Rockdale Water Resources’ Quigg wastewater treatment plant will be cited by the Environmental Protection Division for exceeding its discharge limits in February after an industrial treatment unit failed.
The same unit had reportedly failed in 2002, for different reasons, causing a citation and fines from the EPD.
According to RWR Director Dwight Wicks, the Upflow Anaerobic Sludge blanket (UASB) unit that failed is a pre-treatment unit for the Pratt-Visy plant, which processes and recycles paper products. The unit has an organic material that treats the paper plant’s industrial discharge and brings it to a level comparable with domestic sewage.
The UASB unit showed signs of being "upset" from Jan. 7 to Feb. 3, said Wicks. ESG, the contractors that operate RWR’s plants, was closely monitoring the unit, but both the indicators and the unit itself went south quickly.
"It’s almost like you’re monitoring the temperature and then suddenly your patient dies. The indicator went south along with the unit dying on us," said Wicks.
The unit failed completely and was taken off line from Feb. 2 to Feb. 13. During that time, the unit was cleaned out and packed with fresh organic material that had been shipped from Cartersville, which has a UASB unit for pre-treating discharge from an industrial brewery.
Also during that time, full-strength industrial discharge was going directly into the Quigg wastewater treatment plant, which was able to handle the load at first, said Wicks. After about two weeks, the plant became overloaded.
The plant discharged water that had biological oxygen demand levels and ammonium-nitrate levels higher than allowed into the Yellow River, near Ga. Highway 138, for a total of 26 days.
"It had no impact on the Yellow River," said Wicks. "There were no fish kills. No dead aquatic life floating downstream. We monitored everything."
He pointed out that the metro-Atlanta area has higher standards than other areas. "Our limits are tighter than the other areas in the state… We’re in a zero-tolerance zone."
Wicks said the EPD citation will describe the levels as a "major spill" because of the amount of water discharged everyday.
It cost about $500,000 to fix the unit and that cost will be shared by ESG and Pratt, said Wicks.
The EPD has not specified if or how much there would be in fines, and it is unclear how much the county, ESG and Pratt would pay of any fines.
The same unit had failed in 2002, even though it was fairly new at the time, and received a fine from EPD. The contract operator at the time was OMI. The cost to fix the unit then was more than $1 million. Wicks said the issue of who would pay for that cost was still on the table when he came as director in 2005.
At that time the diagnosed cause of the failure was the flow patterns. The cause of failure this time was that inorganic materials had replaced the organic materials over time.
Wicks said RWR had been meeting with Pratt personnel monthly and had been discussing, in the months right before the unit’s failure, the possibility of taking the reactor down periodically for service maintenance.
A task force made up of RWR, ESG and Pratt personnel was assembled to figure out the problem. Wicks said the task force will continue to meet and are hashing out procedures and options to ensure the problem does not occur again.
Quigg processes and discharges about 4.6 million gallons per day, and Pratt’s discharge is about 300,000 gallons per day.
Wicks said he did not know of any immediate cities or counties that drew their drinking water from the Yellow River, a fast moving body of water that has typically provided power for industries rather than drinking water for communities.