Neighbors of a sewage treatment plant complain about stinky sludge
By Daniel D'Ambrosio
August 07, 2008
"Why do you want to go to a city you can smell before you see it?" asked June O'Neil of a gathering of high-ranking Metropolitan District Commission officials last week at a meeting in a South End church.
O'Neil, who lives in the South End, also heads an effort by the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice to focus attention on MDC's sewage treatment plant near the Brainard Road exit off Interstate 91.
In a bit of dark humor, O'Neil told the gathered officials that friends of hers tell relatives visiting them in Hartford to exit the interstate when it stinks and they'll be in the right place.
MDC's Hartford plant is the biggest in the state, handling an average of about 60 million gallons of wastewater every day. And it's only going to get bigger, as the Commission works to satisfy the demands from both the state Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency that it stop the flow of up to a billion gallons of untreated sewage into the Connecticut River annually during rain storms.
MDC has 15 years to clean up its act, and a big part of the plan is to expand the sewage treatment plant near the South End to be able handle two, or perhaps even three, times the volume of wastewater it's currently handling.
"There will be massive construction at the facility over the next 10 years," said Thomas Tyler, assistant manager of water pollution control, during a tour of the plant last week.
Tyler said the current maximum capacity of the plant to handle about 120 million gallons of wastewater per day during storms will be expanded to at least 180 million gallons per day, and perhaps to as many as 250 million gallons per day.
"The current wet weather system is not designed to handle the flow rate that will come here," said Tyler. "You can't put two gallons in a one-gallon bucket."
As part of its expansion, MDC will also begin generating electricity from the sewer sludge it burns in its incinerators at the plant. Tyler estimates the process will provide up to 50 percent of the plant's power needs, saving millions of dollars annually.
It's the sludge—dumped into an underground storage area through what resemble giant Bilco basement doors—that's the culprit on those smelly days in the neighborhood. MDC has already taken a variety of steps to combat the stinky sludge, from covering processes that were formerly open to the air, to misting the air around its settling tanks with a deodorant.
But "sludge smells," says plant manager Jeff Bowers, and "you can do everything in your power to try to control the smell but unless [sludge] is completely eliminated, you're not going to get rid of it altogether."