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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Groups appeal permit for wastewater plant

Environmentalists say any PCBs too much

Two Spokane-based environmental organizations have filed an appeal against Spokane County’s new $173 million wastewater treatment plant in east Spokane.

The local Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental Law & Policy want the state Pollution Control Hearings Board to invalidate the state permit allowing the plant to operate.

The newly opened plant will handle much of the sewage from Spokane Valley.

At issue is the amount of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls, known as PCBs, going into the Spokane River from plant effluent.

John Osborn, a physician who coordinates the Columbia River Future Project for the Sierra Club, said the plant should not be allowed to release any effluent into the river if it contains even small amounts of PCBs.

He said the environmental groups want the effluent processed in an above-ground holding pond with the water eventually recycled for irrigation or other land-based uses.

Spokane County has purchased 346 acres at Saltese Flats in case additional processing is required.

But the state Department of Ecology is instead requiring a task force of government officials, dischargers and environmental groups to find local sources of PCBs and to prevent them from entering sewage systems.

Although use of PCBs has been banned for years, tiny amounts are still common in the environment.

The plant is equipped with a membrane bioreactor that removes particles from effluent, including 80 to 90 percent of PCBs that attach to those particles, said County Utilities Director Bruce Rawls.

The two environmental organizations also filed suit in federal court in October seeking federal intervention on the issue of the permit and PCBs.

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