Arlington, VA

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

As ARLnow.com reported last week, the County Board has approved a Solids Master Plan (SMP) for Arlington’s Water Pollution Control Plant:

The Master Plan will modernize the plant’s solids treatment capabilities over the next decade. The old system and equipment will be replaced with equipment to perform thermal hydrolysis and anaerobic digestion.

Full implementation of the SMP’s “facility plan” phase will include the production, periodic flaring and storage of methane gas and will increase the plant’s air pollution emissions

On July 17, residents and activists alerted County Board members to serious air pollution risks, particularly for increases in dangerous ozone (O3) levels.

In a joint statement delivered by Paul Guttridge, a civil engineer specializing in wastewater projects, the Aurora Highlands, Long Branch Creek and Arlington Ridge Civic associations asked for a two year delay in the facility plan phase to evaluate risks and consider alternatives.

After explaining the risks of the SMP’s facility plan phase, Guttridge noted:

Even exposure to relatively low levels of O3 endangers public health, which prompted the federal government’s recent reduction in ozone limits to just 70 parts per billion (ppb) over eight hours. The nearby Aurora Hills’ EPA air-quality monitoring station frequently records O3 levels above 70 ppb.

Children and babies are especially at risk and studies indicate that each 20-ppb increase of ozone is associated with a 63-percent increase in the rate of school absence for illness and a 0.5 percent increase in adult mortality…

Arlington activist Suzanne Sundburg also cited extensive data illustrating the increased health and mortality risks of O3 pollution:

[T]he county fails to estimate post-upgrade increases in ozone levels resulting from plant operations even though Arlington already fails to meet the federal 70-ppb limit and receives [an] F grade from the American Lung Association…

Without supporting data, staff characterizes future plant ozone increases as “minor.” But recent research tells us that an increase of just 1 ppb in daily ozone levels over the summer can trigger 250 extra deaths per year nationwide.

Prior to the “facility plan” phase’s implementation, Arlington must fully explore an alternative regional solution

Although the County Board declined the request to delay the SMP framework’s approval, the Board directed the County Manager to:

[P]resent an evaluation of alternatives, including an update on regional options with DC Water, to the Board and civic associations surrounding the pollution control plant before finalizing the facility plan (two to three years from now), and awarding a construction contract.

Guttridge’s statement cogently summarized one alternative regional solution that must be fully explored:

[T]ransport the residual solids to DC Water Blue Plains Advanced Waste Water Treatment Plant in southeast DC, where it would be treated in a state-of the art facility that currently has excess capacity. Other regional partners may be available.

Conclusion

Before spending $139 million in the “facility plan” phase of the SMP, Arlington needs to fully weigh all costs, risks and benefits associated with staff’s currently preferred plant upgrades against other options.

For example, DC Water’s nearby Blue Plains wastewater treatment plant, located across the Potomac River (on an industrial waterfront site where emissions more readily disperse) has existing excess capacity to process Arlington’s waste. The scale of the Blue Plains plant (10 times the size of Arlington’s plant) makes DC Water’s treatment process a cost-effective alternative worthy of serious consideration.

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