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Tonnes of sewage rankles KEEP, stymies plant owner

By Craig Westcott
October 20, 2023 Edition

Back in September, Brad Strange, a longtime member of KEEP – the Kelligrews Ecological Enhancement Committee – and longtime CBS council watcher made one of his regular check-ups on activities at the old town dump site on Incinerator Road in Foxtrap.

Since the dump closed decades ago, the road, which is located within the boundaries of St. John’s but still smack in the middle of CBS, has seen an industrial park load of companies move in, including Pardy’s Industrial and its sewage handling subsidiary, Pardy’s Dewatering Technology. KEEP members keep a close watch on things, because two small ponds and their tributaries there are the source waters for Kelligrews River, which flows downhill from Foxtrap into Kelligrews and along the back of Red Bridge Road until it spills into the gut on Pond Road and eventually into Conception Bay. Back in the days when CBS had an outdoor pool at the backwoods intersection of Legion Road and Red Bridge Road, the Kelligrews River, fed by the waters around an active landfill, incinerator and rendering plant, was the source for the water that children swam in.

But that was in the late 1970s, and CBS has long since enjoyed a proper indoor pool at Long Pond.

The Kelligrews River, however, remains a prime recreational asset for Kelligrews in the eyes of KEEP members.

When Strange made his perusal of Incinerator Road in September, he was hit with a terrific stench coming from Pardy’s dewatering plant, and saw what looked like a pile of human excrement dumped on the ground to dry.

“Brad alerted me, because I hadn’t been up there,” said KEEP’s longtime president Karen Morris. “Brad said the place is terrible, so I went up and had a look and took some pictures.”

Strange also raised concerns with a couple of CBS councillors.

“So, I sent the pictures to them and said the place stunk, it was really bad,” added Morris. “Anyhow they must have forwarded it to the government because I got a contact back.”

An Environment Department bureaucrat told Morris that the smell in itself is not a concern.

Morris and KEEP were more worried though that the latest effluent compliance reports on the Pardy’s plant were nearly three years out of date.  

“I said we’re concerned about the run-off going into the Kelligrews River, because on both sides of that property there are tributaries that lead down to Nut Brook and then down into the Kelligrews River,” said Morris. “And if you look at the effluent compliance reports…  there’s been no data since the 2020 data. We have been following that and they have a number of exceedances every year when this comes out. But the thing is the data comes out about two years later than it was actually collected.”

According to KEEP member Neil Penney, those 2020 numbers contained 34 “exceedances” including “one total coliform,” which is a common bacteria found in the soil and also in the fecal waste of humans and animals.

The Province dispatched officials from two different departments to investigate Penney’s complaint on behalf of KEEP.

“It’s a funny thing,” said Penney. “I put in this complaint. They created these two reports, but they won’t give them to me. They want me to go to Access to Information to get them.”

Steve Moores, the man who manages Pardy’s dewatering plant, said he isn’t surprised that KEEP members have raised questions, but assured they have nothing to worry about.

But Penney too has problems with the provincial government.

“That facility that everyone is talking about that we’re dumping waste in, that facility is a permitted non-municipal septage and sewage treatment facility,” said Moores. “So, we go around, we suck out septic tanks, we have 15-20 customers with vacuum trucks that deliver septic to us. We actually have a licence to process. We do primary phase separation, we compost solids, and we treat the liquid portion of the waste to regulatory criteria before it’s discharged. So, the gentleman who raised the concerns, he’s not in fact saying anything that’s wrong. We are handling sewer. But that facility is designed and purpose built for that reason.”

Moores said there are several such provincially regulated facilities in the province.

“The liquid is treated in a sequential batch reactor. That’s regulated by the province. It’s no different than a water treatment facility in St. Philips, or at Cronin’s Head or somewhere like that,” Moores said. “It’s a biological water treatment process whereby we treat the water to regulatory discharge criteria.”

The treated liquid is then discharged directly into Nut Pond, one of the sources for Kelligrews River. Moores said it’s treated to a point where it won’t kill fish.

“We have to test the acute lethality of that water every month, I think it’s either every month or every quarter, we actually have to submit samples to an independent laboratory, and they do lethality testing on the water to make sure it is suitable for discharge,” Moores said. “And we’re regulated the same way that a mine is regulated, the oil and gas industry is regulated. Anybody can go on the government’s website and see the results of the testing. It’s not something that is an honour process. We do the testing, we submit to a third party, independent lab, we do testing, and then those results go directly to government for review.”

After the liquid is removed from the sewage, the “solids” are dumped on the ground outside the dewatering plant’s office, to dry, or in Moore’s parlance, become compost.

“So, the solid phase of the waste stream is composted,” Moores said. “We actively compost in Foxtrap. That material is not sold or reused. It’s stored. Currently we have about 15,000 tonnes of it stored for reuse and we’re working with the government to try to find applicable ways to reuse it. In the rest of Canada, what happens is they collect septic, they clean out digesters, they take raw sewer, and they spray it on farmers’ fields for nutrient mass. And that’s an acceptable way of doing it. In Newfoundland they won’t allow us to do that, for some reason. We’re 20 years behind the times and the government won’t get into real common day practices. They’d rather farmers go buy fertilizer than reuse shit for fertilizer. They’re 20 years behind the curve.”

Moores said in the Maritimes, where the company has other plants, the human waste-turned-compost can be sold to farmers.  “That’s tilled in, reworked for a couple of years, and then they can grow non-consumptive crops on it… It’s a good idea, because it’s a valuable reuse of a waste. It’s part of a circular economy. We’re trying. We own that facility in Foxtrap, we own a bunch of other land, we’re trying to develop some policy with government so that we can use the organic solid mass portion of septic that we retain for a valuable purpose, either to grow trees or grow hay or grow something, but government hasn’t written policy yet.”

Moores said his company has even hired former PC cabinet minister Steve Kent to lobby government for new legislation, but the Province won’t engage.

“Our government has got their head buried in the sand,” said Moores. “They’d rather say no so they haven’t got to deal with it.”

The Shoreline requested an interview with the Environment Minister, but instead got several e-mails from department staff. The replies were unclear as to whether Moores is correct when he says the company is not allowed to sell or use the human sewage, once composted, for commercial or agricultural purposes.

“The Provincial Government supports composting as a method to treat organic waste,” responded one official. “Newfoundland and Labrador has adopted the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment Guidelines for Compost Quality (2005), which set the standards for the quality of compost material based on four criteria to determine product safety: foreign matter, maturity, pathogens and trace elements. These guidelines are in place to protect public health and the environment. Provided that the compost is of suitable maturity and the pathogens are reduced to an acceptable level, the compost is categorized into two categories…”
One category pertains to compost that includes foreign objects such as metal or glass that are over 3 mm long, or concentrations of trace elements.

“If the compost does not meet either Category A or Category B, it must be disposed of at an approved waste disposal site,” said the official. “Currently, Pardy’s holds a valid Certificate of Approval to operate a sewage sludge, in-vessel composting, and wastewater treatment plant on Incinerator Road in Foxtrap. In Newfoundland and Labrador, sewage dumping in general is regulated by the Environmental Control Water and Sewage Regulations, 2003 under the Water Resources Act.”

Asked in plainer language, “For clarification, can human fecal waste be used as compost in Newfoundland?” the newspaper got this reply:

“Thanks for your follow up… ECC follows the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) Guidelines for Compost Quality. These guidelines do not focus on the inputs used to create compost, but rather ensure the outputs meet standards protective of human health and the environment. While fecal wastes and other organic sources may be suitable to be composted, the compost produced must meet the standards of the CCME guidelines and must only be used accordingly.”
Clear as mud, or in this case sewage.

According to Moores, there is no green light for using Newfoundlanders’ feces as compost, though he’d dearly like to do so.

“It’s unfortunate, there’s a lot of misconception around what’s good and bad for the environment and the way people should handle human waste and whatever,” Moores said. “Nobody likes our facility because of what we do. We’re handling human waste and we’re offering a service that very few other people across Canada do. It’s somewhat essential. If you live somewhere where you have a septic tank and you needed that septic tank cleaned out, septic is not allowed to go to a landfill, and it’s not allowed to go into the municipal sewer. Our business is a necessity to be able to dispose of septic waste properly. It’s not nice, it’s not pleasant, it doesn’t smell good, it looks gross to people who don’t understand it, but it’s necessary. My issue as a business operator is that the government won’t let us do what the rest of Canada does to make it a better model. We can make remarkable improvements if government will come to the table and develop policy with us, but they would rather say no every time we present them with an idea, because then they don’t have to do any work… Right now, I’ve got in my mind that I want to try to build a tree nursery, because there is a deficit of tree nursery capacity in Newfoundland and there’s a big move across Canada to develop a growing capacity for trees for carbon sequestration… I want to put up money, I’ve got 85 acres of land (near Cochrane Pond), I’ve got 15,000 tonnes of compost, I have seedling stock, I have people, I have knowledge, I have ability, we’ve got the technical capacity, we’ve got money – I want to build a tree nursery and I can’t get the government to let me do it.”

Closer to the ground in Foxtrap, KEEP members are more worried about the immediate prospect of the solids dumped near Nut Brook becoming a hazard to Kelligrews River.

“We’ve brought it to the attention of the government a number of times, especially when they started laying down that raw sewage,” said Morris. “Originally we were under the impression from something that we had been told years ago that they were going to put down some containment, that they would be taking the sewage waste, or floatables, or whatever it is they take from the plants, and contain it within a storage system and then it would be composted.”

Morris would like to see the latest monitoring reports from the Province.

“If they’re exceeding the standards for the fecal coliforms, that of course could cause trouble in the river,” said Morris. “And also because Kelligrews River is for recreation, you could have trouble with people getting e-coli, so that you could have illness, you could have things that are killing off fish. You could actually kill the river. If you put too much nitrate in, then your oxygen demand causes what they call eutrophication which basically kills the river because it clogs it up with plants growing on top so it’s not getting its oxygen and it’s basically smothered, it dies, everything in it dies.”

Morris admitted the only time the river ever came close to anything that catastrophic was back in 2007 and had nothing to do with Pardy’s. What happened back then was that a silt pond operated by Pennecon let go, discharging sand into the tributaries that feed Kelligrews River. The federal Department of Fisheries were called in to investigate.

“At the time we didn’t find any dead fish,” Morris said. “The river was full of silt for over a week. They did a thorough investigation, but the company admitted what happened.”

Morris said Pardy’s has been absent for a couple of years from a committee of industrial users, environmental groups and the Marine Institute, which all have facilities or interests on Incinerator Road, so there is a lack of communication about what is happening at the dewatering plant.

KEEP would like to see Pardy’s build berms around the drying fecal waste to prevent any leaching into the tributaries.

“I’m not an expert in this but… it should be contained, and they should make sure it can’t leach,” said Morris. “This stuff is out in the open, so every time there is a rainfall or anything like that, the rain is going to run off, it’s going to go into those tributaries, and it’s going to go down the river. So, this is a health hazard… I don’t know what they should do, but they shouldn’t have it out in the exposed area… They can’t incinerate it. I don’t have a solution. I’m sure there must be solutions out there, because I’m sure every municipality deals with this, but you can’t put that kind of thing on a river system – you put it somewhere where it can’t leach into your water system.”

Penney suggested the waste could go to the Robin Hood Bay Landfill.

Morris has little sympathy for Moores’ claim that the Province is avoiding a better solution for the fecal waste in Foxtrap and the larger pile stacking up near Cochrane Pond.

“I would say Pardy’s is also at fault there,” said Morris. “They decided to take the stuff. They took a contract, so they must have known what they’re going to do with it. And to blame it on the government? With legislation we all know how slow things turn, so if there wasn’t legislation and they didn’t have permits, why did they take the contract to do the stuff when there was nothing in place and they knew they were going to get into this situation, if that’s the case.”

If there is one point where KEEP and Moores might find agreement is that there needs to be rules as to how human waste is handled.

“Every municipality in Newfoundland has to deal with their human waste,” said Moores. “The Town of Rocky Harbour six years ago phoned us, their sewer lagoon was full. It was full of solids, there was no flowthrough, there was no capacity, everything was overflowing. They asked us if we could clean it out. We said, yes, no problem, we can clean out your sewer lagoon; it’s going to cost you a million dollars. (Instead) They got a permit from the government to pump their sewer lagoon out into the bay in Rocky Harbour. They turned the bay brown. So when we’re looking at nutrient deficient (land) and we’re looking at farmers having to pay more money for fertilizer, and we’re looking at valuable waste sitting in everybody’s lagoons around Newfoundland, there’s enough nutrient value in the human waste capacity of Newfoundland to provide nutrient content to everything – for agricultural purposes, for forestry, for landscaping, for all of it, but our government won’t deal with any of that policy because then they’ve got to go to work. The easiest thing that they can do is say, ‘No, you’re not allowed to do that.’”

The Pardy’s Dewatering Plant on Incinerator Road in Foxtrap. On the ground in front of the big storage tanks at right sits loads of human feces composting in the sun. Craig Westcott photo

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