- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2002

The Environmental Protection Agency has reversed its position on the safety of massive sludge dumping in the Potomac River and has proposed strict regulations for future discharges by the Army Corps of Engineers.
A permit from the EPA has for decades allowed the Corps to dump sludge with the consistency of crude oil into the river just miles from the White House. The dumping was first reported by The Washington Times.
A new permit being proposed today by the EPA would reduce the sediment load 99 percent and require environmental studies on the sludge's effect on the river and endangered species.
"We think this will be a strong protective permit," said Don Welsh, the EPA's Region 3 administrator.
Tom Jacobus, general manager of the Washington Aqueduct, said the new permit contains "stricter limits" but that it is too soon to tell how to achieve the new requirements.
The sludge comes from the aqueduct's treatment of drinking water at a facility near Georgetown that supplies to 1 million residents in Washington and Northern Virginia. The aqueduct then dumps the resulting sludge into the Potomac.
"What is important is that we need a permit to continue operations, and we look forward to working with the EPA in getting a final permit on the street, and, as always, we will work to comply with the permit," Mr. Jacobus said.
More than 10 million pounds of sludge are dumped each year. The largest single discharge contained 240,000 milligrams per liter of suspended solids, said Rob Gordon, president of the National Wilderness Institute, which is suing the government to stop the discharges.
Municipalities are typically allowed to discharge 10 to 30 milligrams per liter, and the highest allowed is 60 milligrams per liter. The new permit would restrict dumps to a monthly average of 30 milligrams and 60 milligrams per liter a day.
"EPA's announcement is a confession that this midnight sludge dumping in the nation's capital violates the Endangered Species and Clean Water Act," Mr. Gordon said.
"The new draft permit is a good first step, but the devil will be in the details, and serious questions remain, including why they had to be compelled to stop something they knew was illegal," Mr. Gordon said.
Further discharges of chlorine, which is harmful to aquatic life, also would be forbidden. Discharges of aluminum, which tests have shown are going into the river in huge quantities, would be limited to an average of 4 milligrams per liter over a month and no more than 8 milligrams per liter on any single day. The concentration of aluminum currently being dumped in the Potomac River is thousands of milligrams higher than the EPA's nationally recommended water-quality criterion, Mr. Gordon said.
"I am quite pleased that EPA is prepared to issue a mea culpa and take steps to end such an indefensible practice," said Rep. George P. Radanovich, California Republican and the leading critic on Capitol Hill of the discharges.
"As if the blatant Clean Water Act violation weren't enough, the Corps dumps this toxic sludge through a national park and directly into the primary spawning ground of the endangered short-nose sturgeon," Mr. Radanovich said.
The new permit prohibits any discharges Feb. 15 through June 30, when fish are spawning and hatching.
The EPA presented a draft permit in March and has been taking public comment. Mr. Welsh credited the public comment for changing the permit.
"We did make significant changes in the permit, and that's what the public comment period is for: to find thoughtful ways to make a stronger permit," Mr. Welsh said.
In a related court filing, the EPA included an Army Corps of Engineers memo saying that dumping sludge into the Potomac River protects fish by forcing them to flee the polluted area and escape fishermen.
The document, which The Times quoted in June, says it is not a "ridiculous possibility" that a discharge "actually protects the fish in that they are not inclined to bite (and get eaten by humans) but they go ahead with their upstream movement and egg laying."
"To suggest that toxic sludge is good for fish because it prevents them from being caught by man is like suggesting that we club baby seals to death to prevent them from being eaten by sharks. It's ludicrous," Mr. Radanovich said then.
The new permit is expected to go into effect in February and lasts five years. The Corps has that period to bring treatment plants at the Dalecarlia and McMillian water-treatment plants into compliance. Construction of a treatment facility is one option, but Mr. Jacobus said they will explore several alternatives to meet the new standards.
The discharges can continue but only when the river is at a high flow, to dilute the effect on the river, and will not be allowed during spawning season.
"It will be much more protective of the river," Mr. Welsh said.

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