A complaint in February led to an investigation of a Bryan County contractor for illegally dumping “wastewater debris” on fenced-off county property about 200 feet from a well off Oak Level Road.
The county said it was unaware the contractor was doing anything illegal and stopped immediately when it was notified, and an EPD report notes the county complied when told to.
The report said testing showed there was no sign the well, which draws water from 700 feet below the surface, was impacted by the debris, which was sat out to dry before being put into a landfill.
The case was closed in March and EPD officials said Friday during a telephone interview there was likely “minimal” impact to the environment.
“Although placing the debris in an earthen pit does create a potential threat to public health and the environment, the situation in Bryan County was a minimal threat,” the EPD’s David Lyle said in an email. “Water quality sample results indicate that the groundwater and public water system were not impacted.
Lyle said Tuesday in another email the county was not fined and there’s no documentation it was told to stop in 2016 after a similar incident was reported, but he also noted that situation was reported to be temporary.
He also said the contractor should have used other methods to dry the debris, which is removed to keep from damaging pumps in the treatment system.
“There is no record from the 2016 complaint indicating that the county was warned about using this method; only that the situation was temporary and cleaned up,” Lyle said in his email. “It should be noted that the permit issued by EPD for the Bryan County wastewater treatment plant and sewer system has requirements regarding endangering waters of the state, and these requirements make it clear that discharging, or placing a taste or color producing substance so that it might discharge, into waters of the state must be prevented to avoid potential impact to human health and the environment.
In the county’s case, such operations occurred about two to four times a year and involved placing the debris on land near a spray field on county property.
County officials strongly denied claims they were acting illegally. A statement last week read as follows: “In early February, the EPD received a complaint from a Bryan County resident who spotted sewage system debris that had been removed from a lift station upstream from the county sewage plant’s filtration system. It was being temporarily stored during a dry-out phase designed to evaporate all water from the matter so it can be properly disposed of in a certified landfill.“
Bryan County’s third-party sewer plant operator was operating under the assumption that storing this debris temporarily at this remote location within the confines of an existing county spray field before disposal was acceptable to EPD. This debris which consists mostly of household grease and other common household items that may be flushed into the system - must be removed periodically to maintain system operations. If it is not removed, the plant’s pump motors could be severely damaged, leading to a catastrophic failure of the entire sewage plant. As a result, property owners and even entire neighborhoods would have to deal with significant sewage back-ups and overflows.”
“When the EPD received the resident’s complaint about the storage method for the debris as it dried out, they promptly passed along the complaint to Bryan County. The EPD requested that Bryan County deploy a new method for temporarily storing debris during the dry-out phase.
In response, Bryan County took immediate action to correct the issue and implemented a new procedure and storage technique.
“Shortly thereafter, the EPD visited Bryan County’s sewage plant to ensure the issue had been properly resolved. The EPD signed off on the changes that had been made, and the issue was completely resolved without any environmental impact.
Had the county been aware for even a minute that its pre-disposal temporary storage of debris as it dried out was a problem, the method would have been changed immediately. In fact, that’s exactly what transpired as soon as the EPD notified the county hat a new system was needed. Bryan County complied and the case was closed.”
A Q& A by email with the EPD’s David Lyle
BCN:.Bryan County says it was operating under impression what its contractor was doing was legal. It says it stopped immediately when told to and that it is now operating legally. Was the county (or its contractor) told prior to February 2019 to stop drying wastewater debris at the spray field site?
A: A complaint of the same nature was investigated in 2016.
Our records do not indicate that the county was definitively told to stop drying the debris in this manner; however, the record indicates that this operation was temporary and was cleaned up.
The 2016 event was also not allowed according to the Georgia Water Quality Rules and could have resulted in enforcement action by Georgia EPD. Perhaps it was not communicated clearly to the county in 2016 or there was a misunderstanding. However, for this recent occurrence, the requirements for safe handling of the waste material was clearly communicated verbally and in writing.
Q. How often did the contractor for Bryan County dry out the debris using that method? Is there a way to determine how much waste was put on the ground there before it was halted?
A: Based on discussion with the contractor, the debris was dried in the pit two to four times per year depending on the amount of debris removed from the sewage pump stations each time.
Q. Why is that method wrong to use? What are preferred methods?
A: The method used is not allowed because harmful contaminants could impact the groundwater and could also flow into waters of the state with storm water. The preferred methods include transfer to a receiving station at a wastewater treatment plant or to a concrete basin designed for that purpose where the liquid from the debris evaporates and/or flows to a sewage collection system.
Q: Was Bryan County ever fined or warned about using this method prior to February 2019?
A: Bryan County has never paid a monetary settlement for using this method. As previously stated, there is no record from the 2016 complaint indicating that the county was warned about using this method; only that the situation was temporary and cleaned up. It should be noted that the permit issued by EPD for the Bryan County wastewater treatment plant and sewer system has requirements regarding endangering waters of the state, and these requirements make it clear that discharging, or placing a taste or color producing substance so that it might discharge, into waters of the state must be prevented to avoid potential impact to human health and the environment.