- Associated Press - Sunday, May 29, 2016

CHICAGO (AP) - A private Canadian company plans to use some of the phosphorus from the wastewater produced by the Chicago area’s massive sewage treatment plant and turn it into slow-release fertilizer.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, which operates the area’s Stickney Water Reclamation Plant, has agreed to finance the $31 million project by Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies, the Chicago Tribune (https://trib.in/1TLCQKp) reports. But it still faces court challenges from environmental groups that want more stringent legal limits on the district’s phosphorus releases into local waterways.

“Usually utilities don’t do anything until the courts or the permit writers tell us what to do,” said David St. Pierre, the district’s executive director. “I don’t think legal battles should paralyze us or prevent us from continuing to improve.”

The project would divert wastewater through three reactors that use catalysts to form tiny, nutrient-rich “pearls” for the fertilizer industry.

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District estimates the equipment would produce up to 10,000 tons annually, reduce the Stickney plant’s phosphorus discharges by about 30 percent and eventually generate $2 million annually through a licensing agreement with the Vancouver, British Columbia-based company.

The Stickney plant handles the waste of 2.3 million people in Chicago and the Cook County suburbs. It’s the biggest single source of phosphorus in the entire region that drains into the Mississippi River and is estimated to be the largest contributor of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution to the Gulf of Mexico.

Local officials believe the Ostara project could be the solution to phosphorus pollution that’s been sought for years by scientists, regulators, lawyers and advocates and could become a model for other communities in the region.

Representatives from the environmental groups challenging the district in federal court think the project is a good start, but more needs to be done to address phosphorus pollution.

“We need a shirt and a pair of pants,” said Albert Ettinger, an environmental attorney involved in the lawsuit. “Just because they have a nice new shirt doesn’t mean they can skip wearing pants.”

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