An environmental challenge to Spokane County’s year-old wastewater treatment plant goes before a state appeals panel on Monday.
The Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board will weigh arguments from the Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy on the legality of a pollution discharge permit issued by the state Department of Ecology for the plant.
The challenge involves the amount of polychlorinated biphenyl being discharged into the river from the treated wastewater.
While the plant is considered highly efficient in removing pollution, it still allows small amounts of PCBs to go into the river.
The cancer-causing chemical was banned in the U.S. in 1979, but it has remained in the environment since then. As a result, the Spokane River does not meet federal pollution standards.
The environmental groups argue that the Spokane County Regional Water Reclamation Facility cannot be allowed to add to the amount of PCB pollution already in the river. They say the state should have required PCB limits from all dischargers to get control over the amount of PCB pollution entering the river.
Another option would be to require the county to pump its treated wastewater to an infiltration site away from the river, they argue. The county has land in the Saltese Flats area southwest of Liberty Lake for the possibility of pumping wastewater to that location in the future.
The county is expected to argue that the flow coming from the new plant is offset by reductions in flow from the city wastewater plant adjacent to Riverside State Park. Until the county’s new plant opened in December 2011, its sewage was piped to the city plant.
The $173 million county plant is part of a 30-year project to end the use of septic tanks and drainfields on land above the Spokane-Rathdrum aquifer, which is the sole source of drinking water in the Spokane region. The project has stopped the infiltration of partially treated sewage into the region’s drinking water supply.
PCB was widely used as a coolant in electrical equipment such as motors and transformers. It remains in storm sewer pipes and elsewhere even though it’s been banned for more than three decades.
The pollution is particularly dangerous for people who eat a lot of fish from the river, including crayfish.
The Spokane Tribe, which has its own pollution standards, sets a lower threshold for safe levels of PCBs in the river flowing through its reservation.