DALTON, Ga. — Researchers are questioning if the way Dalton disposes of its sewage and industrial wastewater may make the area more vulnerable to contamination by a chemical used in carpet manufacturing.
The Loopers Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant is a 9,200-acre land application sewage treatment facility that was hailed as a the cutting edge of eco-friendly technology when it was built in 1986.
There the wastes from homes and industry are treated with chlorine and screened before being sprinkled over a peninsula surrounded on three sides by the Conasauga River.
The theory is that the waste will percolate naturally through the soil and be cleaned by Mother Nature before it reaches the river.
The process works pretty well with most wastes, but 87 percent of Dalton’s sewage wastewater is industrial, and erfluoronated compounds, or PFOAs, are not most waste, according to EPA and researchers.
“Perfluoronated compounds don’t necessarily bind with soil,” said Rebecca Fauver, a graduate student who worked on the University of Georgia study that found high levels of the chemical and its compounds in the Conasauga River. “So they would maybe run off pretty easily into the water.”
In Dalton, high levels of the acid and its compounds have been found in the Conasauga are near the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Researchers thought Dalton, with its high use of the chemical and a wastewater system that offered sampling opportunities on land as well as water, might be one location where they might clearly begin to understand how the chemical travels.
HOW IT WORKS
Of about 16,000 publicly owned wastewater treatment facilities in the country, Dalton’s is the largest of about 90 land application wastewater treatment plants. Dalton Utilities President Don Cope said it may be the largest land application sewage treatment facility in the world.
Unlike most sewage treatment plants that rely on water, the Loopers Bend Land Application Sewage Treatment Facility is mostly land.
At traditional sewage treatment facilities, such as Moccasin Bend, sewage is collected in sewerage lines and run to an aerator and a settling bowl to screen off the solids, be chlorinated and piped to a river. On a land-application system, the sewage is collected the same way, pretreated with aeration, run through a settling bowl, chlorinated and piped to a reservoir where it is held until it is pumped through a series of sprinklers onto grasslands or woods.
For residential waste, Mother Nature and time might be enough. But according to state records before the plant’s construction, the heavy influence of Dalton’s industrial chemicals was an unknown in a land application process. Rather than seeing that as a danger, the state saw it as an opportunity to land an “innovative” project.
FACILITY’S TROUBLED PAST
But the Dalton pilot project met challenges from the start with construction delays, citizen opposition and later allegations of misconduct.
In early construction, builders hit a fault under the facility’s wastewater storage lagoon. State and EPA records show workers filled the fault with bags of concrete. Several years after the plant’s start-up, residents who were angry about odors and bacteria-contaminated wells joined a lawsuit filed by residents angry over land annexed for the plant. A federal investigation charging falsification of environmental monitoring records at the plant in the 1990s resulted in the resignation of the utility’s long-time managers — father and son V.D. Parrott and DeForrest Parrott.
Only in 2006 was the utility released from federal court oversight, records show.
Now, with improvements and expansions, including a stateof-the-art sludge processing facility, the plant serves about 11,137 customers and handles 30 million to 40 million gallons of wastewater a day.
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...