Sunday, June 3, 2007

DSM Register: WATER QUALITY - River Pollution

Water quality: Wastewater often pollutes rivers

PERRY BEEMAN | REGISTER STAFF WRITER | Des Moines Register | June 3, 2007

Eleven biofuels plants have been cited by the state Department of Natural Resources for wastewater violations that include polluting streams based on permit limits under the federal Clean Water Act, according to the Register's analysis of state records for 34 plants in operation during six years.

Ethanol production requires purified water. When plants treat the water, their sewage discharges can include toxic salt levels and high iron levels. That kind of pollution can harm fish and cattle that drink from streams.

According to the Iowa Environmental Council, the concentrations of chloride and other suspended solids, mainly salts, coming from ethanol plants are among the highest of any industry in the state.

One plant that's had repeated water pollution problems is Siouxland Energy & Livestock Coop in Sioux Center.
The problems included emitting 13 times as many salts and other dissolved solids as its permit allowed. Siouxland has continued to have environmental infractions. In February 2006, the plant was cited for discharging sewage with five times more iron than allowed by its permit.

Other plants have had discharge problems.

Voyager Ethanol in Emmetsburg reported iron discharges at 30 times over the permit limit last year, a problem the plant had battled in 2005, too.
Western Iowa Energy in Wall Lake discharged water last year with nine times the iron allowed.

Overwhelmed in Iowa Falls
Plants have released large amounts of wastewater that is toxic to fish and plants. The waste means more chloride in the water, which harms aquatic life and livestock.

Iowa Falls' municipal sewage treatment plant found wastewater from Cargill's biodiesel plant was so high in organic matter - ammonia and oxygen-depleting compounds - that the plant couldn't treat it.


Chemicals: From field to streams
Ethanol plants are driving Iowa farmers to plant more corn and seek higher yields. More acres of corn will mean more fertilizer applications. Biologists say the loss of grasslands and woods would mean less filtering of fertilizer runoff as it heads to water supplies. Those factors lead to more nitrates in waterways. Nitrates are a colorless, odorless compound that forms when fertilizers break down. Nitrates also come from animal manure.

In untreated water, nitrates have been associated with "blue-baby syndrome" - in which a baby's blood is stripped of its ability to carry oxygen - and a variety of cancers. A survey last year by the University of Iowa found 10 percent of rural water wells had nitrates at levels above the drinking water standard, but the contamination comes from a variety of sources.



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