Leachate is topic of discussion at town hall

Published 11:17 am Friday, April 9, 2010

The City of Demopolis hosted a town hall meeting Thursday night at the Demopolis Civic Center, and although the forum was open to a number of topics, the main topic of concern was the handling of leachate from Perry County. Many of those on hand were either against Demopolis handling the leachate from Perry County or were concerned about possible negative effects on Demopolis.

“We are trying to get opinions,” said Demopolis mayor Mike Grayson, who moderated the forum. “We’re trying to create discussion – not necessarily all for or all against. We just want for the community to know what’s going on.”

After speaking about the issues that the city council has done and is working on, Grayson opened discussion about the leachate issue.

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“Our treatment plant has been accepting leachate, which is ground water runoff from the (Perry County) landfill,” he said. “It’s being trucked over here. We are processing it and running it through our treatment plant.”

Grayson then opened the floor to questions. One person wanted to know about the composition of leachate and why it was being brought into Marengo County. Byron Cook, the director of the water treatment plant, answered the question.

“The Perry County landfill – we are taking their waste water,” he said. “The leachate is a byproduct of the landfill. As the water goes through the ground, it gets to the bottom of the landfill. There is a liner in the landfill, and they pump that water back out. They are bringing that to us to treat as waste water.

“We test all of that for metals – anything that could be considered hazardous – through our laboratory in Tuscaloosa, which is Tuscaloosa Testing Laboratories. It’s not an in-house lab. We’re doing everything pertaining to that that the state would have us do it and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) would have us do it.”

Grayson said that coal ash – residue from burning coal – is brought to Perry County’s landfill and dumped into cells.

“The leachate is really nothing more than rain water,” he said. “Somebody told me, ‘I can’t believe that you are taking this sludge from Perry County and you’re dumping it in the river.’ Well, that is totally erroneous. That is not true at all. What we get is hauled over in an 18-wheeler, and it’s totally water.”

“To date, everything that we’ve done, we’ve had no issues with it,” Cook said. “It’s had no impact on the treatment facility and, therefore, no impact on the city of Demopolis.”

Cook told the audience that the leachate is tested three times a week and talked about the issue with the permit.

“We had several issues going on, and we were dealing with ADEM (the Alabama Department of Economic XXX),” he said. “It just did not get in to ADEM on time, which constitutes, by their rules, that it was late. We are dealing with that now.

“We are under an administrative order. We are operating under our own permit until our new permit is granted. We have gone through the public comment period, so all of the criteria that is required by the state has been met, and the EPA had comments as well. Every step of the way that we’ve gone in accepting the leachate, we have sampled the effluent for arsenic and various other things.

“The safety of the citizens of Demopolis is paramount to us,” he said. “If there is any problem whatsoever in what they send to us, that’s the end of it. (Perry County) knows that, we know that, ADEM knows that and the EPA knows that.”

Asked how the decision was made to accept Perry County’s leachate, Cook said that the water treatment plant had been taking in the leachate before the coal ash came to Perry County.

“The water board made a conscious decision to take the leachate,” he said. “It is a revenue source for us. We’re not getting rich at it, but it is a revenue source.”

He later told the audience that the plant would make about $150,000 this year off of the leachate.

Cook said that the leachate was not considered to be hazardous material, and that the water treatment plant began taking in Perry County waste water three years ago. He said the plant began taking in leachate from the coal ash in December 2009.

One person asked Grayson, who also serves on the water board why the decision was made to accept Perry County’s leachate.

“I would have to ask you ‘Why not?’” he answered. “It is providing a service to a neighboring community that I know is being handled professionally and is being done with quality. I would much rather our people handle it and treat it and discharge it as, truly, a non-hazardous thing as to turn it over somewhere else who very well might be upstream from us and let it seep into the ground and get in our water.”

The point was stressed by city and water treatment plant officials that the leachate is not toxic or hazardous waste.