As the ninth largest city in Canada, its no surprise to hear Hamilton produces about 40,000 tonnes of wastewater sludge each year. As urbanization increases this number is only going to get bigger and a method of dealing with all the waste is essential. What have we done with it up till now?
Wastewater is sent to treatment plants where solids are filtered out and processed into a form known as biosolids (sludge, basically). Previously, these biosolids were vapourized in massive incinerators by the City of Hamilton until about 1996, when incinerators were shut down due to old age and insufficient funding to upgrade them.
While it seems a leap forward to have this pollution-producing method over and done with, we have to look at the other options for managing waste. Multiple research initiatives on an international scale have investigated the means of synthesizing biosolids into fertilizer that can encourage plant growth. Preliminary findings have shown that biosolids processed in such a way can promote healthy soil, but other factors must be taken into consideration. Metal and various contaminants can still be seen in biosolids and the long term affects of implementation into agricultural and urban environments is still unknown.
As a result, farmers are skeptical and sometimes unwilling to have biosolids spread over their fields. In addition, municipal laws are already in place in regards to regulating where biosolids can be laid down, limiting the already limited space further.
In 2007, the Biosolid Master Plan was implemented in the Hamilton region striving to amend this issue by creating safe biosolids to be distributed to land masses across Ontario. Unfortunately, real estate available for biosolid spreading is sparse, and many of the biosolids produced in Hamilton are being shipped to landfills. This “Master Plan” has left us in exactly the same place we were more than a decade ago: looking into the production of a new incinerator.
Potential dealings with a company called Liberty Energy have been discussed, as well as the possibility of the city building its own incinerator; either choice resulting in a multi-million dollar investment. Comparing this with the average three million per year spent on shipping the biosolids out of Hamilton the real question becomes what is most economically viable for the city while maintaining environmental concerns.
It is apparent that the City of Hamilton is struggling with what to do with our wastewater treatment byproducts. The system in place is unorganized, and councilors are divided when debating whether or not to build an incinerator. As local residents, our responsibility is to become involved in the process and question where our tax money is going and what is being done to reduce toxic emissions into our ecosystem.