Regressing to Worst Available Technologies: Proposed Facility Seeks to Use Mixing Zone

Monday, October 17, 2011 - 10:40am

Many advances have been made in the technologies available for treating wastewater, but many outdated practices continue to be employed by polluters. One of those obsolete discharge methods is the toxic mixing zone, which means the river itself is used to dilute waste in concentrations not normally allowed.

Local citizens groups brought to our attention that a proposed incinerator facility in Frederick County, the Frederick/Carroll County Renewable Waste to Energy (FCCRTWE) plant, has applied to use a mixing zone for its effluent discharge. The incinerator would take treated water from the Ballenger-McKinney Wastewater Treatment Plant to use in its cooling tower. Between 240,000 and 670,000 gallons of water with concentrated pollutants would be discharged per day into the Potomac, about 10 miles away. Among other harmful substances, the discharge from FCCETWE would contain concentrations of aluminum, arsenic, lead, cyanide, and mercury.

FCCRTWE intends to use an existing discharge pipe and outfall that was originally owned by Alcoa’s Eastalco aluminum smelting plant and is now owned by the County of Frederick. The outfall itself is a 480 foot diffuser pipe in the river near Noland’s Ferry Boat Ramp.

“We are supposed to be progressing toward cleaner water using the Best Available Technologies.” Potomac Riverkeeper Ed Merrifield explains frankly, “Toxic mixing zones are effectively one of the worst available technologies. Essentially, it’s like returning to the 19th century.”

The thinking behind a mixing zone harkens back to the days of “the solution to pollution is dilution.” As science and technology have advanced, it is clear that dilution is not the answer to pollution. To the contrary, researchers continue to find more contaminants of emerging concern – pollutants that can be toxic, cancer causing, or affect hormone function yet are not required to be monitored. These contaminants are meant to work in small doses in living systems, so mixing them with large amounts of water does not stop the potential for these contaminants to cause harm.

Currently, the incinerator’s permit application is being reviewed by the Maryland Department of the Environment. Potomac Riverkeeper has engaged the pro bono services of one of the largest law firms in the country to help with this issue. Adding concentrated pollution to our waters in the form of toxic mixing zones should have been stopped years ago.