Inland Empire Paper Co., which produces newsprint and other paper products for clients throughout the United States, sits on the banks of the Spokane River in Millwood. The plant doesn’t look that big as you drive by it on Argonne Road. But take a tour and its size will amaze you. Bales of recycled newsprint are stacked inside a huge warehouse. Outside, the plant has its own wastewater treatment plant. Below the plant, mountains of wood chips rise into the air. Inland Empire Paper is owned by Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.
We picked Doug Krapas, the company’s environmental compliance engineer, for this River Dialogues series because he was recommended by several other river experts already featured here. He’s been part of the Spokane River TMDL Collaboration, a group working together to implement a cleanup plan for the river.
Krapas, 44, also oversaw several pilot studies designed to reduce the discharge of phosphorous into the river. During a recent tour of the plant, Krapas spoke with editorial board member Rebecca Nappi.
Q: How many tons of newspaper do you produce each day?
A: Five hundred tons per day of newsprint type products are produced here. We are a small mill in relationship to many of the other paper mills out there in the world. We fill a niche need. We have the ability to be able to react to various client’s needs. If they happened to need something next week, we can do it. If they need various colors, or if they have various weight requirements, we can make a bunch of different types of white newsprint in various densities and brightnesses. We can also do colored sheets. We do yellow. We do pink. The yellow is used to make the yellow pages.
Q: It’s not just for newspapers?
A: Anywhere you see any type newsprint material, it could be ours.
Q: Do you send stuff overseas?
A: We do not. We primarily provide our paper product in the United States. We supply the Spokesman. We supply other publishers as well, Kansas City, San Diego, Seattle. One of the misnomers is that we only provide the Spokesman with their newsprint, but we do provide for others as well.
Our product is made from 50 percent recycled newsprint and 50 percent recycled wood chips. The mill prides itself on its environmental stewardship. We actually receive the wood chips as a waste product from local timber mills. And we receive our old newsprint from within a thousand-mile radius of here.
(We begin the tour by entering the “ONP” warehouse stacked with bales of recycled newspaper.)
Krapas: ONP stands for old newsprint. Old newsprint is what we consider recycled newsprint. The problem we have with this material today is that we’re getting a lot of trash in. You normally take your newsprint to a recycling center and you throw it into a bin. That’s called sorted. You’ve actually sorted that material and it’s a very clean material.
China is really buying up our old newsprint. So now we’re getting what’s called “single stream.” The refuse collector comes in, and he discharges his material into a municipal reclamation and recycle facility. You can see by looking at this bale of newsprint here, the trash we’re getting. This is a piece of Plexiglas here. Here’s string here. There’s a water bottle there. There’s a pizza box. There’s a tin can. So we’re getting a lot of garbage in with our ONP.
So we’re having to pay for the material on the way in and now we’re having to deal with it through our processing facility and separating it out. We just want the usable fiber. So what’s happening is we have to pay to get rid of that trash. It usually goes up to the waste-to-energy facility in Spokane. But it’s become a problem. We’ve had to design some pretty sophisticated removal equipment to get rid of that (trash.)
Q: Do you pay for the recyclables?
A: Yes. We pay for it on the way in and the way out.
(Next stop on the tour: The pulper.)
Krapas: This is the pulper. This is where you see the old newsprint coming in. There is a blade at the bottom of that that agitates the old newsprint coming in. It tears it down to a pulp-size material.
Now we take the old newsprint and it goes up the conveyor and it’s going into the pulper, which turns it back into a paper pulp again. You have all this coloring and the trash.
We’ve also got the inks to deal with. You’ve got a lot of contaminants. You can only reuse a fiber so many times. And then what happens, it comes out of our wastewater treatment system as sludge. So now we have to deal with that sludge material. It’s a waste product of the recycling process.
IEP (Inland Empire Paper) is very proactive. They are always trying to look at the latest and greatest technology that exists, especially from an environmental standpoint. They want to minimize their impact on the environment. They were the first mill, the first people on the planet, to actually burn 100 percent of that paper sludge in a combustion system, produce steam with it, reduce that sludge to just strictly ash, and they are providing it to a cement company that puts it into a cement product. So we’re really zero discharge as the sludge handling is concerned.
Q: Did the sludge used to go into the river?
A: Sludge never went to the river. If anything, it would go to a landfill.
Krapas: I’m going to take you now through the de-ink area. The old newsprint recycling process is equated to a washing machine process. We add detergents in to separate the inks out of the paper process and we actually try to remove the inks and make the pulp white again. It’s like putting it through a big washer. It goes through various processes and comes out as white pulp.
This is our pulp mill control room. We run the de-ink system from this location and we run four refiners. The refiners are used to process the wood chips. We’re breaking the wood chip down into individual, usable fiber for making paper and that’s done through heat and compression.
Q: How many employees?
A: About 150 employees overall. The company has been in business since 1911. It’s been a fixture in the Spokane area for a long time. I go out and give a lot of presentations to children at the local schools and we’ll see their parents and almost always, people come up to me and say, “Oh my grandfather worked there. My uncle worked there.” Somebody always knows somebody who works at the mill. It’s got quite a history to it.
People really have no idea what goes into making any product they utilize, paper especially. You pick up your newspaper, and you take it for granted. There’s quite a sophisticated process that goes into making it.
Q: What do you like best about your job?
A: Every day is different. Every day is a new challenge. I work with a bunch of great people. I think we have some of the finest engineers in the region here. The one thing about the company is that they have a can-do attitude. There’s no such thing as it’s impossible. It’s just, how are you going to get it done?
I’ve always looked for that in a job. I needed that challenge. If I’m not challenged, I get bored very quickly. So I’ve really enjoyed that with this group of people. Plus, I’m very pro-environmental. I’m an environmental engineer. I’ve worked in the environmental engineering field for 20-plus years.
The river is a valuable asset to this company, of course. So they want to do whatever’s right. If it’s the latest and greatest technology, they’ll go down that path.
(The tour continued outside where we saw an open area with giant basins of churning wastewater. They looked very similar to basins we’ve seen at treatments plants in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.)
Q: Is this a wastewater treatment plant?
A: Yes. I’m glad you’ve been to a wastewater treatment plant. You won’t be surprised what you’ll see here. We’re certainly not the same chemistry as a municipal sewage treatment plant and that’s part of the concern we had. When we started talking to all these suppliers of the low-phosphorous technology, most of their experiences were based on municipal wastewater treatment plants. And we know our chemistry is going to differ significantly from a wastewater treatment plant. So they couldn’t give us any feedback on how they would perform, as far as phosphorous reduction was concerned.
Q: Do you use the same technology? Do you have digesters?
A: We don’t have digesters. We have clarifiers. A clarifier primarily is a settling basin. What you want to do is settle out some of the solid materials that’s taken off as the sludge. All the mill’s effluent stream comes into that primary clarifier. It then comes up here for the biologic treatment. This is the aerobic aeration basin. There are bacteria and bugs in there that consume the organic matter. And then it goes off to our secondary clarifier. It looks like a swimming pool. So we settle out all the solids and that’s the clear water that we discharge into the river.
The sludge solids I mentioned earlier, that are coming off our de-inking sludge process, those are fed to the fluidized combustion system. We burn them. We create steam that helps fuel the plants. Then the ash that is produced by that, we send off to a cement company who actually puts it into cement. So it’s beneficial reuse.
We send very little to a landfill. The only time we would send to a landfill is if we have mechanical issues that occur with the sludge press, maybe too wet and can’t be burned in the combustor.
The level of sophistication is growing. We have some of the best technology in the country right now. We’re looking at implementing it here and using it here. The United States has the most stringent emission limitations, and Europe as well. So we can do our part and it helps everything on a global basis.
Q: Can you repeat again what exactly is being treated here?
A: Primarily, a good portion is the de-inking of the old newsprint when we take it through the washing process of cleaning out the old inks and the fiber that’s no longer reusable. You can only use fiber so many times and then it ends up as the solid matter that comes through here. We then have the bacteria in this aeration basin and they consume the organic matter. We’re adding oxygen to help feed the bugs and we add nutrients to feed the bugs and they actually live off that organic matter.
(We next moved on to an area where mountains of wood chips rose into the sky.)
Krapas explained: As you know our product is made from the recycled newsprint and the other 50 percent is this: wood chips. These wood chips are received from local timber mills. It is actually a waste product. They aren’t sizeable enough to make timber out of them. We get them from local timber mills in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon. The chips are refined through our mechanical refiners and made into pulp.
Q: What happens with the 250 tons that come from here?
A: That 250 tons of wood chips per day are sent to our refining area and there are a series of heated plates. We heat the chips and we use thermo-mechanical compression to actually tear the chip down into usable paper fibers. After that, it goes off to the paper machine.
Q: The final paper product, is it made from a combo of the wood chips and recycled old newsprint?
A: We’re making pulp out of both products combined together.
Q: Tell me about your background.
A: I was born and raised in Pittsburgh. I was in Pittsburgh through the ‘60s and ‘70s and lived there during the smoky city days, when steel mills lined both banks of the rivers. I never actually knew the moon was white. I thought it was orange.
I’ve always been an outdoorsmen. I’ve always been heavily involved in the environment. My dad brought me up that way. When most kids were going to their vacations at Disney World or to the beach, we were always going camping. Dad always took us camping several weeks out of the year. We spent our time fishing, hunting, hiking. So I’ve always just been in tune with the environment.
My dad and mom got divorced when I was about 12. She moved out to the Tri-Cities of Washington. So during my college break, I came out to visit her and I actually drove out and I came over the mountains from Montana and Idaho and came upon Coeur d’Alene Lake and I was just blown away. I’ve just been infatuated with the Pacific Northwest ever since. These are real mountains, real streams, real rivers, everything is pristine, compared with how I grew up in Pittsburgh.
I graduated from West Virginia University with a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering. I worked for various engineering construction firms in Pittsburgh. I primarily served in the energy industry for my career until working here at Inland Empire Paper. This is my first exposure to a paper mill, besides the paper sludge aspect of it. I’ve been involved with waste-to-energy facilities. I’ve burned just about anything you can think of, from tires to chicken manure to any kind of agricultural wastes and produced energy from that.
That’s how I got to know Inland Empire Paper Co. I was working for a company over in Idaho and we furnished the sludge combustion system in 1991 when they put in the de-ink facility. They had the foresight to know they were going to have to deal with the sludge. They were the first ones on the planet to have a combustion system burning 100 percent paper sludge.
Q: Growing up in Pittsburgh before the days of pollution control, how did that inform the rest of your career?
A: Growing up back then, I didn’t know any better. I lived in Pittsburgh and thought this was the way it was supposed to be. In the 1970s, when the Clean Air Act came out, it put those mills out of business. So I saw the good and the bad of it. A good portion of that entire city was employed in some way, shape or form by the steel industry, so there were a lot of people out of work at that time. I saw that bad part of it. Now when I go back, the city has gone through several renaissance periods. There’s not a mill to be found there anymore. And they’ve taken all of those mills and made them prime waterfront property and the rivers are so much cleaner, the air is so much cleaner. The moon is white now. And like I said my dad had an influence on me, because of the things he showed me. I knew it wasn’t supposed to be that way.
After getting your mechanical engineering degree, there are numerous paths you can follow in life. In mechanical, you have a lot of different choices. I’ve followed my heart to some degree.
I’m an environmentalist, but I’m a realist as well. I realized we have to have industry. It’s been the backbone of the country for 100-plus years. It’s what built this country. We need it. Everybody thinks they may be an environmentalist from a personal standpoint, but they have to realize the reason we have most of these problems are due to us humans, you, me and John Q. Public. All the products we use. Every time we use water, it goes off to the wastewater treatment plant. People flush and don’t think about where it goes to. They don’t think about it when they throw their paper away.
I knew I could have an influence on that in industry. My specialty has been pollution control and looking at ways to minimize the impact industry is going to have on the environment. We need to think more globally than we do. Most people who think they are environmentalists are somewhat selfish environmentalists, because they are worried about what’s in their own back yard, the NIMBY syndrome.
We have to think globally now. There are so many people on the planet. We influence it by issues such as global warming. We have such sophisticated technologies in this country that we have the ability to be able to produce products with the most minimal impact on the environment, versus China and other places. They are going through the industrial revolution like we went through. The reasons those products are cheaper are yes, they have cheaper labor, and they don’t have the stringent environmental controls we have here. We have the ability to produce the products with the least amount of impact on the environment. I feel really good about that.
Q: You were part of the Spokane River TMDL Collaboration. What did you learn from it?
A: I served on two work groups – the technical work group and the reuse work group. And it was somewhat for selfish reasons, because that’s what applied to this mill. We were interested in what we could achieve in terms of (phosphorous) reductions on the technology side and how we were going to get there. This mill is also interested in the reuse aspects as well. So, there was a plethora of information we gathered over that year’s worth of time. We were an integral part of it because of the pilot studies we conducted. We were able to convey to the group the capabilities of the top performing technologies that existed out there.
Q: How do you interact with the river?
A: I moved out here in 1991 and worked for a company in Coeur d’Alene until 2004 when I joined up over here. So my exposure was at the upper reaches of the Spokane River and it was absolutely gorgeous, the falls in Post Falls, absolutely beautiful. I had never really been over to the Spokane side. I didn’t even see the Spokane falls until I came to this company. And the first time I saw them, I was blown away. It was breathtaking. Every reach of the river has its own unique aspect.
Because I live in Coeur d’Alene, I don’t get on the river over here as much as I’d like to. I have three boys and we’re always out and about doing something in the outdoors. We’re fisherman, we’re boaters, water-skiers, anything to do with the outdoors.
Q: How many gallons a day are discharged into the river from this plant?
A: Four million gallons a day. One million gallons a day of that 4 million gallons a day is non-contact cooling water. Non-contact cooling water is water that’s pulled out of the aquifer and taken through heat exchangers in order to cool various mechanical pieces of equipment. It passes through heat exchangers and is then discharged to the river at a slightly higher temperature. I think we pull it (out of the aquifer) at 55 degrees and we discharge at 65 degrees. It is non-contact. It has not come in contact with any of the mill’s processes. We have our own well pumps here at the mill.
Q: What about the other 3 million gallons?
A: The other 3 million are the de-inking. The recycled old newsprint systems where we are doing the washing of the pulp to remove the inks. The other part of the wastewater is the refiner systems where we are actually refining the wood chips.
Q: What does that 3 million gallons look like?
A: It’s wood byproducts or paper byproducts. We bring in the old newsprint and obviously we want clean white pulp out of that, so we use a kind of washing machine type process, to use layman’s terms. We add surfactants which are typical of your detergents that remove the inks from that pulp. You can only utilize that fiber so many times. Fiber has little hairs off it that help mesh and form a strong paper product. So when it starts losing all those little filaments, it becomes unusable and is screened out and comes out in the sludge process. So the combination of those inks and the unusable pulp fiber and “fines” , such as come off the refining process for the wood chips, like sawdust in layman’s terms, would end up in that system.
Q: The 3 million – does it have a specific name?
A: Treated wastewater.
Q: Tell me about the mill’s phosphorous pilot project.
A: Phosphorous is in every living thing. It’s in the cells of our bodies. Every living cell contains phosphorous. That would be true with wood, as well. The phosphorous comes from the wood products and also from the recycled newspapers, also a wood product. So we have residual phosphorous from the treatment of that.
In 2004, we received the draft TMDL (the Department of Ecology’s river cleanup plan) and the draft had limitations proposed of 50 micrograms per liter and 10 micrograms per liter of phosphorous. Which is parts per billion. We knew those were low numbers. We did some research and soon found out that there was no one on the planet actually achieving the 10. There were places that were meeting the 50 parts per billion. There’s a facility in Colorado. Most of Europe has 100 parts (of phosphorous) per billion (of water) as a standard.
We were concerned because most of the information we were receiving from the experts in the field who had these technologies was that the data was based on municipal wastewater treatment systems. They really had no experience with pulp and paper mill effluent. We know our chemistry is different. We’re obviously not handling the same things in our wastewater treatment system that the municipalities are. So we took upon ourselves to find out how our effluent system is going to affect performance of this technology.
We started out with a local firm who tested and it did poorly. We were disappointed. We knew there was something going on. We started talking to the bigger players in the industry. They came up and set up their pilots. We went with three pilots concurrent, side-by-side. Again, they had very difficult times getting low phosphorus reduction with our effluent stream. They were having to feed very high amounts of chemicals.
You are precipitating the phosphorous out of the wastewater with a particular chemical. And then you filter that solid particulate that you’ve developed from that precipitant. They all had equally difficult times. Large amounts of chemical and we could not get anywhere near the 10. The criteria was to attempt to get to the lowest phosphorous effluent that they could.
They finally determined we have a high level of non-reactive phosphorous. There are various species of phosphorous. You have reactive and non-reactive, inorganic and organic.
This non-reactive you can’t capture it with anything. It won’t precipitate out with any particular chemical. The nature of that, I can’t tell you. It’s probably a good thesis for a Ph.D study to determine what is in wood products that makes it have this non-reactive phosphorous content to it. But then we looked deeper and found numerous research papers that were done that showed that pulp and paper mill effluent did contain as much as 20 to 30 percent non-reactive phosphorous. So that kind of explained the difficulties we were having getting it out.
But it’s not available biologically. So therefore it wouldn’t necessarily have an adverse impact on the river.
Q: Were you ever able to get it lowered?
A: We actually got values less than the 50, but we couldn’t get it consistently. I was pleased with what we saw. It would give me no greater pleasure than to tell you we could get down to 10 on a consistent basis. But there is a limit to the technologies. You have to be able to get there a high percentage of the time in order to write your permits around that.
We’re on an interim permit. Basically, it’s been on hold until the TMDL comes to fruition, we’re going to be on our interim permit until that point in time.
Q: Rachael Paschal Osborn, (a Spokane environmental lawyer also interviewed for this series) told us: “Inland Empire Paper is a current discharger of PCBs to the river. We’ve heard it’s coming from a paper that is being recycled at the plant that has yellow dye in it that is manufactured elsewhere in the world.”
A: That information comes from me. Actually, it comes from NCASI (National Council for Air and Stream Improvement) who researched it for the industry. In the ‘70s, the manufacturers of PCBs were eliminated because (PCBs) don’t go away. They stay in nature. What’s interesting is that there are EPA regulations that allow imported products to come into the country with a specific amount of PCBs, and I believe that number is 50 parts per million. So what’s happening is we’re receiving inks, or our publishers are receiving inks, and those yellow inks contain this 50 or less parts per million of PCBs. When we put it through our recycling process, even though it’s such a low concentration, and we’re diluting it much further with our wastewater treatment system. You still end up with just a minute amount.
We were not a PCB discharger until we put in the de-ink facility. It became evident to us that’s where it was coming from in. It’s very, very small. Its parts per quadrillion. It’s a very minute quantity, but it still exists there.
But there is nothing we can particularly do about it. Something needs to be done on the front end. Somebody needs to eliminate the import of these materials from our inks in our publishing. EPA needs to implement laws that say, no, we will not accept products with any trace.
Q: No more PCBs in the yellow dye, in other words.
A: Or in any ink. We found out through NCASI that there are indeed substitutes for that. You don’t have to manufacture the inks with the PCBs.
Q: Where would Inland Paper dispose of the discharge if not in the river?
A: There will be a lot of money spent on the tertiary treatment. Something needs to be done and we need to do it soon. The tertiary treatment is definitely the first path we need to take. We need to get our discharges down to the absolute minimum we possibly can.
There has been talk on the table that if the county is able to install a new facility, perhaps we could take their treated water to the inlet side of this mill and perhaps send our clean discharge back to them for even further cleaning.
Q: So the county wastewater treatment plant would treat your wastewater to a higher level? Am I paraphrasing that’s right?
Q: That’s interesting.
A: What’s interesting is that fresh water – there’s only so much of it. We live in a unique environment here. You know I grew up in Pittsburgh. There are not many places on the planet where you can get all of your water needs out of the aquifer the way we do, without even treating it. We’re taking it right out of the aquifer into our taps. In Pittsburgh, the wastewater treatment plant was upstream of the drinking water plant. You have two full-scale facilities. It’s coming to that here someday. It’s going to be a difficult public perception to get over.
Q: Is there any reuse at all for the wastewater from this plant?
A: Look around us. There is really not that much land available here anymore in the Spokane Valley. The growth is such that we are being fairly well inundated here. There are very few places you could take that. Perhaps a golf course or schools or whatever. That is all part of the reuse opportunities we looked at.
Q: But could you really reuse Inland Empire Paper Co., water as irrigation water?
A: I would say there would be too much liability at this point in time. You brought up the PCB issue. And I don’t think until that problem is resolved…if indeed the PCB issue becomes a problem. We looked at PCB removal with the pilots and it was not effective at removing PCBs. So the only opportunity we can see to remove PCBs from this mill is to eliminate recycling.
We’d have to go entirely to wood chip refining. That 250 tons of recycling a day would go away. It would go into our landfills.
Q: So the irony is that the use of recycled paper is…?
A: Is not a panacea. It does not resolve all problems. There are other problems associated with it. You have the PCB issue with the inks. And will we ever resolve that? It will take a long time to dilute that out of there. It will still show up in our recycled news print for a long period of time, even after the EPA would hopefully eliminate PCB import. Then you have the sludges to deal with and we are dealing with that. And that would be a shame if we put that 250 tons into the landfill. We still haven’t resolved that PCB issue. We’ve just buried it.
Q: Do you have your own (discharge) pipe?
A: Yes. I don’t know a lot of details about how the whole thing is discharged. I’ve actually never seen it.
Q: But it comes off of the plant here?
A: Yes, it comes off the secondary wastewater clarifier that you saw out there and then into the river from there.
Q: The wastewater that goes in, is there a purity level?
A: Yes. This mill is very conscientious about its impact on the environment. We operate magnitudes below our permit levels for all constituents. We want to be there. And we want to get as low as we possibly can. We are poised right now to implement tertiary treatment.
Q: Define tertiary treatment.
A: Tertiary treatment is taking that water off the secondary clarifier and cleaning it up even to a higher level by precipitating out the phosphorous and any other constituents that might remain in there. If I put a glass of that water beside a glass of tap water, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. It is the next level of treatment and that’s the direction we’re going across the U.S. due to the TMDL process and the Clean Water Act.
Q: Is there a way to explain how clean the water is now?
A: All I can tell you is that we maintain well below our permit levels, but I wouldn’t drink it, of course. Would you drink water coming out of the municipal wastewater treatment plant? Probably not. Someday you might, though, without realizing it. When you get into tertiary treatment, there’s really only one more step — disinfection — and you probably could drink that water.
Q: How is Inland Empire Paper a good steward of the river?
A: The company really researches what new products are available to them, as far as being able to reduce their impact on the environment. That’s part of my job. We have a lot of people in this plant working on water conservation. It’s very important we get our water use down. It’s less water that we have to treat, as far as tertiary treatment is concerned, when the TMDL comes to fruition. So there’s incentive to do so.
The company prides itself on its environmental stewardship. We recycle. Half of our paper is made from recycled newsprint. The other half is actually a waste product from the local timber mills. So we’re actually not cutting down trees and grinding them up to make paper. We are taking waste products from both regards and manufacturing our paper products.
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