Copper levels at wastewater facility high

SOCIAL CIRCLE -- The City Council is mulling options for removing excess levels of copper coming through its wastewater treatment facility -- options that could cost millions of dollars.

City Manager Doug White reported to the City Council on Tuesday that the city will likely need to spend $10,000 to $12,000 to temporarily set up a filter to the wastewater facility located off East Hightower Road.

"If the filter works, we'll need to install it, and that could cost around $1 million," White said.

Bill Noell, manager of the East Compliance and Enforcement Unit with the state Environmental Protection Division, said Wednesday that the city's wastewater treatment plant is violating its permitted copper level.

"They are discharging at levels that exceed that permitted limit," Noell said. "We have met with the city and they are in the process of addressing the issue. ... We don't really know what the source may be. They could have an industrial user where copper is discharged in the city system, they could have copper pipes in the system, the source water could have copper in it. Whatever the issue is, they still are violating the copper limit."

Noell added that the copper limits are "pretty low," but treatment facilities are permitted for a certain level of pollutants and regardless of the amount, a violation is a violation.

Noell said excess copper is not a common issue for wastewater treatment facilities. He said he is aware of one other system that has an issue with copper as a result of an industrial customer.

"They are dealing with it through pretreatment and they are also adding (a filter) to their facility; other than that, I don't know of one that is in violation of copper limits," Noell said

He said the excess copper limits in Social Circle were first noted during a routine compliance sampling inspection at the plant in early 2009. Noell said the EPD met with city officials in June and again this month.

He said Social Circle has two main options moving forward. First, the city could expand the plant from its current capacity of 650,000 gallons a day. Operating with a larger treatment facility would affect the permitted levels of pollutants, meaning the amounts of copper coming through the system now may not exceed those limits.

The second option for Social Circle would be to simply install a filter at the current facility.

Either way, Noell said, the city must get started as soon as possible to address the issue.

"Once they met with the council (Tuesday), they were to get back in touch with us as quickly as possible," he said.

White said Wednesday that the city has considered a number of options, including expanding the current treatment facility, constructing a new plant or linking up with the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority. Expanding or constructing a new facility, however, may not be the most feasible option at this time. Constructing a new facility would likely cost about $5 million or $6 million, White said.

Besides, he said, "We're using only about 350,000 to 400,000 gallons a day, so we have ample flow capacity at this point."

In the meantime, White said, the city has been unable to identify the source of the copper and has tried using a number of different filters. He said they have found one that has worked in preliminary tests, but the company wants to install it on site.

"It's a trailer-mounted filter system and we can temporarily hook it to the flow and test it," White said. "If it works and that's the solution, then we'll be obligated to buy one and install it."

However, White said, the city is in the process of doing some additional testing that could help identify the source of the copper.

"If that testing is not conclusive in identifying a source or sources that we can get to remove the copper on the user end, then we will get the test filter in so that we can determine if that will cure the problem," he said. "I actually hope that we can identify a source to work with to clear this issue up so that a filter is not necessary."