No Corners Cut

Safety is priority one at the Ebensburg Wastewater Treatment Plant, an award-winning facility that discharges high-quality effluent to a trout stream

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What do coal mining and wastewater treatmenthave in common? Plenty, says Bernie Kozlovac, manager of the Ebensburg (Pa.) Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Safety was imperative when he worked in the mines at the start of his career, and later as he operated acid mine drainage treatment plants for Bethlehem Coal and industrial wastewater treatment facilities for Sony. And now he stresses safety above all else as he supervises the 2.0-mgd sequencing batch reactor plant that serves the 2,100 residents of Ebensburg, between Pittsburgh and Altoona.


It’s paying off. The Central Pennsylvania Water Quality Association gave Ebensburg its 2008 Class 1 Facility Safety Award. The plant received the highest score among all facilities in the 30-county central Pennsylvania region.


“Safety is always at the forefront of our operation,” says Kozlovac. “We follow stringent policies and procedures to ensure safety guidelines are met daily. We indoctrinate new hires in safety. We want you to be aware of what you’re getting into.”


Severn Trent Services operates and maintains the Ebensburg plant under a public-private partnership that began in 2004 and has been renewed for five more years. Two recent projects have modernized treatment.


In 2007, a Centrisys 21-inch centrifuge replaced an old belt filter press in the dewatering section, increasing cake solids from 12 or 13 percent to better than 20 percent. And in 2008, the plant underwent a complete hydraulic upgrade, designed by L. Robert Kimball & Associates Engineers. Design flow increased from 1.25 to 2.0 mgd, and hydraulic peak capacity went from 4.0 to 5.5 mgd.


First things first

Today, average flow of about 1.2 mgd enters the plant through a headworks containing a grit classifier (Jim Myers & Sons Inc.) and a new Parkson automatic bar screen. “The screen has been in operation for about a year,” Kozlovac says. “Before, we had to manually clean and remove screenings with a muck rake. After hours, the screen would clog up, which wasn’t very efficient.”

Once grit and debris are out of the way, the wastewater moves on to the SBR, a four-basin design provided by ITT’s Austgen Biojet (­Water & Wastewater - Sanitaire) that uses fine-bubble diffusers. “We essentially operate four mini treatment plants,” says Kozlovac. “Each one cycles through its own separate process of aerating, mixing, settling, and decanting. The four basins operate intermittently, controlled by a PLC that regulates the operation and monitors underflow and buildup of mixed liquor. This is a true batch process.”


Treated effluent passes to a Trojan 4000 UV disinfection unit, which replaced chlorination-dechlorination as another phase of the 2008 upgrade.

Plant effluent discharges into a trout stream that ultimately flows to Wilmore Dam. The sensitivity of the receiving stream requires a high degree of treatment. The summer fecal limit is 200 colonies per 100 ml, and average performance is about 25.


Waste activated sludge is pumped to aerobic digesters that occupy old clarifier tanks, where it is thickened before dewatering. The resulting cake is landfilled. Kozlovac and a staff of lead operator Mark Wirfel, maintenance specialist Tony Baran, and laboratory technician/operator Sharon Burkett run the plant eight hours a day.


On weekends, a part-time staff is on site for four hours each Saturday and Sunday. All vital plant functions are tied into the PLC system, and alarms trigger a RACO Chatterbox automatic call system, so that an operator can be on site within minutes.


A new leaf

In the old days, the Ebensburg plant had seen a number of problems. Today, however, the operation is violation-free, and there were no lost time incidents during the last calendar year. “We follow all the standard safety procedures here,” says Kozlovac. “That includes complete safety instructions for all employees, the required inoculations, and CPR training for all staff.”

But Ebensburg goes way beyond these basics, using a mentoring program and monthly safety sessions to make sure everyone is fully aware of safe operating procedures for every task from one end of the plant to the other.


In the mentoring system, experienced hands take each new hire under their wing and explain safe operation of all the plant processes and equipment. “During the first 30 days of employment, a new hire works directly with the main operator of the equipment the new employee will be working with,” Kozlovac says.


“No one is ever left alone during those first days. We have standard operating procedures clearly spelled out for all tasks and operational functions, and a new hire must become completely familiar with those SOPs before he or she even picks up a wrench. If they have any questions or issues, we want to address them. We need to be sure all new employees are fully aware of all potential hazards before they start.”


Kozlovac and his staff pay particular attention to the tasks he considers most prone to accidents at the plant. His top three:

• Changing out heavy waste activated sludge pumps where operators work close to basin edges and proper hoisting techniques must be followed.

• Cleaning basins properly so contact with wastewater is avoided.

• Parts replacement, like belt changes, on any piece of automatically operated machinery where lock-out/tag-out is a must.


Talking it over

The monthly safety meetings are organized around specific safety topics; they are planned in advance and involve hands-on training activities for all staff members.


“The Severn Trent Health, Safety and Environment Group creates presentations on certain safety topics that apply across the board, such as confined-space entry, slips and falls, fire protection, cutting and welding,” Kozlovac says. “The materials are sent to me electronically in advance, and then I participate in a conference call with the company’s safety group to discuss the materials and the best way to present them.


“Each month we meet with the staff and go over the materials, practicing the exercises and completing the quizzes. In addition to the general materials, we add specific information relating to potential safety issues at our plant. During these meetings, we can call our company safety manager if we have questions about the procedures.”

Kozlovac usually serves pizza at the meetings. “We get a little more interaction that way,” he says. Each employee gets credit for hours of safety training by attending the meetings. Participation is 100 percent.


“It’s a very efficient process,” Kozlovac says. “We get people into each situation, and then it sinks in. We simply must be careful in everything we do and avoid accidents.”


In addition to the meetings, Severn Trent conducts safety inspections at all its contract-operated facilities at least once a month, and in some cases more often.


“We look for anything that needs to be corrected before an accident happens,” explains Severn Trent regional safety manager Dave Regan. “And then we follow up closely to make sure the necessary actions have been taken. We are proactive on safety. We don’t just wait for something to happen. Our target is zero accidents, and our philosophy is that we simply can’t accept them.”


The safety record at Ebensburg has been spotless, and that motivated staffer Burkett to apply for the Central Pennsylvania award. “She took theinitiative and filled out the application,” says Kozlovac. “It was great to see that buy-in.”


Welcome mat

You expect a safe and well-performing plant when you drive into the Ebensburg facility. The buildings are maintained, the grounds are groomed, trees are trimmed, and grass is mowed. “We’re here eight hours a day, so it just makes sense that we want to work in a nice place,” Kozlovac says. “We make the most of it.”


The staff even goes out of its way to make visitors feel welcome by voluntarily mowing the sides of the township roadway that leads into the plant. “We want it to be like a red carpet to our door,” says Kozlovac.


Still, safety is topic one. “You’ve got to be safe,” says Kozlovac. “Everybody has to listen and pay attention. That’s the real reason for safe operation — your own protection. I learned early on that you want to get through life with all your fingers.”


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