Fuel from Flushing in Arlington?

Fuel from Flushing in Arlington?

What happens when you flush? Currently the excess solids end up trucked away from Arlington, but new county plans look to convert those solids into fertilizer or fuel for the bus system.

The new solid wastes plan approved at the July 17 County Board meeting could reshape the way Arlington handles its solid waste disposal, but local neighbors are concerned that change will come with further degradation of Arlington’s air quality.

Fifteen years ago Arlington updated the liquid side of its wastewater treatment facility. Since then the solid side of the waste disposal has continued to degrade. Solid wastes are currently trucked away from the site five to six times each day. Instead, the new Water Pollution Control Plant's Solids Master Plan could transform that waste into soil enhancement for local lawns and collect the methane gas to be used in Arlington’s bus network.

The new treatment is a three-phase process that will gradually replace equipment at the treatment center, with a total cost of $154.8 million spread out across those phases. The plan would require additional staff, but the cost is offset by reducing the number of truck trips from the site.

The new cleaning process would create two byproducts. One is a fertilizer-like biosolid that the plan says could be used by the public, the county, or commercial entities for soil treatment. Further processing would be required if the biosolid is to be locally distributed. The other byproduct could be converted into compressed natural gas. The plan identifies the Arlington Rapid Transit bus fleet, parked across the street from the treatment facility, as a potential customer.

But while staff dismissed the impact of the increased number of flare ups to burn off excess chemicals, neighbors from the surrounding civic associations said they had concerns that the new process would make the air quality worse.

“We lack estimates of how much ozone levels will rise once upgrade comes online,” said Suzanne Sundberg. “Without supporting data, staff characterizes future increases as minor. Expecting parents to pay a premium for a plan to poison their children’s health is unacceptable.”

Paul Gutridge, representing three of the surrounding civic associations, asked the County Board to postpone approval for further study.

“We have two major concerns; emissions and cost,” said Gutridge. “Poor air quality is already a concern. All alternatives would contribute to worsening air quality.”

But the County Board unanimously approved the solid waste plan while promising to continue looking into alternatives.

“Ironically, even though it may not feel this way, I don’t think people are very far apart,” said County Board member Christian Dorsey. “The whole notion of finding a cost effective way [to deal with] solid wastes is exactly what staff is preparing to do. It’s a plan that’s innovative and effective. What we have is a phased approach [that involves] shoring up existing options while looking at new options.”