Towns cited for waste water violations

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(Host) State environmental officials recently fined the town of Shelburne because its sewage plant released too much chlorine and other pollutants into Lake Champlain. The case is not an isolated incident. Other waste water plants in Vermont have violated state and federal pollution standards.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The sewage treatment plants alongside Vermont’s rivers have made vast improvements in water quality around the state. But no mechanical system run by people is perfect. And a new Environmental Protection Agency web site shows that some of Vermont’s wastewater plants sometimes discharge more pollution than they’re allowed.

The city of Burlington, for example, was put on notice by the EPA that its main waste water plant released too much chlorine into Lake Champlain. The plant treats both municipal sewage and stormwater from city streets. It uses chlorine to kill harmful bacteria. But in high amounts, chlorine is also dangerous to aquatic life.

Brian Kooiker is with the state’s wastewater management division. He says the problem may be in the sampling procedure used by Burlington:

(Kooiker) “We don’t know at this point. But we put our heads together over here and said we need to be certain before we proceed any further here. That what we’re seeing here is not just an analytical problem, and actually an effluent problem and the only way to do that is really to double check on whether the samples and analysis we get are actually representative.”

(Dillon) The EPA also says the Burlington plant exceeded limits for phosphorus pollution and E. coli bacteria in 2001.

Other plants around the state have also failed to meet pollution limits. According to the EPA, the Montpelier treatment facility released too much phosphorus into the Winooski River in 2001. The Middlebury plant has also exceeded standards for phosphorus and E. coli bacteria.

Most violations don’t lead to fines by the EPA or the state. Gary Kessler, senior enforcement lawyer with the Agency of Natural Resources, says the town of Shelburne had repeated violations that lasted several months. The problems included high levels of phosphorus, chlorine, and solids in the wastewater.

(Kessler) “They were exceeding the residual chlorine levels, the total oxygen demand. They had quite a few violations in addition to E. coli.”

(Dillon) Shelburne agreed to pay a state fine of $13,500 to settle its case.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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