Los Angeles sanitation officials, who face a ban on dumping sludge into the ocean off Santa Monica, soon will begin trucking the condensed sewage to two South Bay sites: the Port of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles International Airport, where it will be converted into compost and a material to cover landfills.
In response to an emergency plea from Mayor Tom Bradley and the Bureau of Sanitation, the harbor commissioners voted Tuesday to lease the city slightly more than seven acres on Terminal Island. After receiving the same request, the airport commissioners voted last week to lease the city five acres west of Pershing Drive and the runways.
Sanitation officials need the port- and airport-owned land to help them comply with a federal court decree that sets Dec. 31 as the last day they can dump sludge into Santa Monica Bay. The city met that deadline last month, when it began trucking sludge from the Hyperion sewage plant near El Segundo to two landfills, one in West Covina and one north of the San Fernando Valley.
But the landfills are closed on weekends and cannot operate in the rain, forcing sanitation officials to store the sludge at the Hyperion plant. During heavy rains last week, officials said, storage was at capacity.
"It's a problem for us," said Tim Haugh, chief process engineer for the Bureau of Sanitation. "If you happen to couple a weekend with a major rain event, it's very difficult."
The port and the airport have both agreed to lease their land to the city for 18 months, beginning Jan. 1. The temporary leases are viewed as a stopgap measure while the city explores other, long-term options for the sludge.
Sludge, which is the final product after household and industrial waste is processed, is a jelly-like substance, 80% water and 20% solid. Although it is treated, it is contaminated with what Haugh said are "traces" of DDT, PCBs and toxic metals such as silver, cadmium and nickel. For instance, he said, the cadmium concentration is 50 parts per million.
For years, Los Angeles simply discharged the sludge into Santa Monica Bay through a pipeline at the Hyperion treatment plant. The pipeline was shut Nov. 2 to comply with the federal court order.
Treated 2 Different Ways
Rather than being dumped, the sludge will be treated by two different methods when it reaches the airport and the port.
At the airport, Haugh said, the sludge will undergo a procedure known as "chemical fixation." The process leaves the treated sewage resembling "clay-like dirt" that can be used as landfill cover. A private firm will pick up the sludge in its "wet-cake" form, truck it to the airport, "fix" it, and then truck it to landfills.
At Terminal Island, the sludge will be "composted"--a process of adding sawdust to the treated sewage, so that it can be used as a soil conditioner. H. Clay Kellogg Inc., the private company running the operation, will also bag the compost and sell it. The compost will have insufficient nitrogen to technically be fertilizer, Haugh said.
He said that, based on tests of the sludge and projections of how much sawdust will be added to it, officials are convinced that it will be safe for crops. "Everybody seems to think that we're going to pour some kind of toxic waste in this dump and market it," he said. "You just can't do that."
Plans call for the city to truck 1,500 tons of sludge to the airport each week, beginning next week. Haugh said the Terminal Island site can hold up to 120 tons a day, but that the city may bring less sludge there to control the smell that accompanies composting. "We're only going to operate up to the point where we don't create an odor nuisance," Haugh said.
Haugh added that he does not know when the composting operation will begin at the port, because the site has to be prepared.
The chemical fixation and composting procedures, according to Haugh, are part of an attempt by the city to "diversify the sludge management" by finding ways to reuse, rather than simply dispose of, sludge.
To that end, the city has built a $233-million incineration facility that would use an innovative process of burning sludge to recover energy from it. But the Hyperion Energy Recovery System--or HERS plant--is not yet working on a full-time basis.
Eventually, the city hopes to compost sludge on a long-term basis at a site in the San Joaquin Valley. Sanitation officials are currently negotiating with Kellogg to find a site for a long-term composting operation. Kellogg will run the Terminal Island composting facility.
Although the airport land is rent-free, the port is charging the city $21,599 a month. Asked about the cost, Haugh replied: "Sludge is not a cheap business."
At Tuesday's meeting, which was held on one day's notice because of the problem's emergency nature, only two port-area residents showed up to voice objections. One, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Yacht Club, said he was worried that the smell would affect the club's nearby marina. The other, a spokeswoman for a homeowners group in Wilmington, said she was concerned that trucks hauling the sludge would come through residential neighborhoods. However, the harbor commissioners voted to establish a truck route bypassing the neighborhoods and make it a condition of the city's lease.
The harbor commissioners, accustomed to dealing with foreign trade and issues of business and industry, also seemed leery of having treated sewage trucked into the port. But, they said, they were willing to go along with it because it was a city emergency.
Said Commission Vice President Ira Distenfield: "This is not an opportunity for the port. It's a challenge."