
effects of exposure to mixtures of PFAS.”
Next: PFAS in water and wastewater, and what the EPA and states are doing about it.
The nominations came in, the panels convened, and deliberations were duly made. On May 23, 2019, at GMWEA’s annual Spring Member Meeting and Conference, 10 awards were presented to individuals and facilities for their exceptional service in water quality fields in 2018 — or, in one case, a lifetime.
We congratulate the awardees and thank them for their commitment to protecting public health and Vermont’s beautiful environment!
Ashleigh Belrose, above, operator at South Burlington’s Airport Parkway WRRF, won the Bob Wood Young Professionals Award, given to a young professional operator or engineer (30 or under) who has achieved notable contributions to the water environment, water or wastewater operations, and/or to GMWEA.
Rod Munroe, lab director, City of Rutland Wastewater, received the Andrew D. Fish Laboratory Excellence Award, presented for outstanding activity in laboratory performance at work, community service, education, committee participation, or other outstanding contribution.
Chelsea Mandigo, stormwater coordinator/operator, Village of Essex Junction, won the Stormwater Award, presented for outstanding performance in stormwater management and/or education, and significant contribution to the stormwater field.
Peter Krolczyk, operator, Town of Waterbury, was presented with the Operator Excellence – Wastewater award, given for outstanding performance in system maintenance, protecting public health, and achievement beyond normal responsibilities.
John Tymecki, operator, Champlain Water District, won the Michael J. Garofano Water Operator of the Year Award, presented for outstanding performance in system maintenance, protecting public health, and achievement beyond normal responsibilities.
(Above) The Town Of Ludlow WWTF won the Facility Excellence Award, Wastewater, given annually for outstanding facilities exceeding system operation requirements. Recognition is for the entire facility and staff.
Jim Fay, general manager (retiring!) of Champlain Water District, was presented with GMWEA’s prestigious Founder’s Award, given to individuals for significant contributions to the water quality professions and GMWEA during a lifetime of service.
Chris Cox, chief operator at Montpelier WRRF, received the 2019 President’s Award, presented to water quality professionals demonstrating exceptional achievement in their fields and service on behalf of Green Mountain Water Environment Association’s mission.
Kevin Corliss, operator at Drew’s All Naturals, LLC, in Chester, received the Outstanding Industrial Operator Award, presented for significant accomplishments in operation, problem solving, crisis management, training, or understanding of industrial wastewater issues.
Global Foundries WWTF, Essex Junction, received the Outstanding Industrial Facility Award, given for demonstrated commitment to clean water and pollution prevention, including implementation of water or wastewater treatment changes to address problems common to similar industries.
Congratulations to our 2019 Vermont STEM fair water quality project winners! The four students were chosen from among 200 student scientists who presented their projects on March 30, at Norwich University. The annual fair features exhibits by middle and high school students from throughout the state, all of whom won local-level competitions for their experiments.
Clearly, cyanobacteria/algae and phosphorus are hot topics in Vermont’s schools, and all four 2019 winners addressed them in various ways.
Virginia Snyder, in 11th grade at Windsor Schools, won the top award of $150 for her project “Designing a Solar-powered Ultrasonic Cyanobacteria Growth Inhibitor.” Virginia explored using sound to suppress algae blooms by exposing four colonies of Anabaena to different ultrasonic wavelengths. She is motivated by the technology’s potential to treat natural bodies of water, but in the near future hopes to run tests on her algae growth inhibitor in home fish aquariums. GMWEA’s judges were impressed by her knowledge of biology and sound physics, her use of multiple means of assessment, and the quality of her exhibit. She is the student of Catharine Engwall.
Audrey Chairvolotti, a home-schooled 9th grader from
Grand Isle, also won GMWEA’s top award of $150 for “Effects of Nonpoint-Source
Pollutants on Cyanobacteria Growth.” Also concerned with algae blooms in Lake
Champlain, Audrey collected cyanobacteria samples from a dense bloom on the
lake, then tested their growth in 14 different solutions. The judges appreciated
the thoroughness of her experimental protocols, her management of controls, her
enthusiasm, and her understanding of biochemistry, as demonstrated in
discussion and her exhibit. She cites
her mother, Sheila Chairvolotti, as her instructor for the project.
Emily King, a 9th grader at Missisquoi Valley Union H.S., won $100 for “How Effective Will Substances Be in Binding to Phosphorus During Filtration?” Seeking to identify possible phosphorus (P) mitigation methods, Emily explored chemicals likely to bond with P, potentially allowing for filtration prior to entry to Lake Champlain. She envisions additional testing to determine impacts of the binders on aquatic animal and plant life. The judges were struck by her trans-disciplinary approach – testing P binders known from the treatment of kidney disease – and consideration of both possibilities and impediments to use of phosphorous-binding filtration. She is a student of Richard Ballard.
Jaylyn Davidson, a 10th grader at Northfield High
School, won GMWEA’s $50 scholarship for “Is Algae Part of the Solution for
Environmental Pollution?” Jaylyn explored the potentials for three types of algae
and a flowering aquatic plant (duckweed) to help mitigate atmospheric carbon
dioxide levels by sequestering CO2 through “farming” in lakes and
oceans. Growing each in four different
nutrient solutions, she assessed biomass increase as a measure of CO2
uptake. The judges appreciated her concern for the global environment, her
understanding of biochemistry, and her motivation to pursue a career in marine
biology. She is the student of Shane
We commend these terrific young scientists for their
enthusiasm, discipline, and devotion to water ecosystems!
Many thanks are due to Aaron Perez and Paul Sestito, water
systems specialists at Vermont Rural Water Association, for joining executive
director Daniel Hecht to judge this year’s STEM fair.
Congratulations to Wayne Elliott and Wayne Graham!! Both were honored at the New England Water Environment Association (NEWEA) Awards Banquet in January, held at the Marriott Copley Place in Boston. The awards were presented in recognition of their dedication and contributions to the wastewater industry.
Wayne Elliott, principal at Aldrich & Elliott, Essex Junction, Vermont, received the 2018 Alfred E. Peloquin award. This award is given annually to an individual who has shown a high level of interest and performance in wastewater operations and who has made a significant contribution to the wastewater field in such areas as improvements to the environment, cost effective plant operations, public relations, innovative process controls, industrial pre-treatment, training, Association contributions and related activities.
Wayne Graham, wastewater specialist at Vermont Rural Water
Association, also based in Essex Junction, Vermont, received the 2018 Operator
award. This award is given annually to
an individual who has shown a high interest and performance in wastewater
operations and has made a significant contribution to the wastewater field.
If you happen to know someone who is deserving of either of
these awards, please contact your NEWEA State Director, Chris Robinson, at email@example.com. Nominations close on June 1st.
Contributed by Chris Robinson, GMWEA board member, NEWEA state representative, and water quality superintendent of the Town of Shelburne. Photos by Shannon Robinson.
This is the first of a series of posts about big numbers, big systems, and big ideas.
Most water quality professionals don’t have time to worry much about the big picture. People like facility operators, town managers, and DPW administrators are kept plenty busy treating their allotted gallons per day, fixing busted equipment, eliminating contaminants, completing reports, or searching municipal budgets to find money for maintenance.
But big ideas are crucial. They provide inspiring visions — or warnings
— that can move us to make good choices for the future. No matter how well disciplined a ship’s crew,
or how well maintained its mechanical systems, the first thing a ship needs when
it leaves port is a destination.
When it comes to how we manage water, we need to have the guidance of a larger vision. We need to have an idea of where we ought to go.
First, we should remember that only about 1% of the world’s water is readily usable for us. That is, it exists as fresh (not salty), liquid (not frozen) water. Then factor in our ever-growing demand for it and our increasing pollution of it. Obviously, we need a long-term vision for our management of this life-sustaining resource.
Next, we need to update our traditional vision of the “water cycle.” In grade school, most of us learned a tidy four-part sequence: 1) water falls from the sky as rain or snow; 2) flows into rivers and lakes and oceans; 3) evaporates back into the sky; 4) condenses into clouds and falls again as precipitation.
But now we know there’s another phase in the cycle. Humanity’s use and pollution of water requires that it go through extensive cleansing processes before it can return to the ground or surface waters, and before we can safely use it again.
To understand why that’s so, we need a realistic sense
of scale – how much water we use.
Talk about “big!” In the U.S., our daily domestic use averages about 95 gallons per day, per person (variable by region). When we flush, brush, shower, do the laundry, and water the lawn, we use about 32,000,000,000 gallons per day. Where does it all go?
32 billion gallons. Per day. Domestic use only. Just in the U.S.
Now consider that domestic use constitutes only about 13%, one-eighth, of the total amount of fresh water we use daily. We use the other 87% in thermoelectric plants, irrigation, manufacturing, mining, and other functions.
Not a drop of that water leaves our sinks, toilets, lawns, fields, pipes, or factories unpolluted. That’s why 53% of America’s river and stream miles, 71% of our lake acres, 79% of our estuarian square miles, and 98% of Great Lakes shorelines are classified as “impaired” by at least one criterion in a 2018 U.S. EPA survey.
If you’re not daunted yet, be sure to read the next post on the bigness of our water infrastructure and the bigness of cost needed to make it work. Then, on to some inspiring, solution-oriented Big Ideas offered by the U.S. Water Alliance!