Parmalat defuses public stink by announcing new tech, end to storing sludge in lagoons

Above, Winchester Parmalat plant site manager Bruce Shurtleff (left) and Winchester resident Jonas Fossitt, addressing him from the audience at the Joel Steele Community Centre. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

New dewatering system to put Parmalat ‘out of the liquid waste business’

WINCHESTER — A solution to Winchester’s odour woes is literally in the bag, residents of the village heard during a public meeting with officials from Canada’s largest cheese factory last week.

Apologetic plant site manager Bruce Shurtleff announced the immediate rollout of new dewatering technology to end Parmalat’s longtime practice of temporarily storing smelly liquid waste sludge in the company’s open-air lagoon north of the village. Already, he said, they’ve deployed the first of a series of gigantic rubber-like bags that — going forward — will be used to strain the plant’s effluent, sending only water to the lagoons from now on.

“Our strategy here is to get out of the liquid waste business,” he told the respectful audience of about 150 gathered at the Joel Steele Community Centre, July 5.

As each huge bladder fills up, clean water flows out through tiny holes, leaving only solids. Replaced one after the other, each enclosed bag will sit on the ground like a black, beached whale for nine months, turning the waste into composted soil. Then it’s cut open and the dry contents are trucked away for disposal at local biogas facilities or applied on land as fertilizer

“We’re filling our first bag,” Shurtleff declared, before rolling a decade-old news clip highlighting the Geotube Technology system.

A ripple of laughter went through the crowd because the CJOH report featured news anchors long departed from the organization. But Shurtleff was unfazed, noting the technology has become well established and used “hundreds of times” by both municipalities and industry. “We’re not the first. They [the vendor] have been doing this for quite a period of time.”

The switch to the new system — combined with other improvements — will end the company’s reliance on local farmers’ demand for liquid biosolids in the spring.  That traditional arrangement no longer works for the plant, which underwent a $15-million expansion last year and produces more waste than ever before — simply too much for the local weather-dependent cropping cycle to keep up.

“Our challenge right now specifically is the amount of organic waste I have in the facility … It’s the big one,” Shurtleff said. “The overall capacity of the system we have for dealing with the waste isn’t sufficient.”

He explained that farmers desire the current liquid waste product — composed entirely of milk byproducts, not sewage — only 10 days during a typical spring. “Every year, depending on the weather, it’s too wet, it’s too dry, it’s too cold. The window is shrinking.”

This year, the cold spring limited spreading opportunities, leaving the company with an excess of material in the lagoon as summer arrived. “Then it basically sits in these ponds, it gets warm out and basically, it can create odour,” the site manager acknowleded. He also noted that Parmalat did invest to try and make the lagoon as effective as possible, installing a new  aeration-related equalization tank while “adding everything we possibly can to mitigate the odour” in the “short term.”

The new bag system, in concert with a “little wastewater treatment facility” currently being installed at the plant, are the long-term solution to the problem, he said.  Pre-treating the effluent before it arrives at the bag, the facility will employ dissolved air flotation (DAF) technology to remove 50 to 80 percent of organic waste before the bag traps the rest. “It will actually significantly reduce the amount of sludge I generate,” he said of the DAF facility. “I don’t want sludge. We’ve got to get out of generating sludge … because it has an odour.”

The material captured by the DAF is destined for disposal at local biogas facilities, equivalent to one truckload per day.

Below, the dewatering technology being deployed as key part of the odour solution at the Winchester Parmalat plant.

“It has been a year of engineering and execution to install it, but we’re getting very close,” he also said, estimating the “proven” DAF technology would go online in three weeks. A new clarifier is also slated for service in 2019, further assisting with removal of organic matter, he added.

But it was the Geotube bags that garnered his greatest enthusiasm. “It’s pretty cool, really…. It’s brilliant. I wish I owned the patent,” Shurtleff said.

Parmalat is also in the process of removing the sludge from its lagoon over the next 30 days, he said.

“I want to assure you that any organic waste we remove from the facility is all done in compliance with the MOE [Ministry of Environment] with all proper permits from all the people that handle it,” he said.

“We do things by the book, with the cooperation of the Ministry of Environment and all the other regulatory bodies.”

Odours produced

Backdrop to the public meeting — the first-ever held by Parmalat to address issues in the neighbourhood — is a Winchester stink that has become, in the words of one audience member, “unliveable for the last two years.” Shurtleff apologized to the man in the audience who made that observation.

Martin Santerre, Vice-President, Cheese Manufacturing, Parmalat Canada, told the audience that Parmalat Canada spent over $5-million last year improving its waste treatment regime and will spend “approximately the same” amount this year. “However, I fully, fully understand that we have not fixed all the issues. For the coming years, Parmalat will continue to invest to meet all regulations…. We will invest for you.”

“We are working with experts … to make sure we come up with the best projects to fix all our issues,” Santerre said.

“Our objective is not to have you notice us,” assured Shurtleff in response to a Winchester man’s question about the possibility of foul odours persisting “as a problem for many years in the future” despite those recent investments.

“I firmly believe … it’s going to make a huge difference,” the plant manager said of the changes being implemented. “I can’t say there will be nothing. But our objective is you not to know we’re there.”

Also announced were measures intended to mollify residents living nearest the plant — on truck traffic, dust and noise.

Officials promised to pave all gravel areas inside the plant, erect a sound-barrier fence to separate Gladstone Street residents from the plant and deploy more dust-watering activities until the paving is done this year. They also said some truck traffic would be compelled to use the plant’s north lane on Liscumb Rd., taking the pressure off the main entrance off residential Gladstone. Outgoing trucks are required to exit north, but only 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and only during the summertime — in advance of a planned upgrade to make Liscumb the one and only point of egress into the plant.

But longtime Gladstone resident Jonas Fossitt couldn’t pin company officials down on a firm date to shut the plant entrance on his street. He was also unhappy the plant expansion went ahead when the lagoon was already a known odour problem in the village.

“I think we … would do things a little different,” conceded Shurtleff. He explained that the DAF project was always part of the plan, but engineering and installation of the unit “took longer than we anticipated…. Unfortunately we can’t buy this equipment off the shelf. It’s taken too long.

“I have to take responsibility. I wish we were ahead of the game. I wish we were.”

On the street issue, Fossitt said his street was being destroyed by the large tanker trucks, which are turning onto lawns and sidewalks “because they simply do not have the space,” and driving on the lefthand side of Gladstone on their way up to Main Street. Emergency services are not able to travel Gladstone because of the trucks, he added, saying an ambulance was delayed  responding to an address on the street as a result of the traffic.

But when Fossitt demanded a “firm date” on when Parmalat plans to build its own proper road over to Liscumb — ridding Gladstone and the village of truck traffic —  the answer was “soon” without a timeline.

“We are working with the municipality, we are working with different people,” Santerre said in reply. “I can’t give you a date tonight. We have money to invest — soon — to make sure that we fix these issues. This is what I can tell you today.  We are all aware of these situations which we all know is unacceptable. And we will come up with a solution, soon.”

Another man described the on-again, off-gain road construction project as a “fiasco,” adding that Parmalat was supposed to have built that road a decade ago.

The emotional toll of the odour was also driven home by a couple of questioners.

Dawn Erickson of Winchester highlighted odour concerns going back 30 years, when the plant was still owned by Ault Foods, the name still emblazoned on the company smokestack.

Below, the evening’s full proceedings at the Joel Steele Community Centre.

“I just want to thank you so much for coming tonight,” Erickson said to the company officials. “Because this is the first since 1986 that we’ve actually had a public meeting like this. So kudos to you for at least making us feel like we’re being heard,” she said to applause, adding her voice to those disappointed by the Ministry of Environment’s no-show at the event.

“There is no intent when we make a complaint that we want the factory to move out of Winchester. It’s part of our community, we’re a dairy community. We certainly want them to stay and to work with you to make our environment safe for our citizens and also healthy to breathe our air,” said the lifelong Winchester resident, who recounted writing a 1992 letter to the editor about odour issues.

The worst part, she said, is never knowing when the smell will arise. “It can come at anytime. It can come when you’re having friends over for a barbecue. It can come after you’ve put clothes out on the line,” Erickson remarked, adding the odour can also linger inside a house after the windows have been closed.

“We want zero percent odour,” she said, noting the examples of other industries in the area that seem to operate today with little smell, including Kraft in Ingleside, Berry’s Egg Farm in South Mountain and Casco Cardinal.

Past plant site director Steven Wilson, a consultant on the latest improvements, noted those other places “have all had issues in the past. And yes, it can be solved, and we are committed to solving ours.”

A self-described 48-year resident of Queen Street in Winchester took a contrary position on the smell in Winchester, declaring: “As far as I’m concerned, I can’t complain,” to which another man shot back:”I’ll sell you my house.”

Another man briefly joked as he described trying to host a barbecue this summer. “It’s really hard to pair wine with your smell,” he quipped before getting serious. His voice quavering, he told the Parmalat officials: “Our evening was totally destroyed … This has been going on for 15 years…. I hope the cry here and the feeling you get from the people here, really come up with the answer.”

Marnie Fossitt reiterated the “huge safety issue” of trucks preventing access emergency and fire services access on Gladstone. “That little street was not meant for that abuse…. We deserve to be safe in terms of our ambulance and our fire. If an ambulance gets in but can’t get out … This to me is not acceptable…. Something has to be done now so we are safe on this street.”

Another Gladstone neighbour said she met with the company two years ago because trucks were driving up onto her lawn, where her children otherwise play. She said the company put up barriers at the time and told her the trucks would be rerouted to the north. “We’re two years later, they hit the barriers … I’m very upset,” she said with evident emotion. “It’s still not done. I have children, it’s not OK.”

“We will build the road,” Shurtleff assured her. We need to get back to you on the when. I need the commitment from my company when to…. We will build the road, I just need to get back to you when.”

Acknowledging that Gladstone residents want “100 percent elimination” of trucks from their street, he added, “That’s what our objective is, too. We have to get back to you on the when.”

 

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