Two Ways Green

A New York community devises an alternative biosolids management process that eliminates incinerator emissions and yields substantial cost savings.
Two Ways Green
The Little Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant uses a Bio-tower trickling filter system.

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Facing new U.S. EPA air-quality standards thatwould require major upgrades at the city’s biosolids incinerator, leaders in Little Falls, N.Y., in 2012 asked the wastewater treatment plant team to study all options before moving ahead.

A consultant study estimated the cost of bringing the incinerator into compliance at up to $6.2 million. City leaders wanted to know if there was a more cost-effective solution. For Sam Ostasz, chief operator at the treatment plant, the challenge became an opportunity to cap off a four-decade career with a project that turned green in more ways than one.

Ostasz and his colleagues thought they “could come up with something better” than upgrading the 40-year-old oil-fired incinerator. Working with a local consultant, Jim Palmer, they developed a plan that required a much smaller initial investment, significantly reduced the treatment plant’s operating costs and eliminated incinerator emissions.

Palmer coordinated replacement of the incinerator with a new system that takes dewatered biosolids by conveyor to a new building, where the material is deposited in trailers owned by WeCare Organics. The company hauls the material to rural Pennsylvania, where it is used to help reclaim land scraped bare by strip mining.

Team Effort

Palmer, a Little Falls native, credits Ostasz and other city employees for helping turn the potentially costly project into an efficient cost-saving process. “We used the talents of public works employees for the construction, the excavation and most of the work put into this,” he recalls. The project involved installation of a conveyor system (Martin Sprocket & Gear) from the treatment plant’s dewatering press to a shed where WeCare Organics parks its trailers.

The contract with WeCare calls for biosolids containing at least 20 percent solids — an easy target since the material was already running about 30 to 35 percent solids. Even so, Ostasz wanted to know if the city needed to upgrade or replace its 1-meter belt press (BDP Industries). A consultant from the manufacturer inspected the operation. “He told us we didn’t need to buy another press,” says Ostasz.

Instead, he proposed a six-year rehabilitation program that would extend the press’s life for another 20 years. Instead of spreading the project over six years, however, Ostasz chose full rehabilitation to prepare for the new biosolids program. “We replaced probably 90 percent of the rollers, and where we replaced rollers, we also replaced bearings,” he says. When the work was complete the press was delivering material at 35 to 40 percent solids.

Between the conveyor, the new building and the press upgrade, the total project cost the city about $200,000 by the time it was dedicated in April 2013. “We didn’t have to bond for anything,” Palmer says.

Hauling Costs Less

Although the city pays WeCare Organics to haul the biosolids, the expense is far less than it cost to incinerate the material. On top of that, Ostasz’s efforts to improve belt performance paid off in lower volume and fewer trips. “We’re saving over $100,000 a year easily,” says Ostasz, who will retire in 2014. The savings on capital expense and operations have been well received by community leaders and ratepayers.

The old incinerator used to burn around the clock. “We spent $285,000 on oil alone to burn the material,” says Palmer. “That doesn’t include having an employee on hand to run the incinerator and other costs associated with the process. Now our emissions are gone, our ash in the landfill is gone and the exposure for employees is gone. The city treasury is happy, the mayor’s happy and I think even the EPA is happy.”

At the dedication of the new facility on April 29, 2013, Mayor Robert J. Peters noted that the city would save $25,000 a year on its power bill because the new screw conveyor system runs on a combined 10 hp in electric motors, compared to the combined 120 hp in motors used to move materials for the old incinerator system.

Better Use Of Staff

Ostasz has been able to cut the average monthly overtime at the treatment plant by nearly half, from 210 to 110 hours, and he has gone from two shifts to one shift. The reduction in overtime and shift differentials already has saved the city substantial money. Rather than reduce staffing, Ostasz dedicated more of his operators’ time to preventive maintenance, which he believes will help the plant operate more efficiently and reliably.

Because the biosolids are being trucked to Pennsylvania for land application, Little Falls faces an added layer of regulatory oversight. But the city has had no trouble producing Class B biosolids that comply with New York, Pennsylvania and federal regulations. “We did all the samples for both states and the EPA and we’ve met the standards,” says Palmer.

Ostasz adds, “We’re required to test our biosolids once a year, but we’re doing a full scan on our belt press material monthly.” The Little Falls operators use the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure to test the biosolids for a wide range of toxic substances, including heavy metals, herbicides, pesticides, chlorides and chloroforms.

“We are not having any problems with any of our limits,” says Ostasz. In addition to the city’s testing regimen, WeCare tests the biosolids for pathogens and treats the material with lime before land application.

To The Mine

The material is trucked 250 miles south to WeCare’s biosolids management facility on a 1,850-acre abandoned mine site near Tremont, Pa. The facility occupies about 10 acres.

Little Falls has a population of 4,900 and the water utility serves 2,800 metered connections. The wastewater system has three Significant Industrial Users: two paper mills and a stainless steel tank manufacturer. Seventy percent of the treatment plant flow comes from the industrial users, most of that from the paper mills. The industries pretreat their wastewater.

The Little Falls treatment plant has a 7 mgd design and averages 5 mgd. The trickling filter plant went online in 1972. Ostasz projects that with the improvements to the belt press, the plant will produce about 2,500 wet tons of dewatered biosolids per year. At that rate, the facility can fill one of WeCare’s 43-foot hopper dump trailers every other day.

The biosolids program has made the treatment plant greener. In addition, “The city leaders are happy with the green they’re saving in their pockets,” says Ostasz. He’s proud of the results and says it’s great that the project is both environmentally and budget friendly: “It means a lot when you are doing things the right way.”

More Information

BDP Industries, Inc. - 518/527-5417 -

Martin Sprocket & Gear, Inc. - 817/258-3000 -

WeCare Organics, LLC - 315/689-1937 -


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