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CITY FACES DEADLINE ON SLUDGE HIGHER STANDARDS POSE DILEMMA OVER DISPOSAL.

Byline: Kerry Cavanaugh Staff Writer

Unless it can prove by Jan. 1 that its sewage sludge is clean enough to be used as fertilizer in Kern County, Los Angeles will have to pay thousands of dollars per day to ship the treated waste to Arizona or a certified landfill, officials say.

About 95 percent of the sludge generated by Los Angeles and neighboring cities is currently trucked to Kern County, where it is spread on farmland as fertilizer for cotton and cattle feed. But new regulations that take effect next year require the sludge be treated to a higher standard to remove all disease-causing organisms.

Earlier this year, the city's Bureau of Sanitation unveiled $20 million in improvements to the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Plant in El Segundo intended to ``cook'' the waste to a high enough temperature to kill pathogens and meet Kern's new sludge standard. But high heat created an increase in some especially odoriferous gases, prompting more than 200 complaints and seven air quality violations since Oct. 1.

``It's an awful, sickening smell, like the stench of human poop,'' said Barbara Parchen, who owns Barb's Hair Care on Grand Avenue and has noticed the smell wafting up from the South Bay treatment plant. ``I don't know how they can stop it, but they need to.''

Managers tried to solve the stink by lowering the temperature at the plant, and complaints have since fallen, said Ray Kearney, assistant director at Bureau of Sanitation.

But by cooking the waste at a lower temperature, the city now has to test the sewage sludge for three disease-causing organisms - salmonella, intestinal virus and an intestinal worm.

Kearney is confident the tests will come up clean, but it takes at least six weeks for some results to come back.

``We have to wait till Christmas,'' Kearney said, meaning the city will have less than a week to clear those results with Kern County.

Kern County Environmental Health Services Director Steve McCalley said Los Angeles ``would need a darn good reason'' to ask Kern for an extension past Jan. 1. Otherwise, if the sewage sludge is not proven to meet Kern's standard, it can't touch Kern soil.

Los Angeles would instead have to ship its treated sewage to Arizona or bury it in landfills - at a 50 percent increase in cost to the city, which adds up to at least $7,800 per day, Kearney said.

Los Angeles and neighboring cities of Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Glendale and Burbank each year generate 289,000 tons of treated sewage sludge, also called biosolids. Most of the thick, black muck is spread on a swath of Los Angeles-owned land and used as fertilizer for crops inedible to humans.

But concerns arose over groundwater contamination and the safety of using treated human waste as fertilizer in one of the biggest farming counties in the state. Those worries, coupled with community grumbling about Los Angeles sending its waste up north, prompted the Kern County Board of Supervisors to vote to ban Class B biosolids, which was the kind of treated sewage sludge produced by Los Angeles.

Kern required Los Angeles to treat its sewage sludge to Class A exceptional quality levels by Jan. 1, 2003. The new standard means the city has to cook the sewage to a high enough temperature to kill all pathogens.

The city of Los Angeles was one of several cities that sued Kern over the new sludge standard, saying it had no scientific basis. But a judge recently ruled in Kern's favor and upheld Kern's biosolid rule in late November.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 7, 2002
Words:604
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