A recent flair up of coliform levels at the treatment plant for Cosmo Specialty Fibers, Inc. has prompted some upgrades and new attention to the former Weyerhaeuser Mill site that spans Cosmopolis and South Aberdeen.
Chief Executive Officer of Cosmo, Mike Entz, says It’s been an ongoing issue with the treatment plant dating back to the previous owners. Entz tells KBKW, “We’re permitted in terms of what you are able to discharge in that regard. The issue has to do with fecal coliform and it’s been an issue that was challenging for Weyerhaeuser going back many many years. And we’re working very closely with the DOE on this issue.”
Thermotolerant coliform is actually a better name. The bacteria that pulp and paper mill wastewater produces is Klebsiella, which is measured and grouped into the same family as fecal coliform by the Food and Drug Administration, but is not related to human waste.
The mill treats its effluent, or wastewater, at the Cosmopolis site before it is piped to settling ponds in South Aberdeen where it is treated again. The treated water is then discharged into the Chehalis River from a location Southeast of Rennie Island.
Adding to the attention, the State Department of Ecology fined Cosmo $7,000 earlier this summer, when the mill discharged excessive levels of suspended solids and failed to meet oxygen demand in stormwater, violating their water quality permit.
Cosmo Specialty Fibers, Inc. (CSF), is an affiliate of The Gores Group, and was created to restore, restart and operate the former Weyerhaeuser Specialty Cellulose Mill in Cosmopolis, Washington, they employ over 150 people.
The mission statement on their website states that “Our priorities include implementing world-class safety standards, demonstrating best-in-class environmental impact status and a providing a commitment to the values of the surrounding communities.” Entz echoed that sentiment in our conversation, adding that the company is committed to resolving the issue and operating within or below tolerances.
Draft Engineering Report
A 211-page draft report commissioned by Cosmo suggests minor and major upgrades at both the mill in Cosmopolis and the treatment facility in South Aberdeen, some of which were put into place last week when the mill shut down for maintenance. Entz said, “We hired an outside engineering firm that’s been working with us in conjunction with the DOE to help solve this issue.”
The report noted that the company has consistently met its BOD5, TSS, and effluent toxicity limits under the previous NPDES permit. There have been intermittent violations for the fecal coliform water quality standards. The planned improvements will help CSF consistently meet the fecal coliform limits. In December 2015, CSF exceeded the new, more restrictive BOD5 limits due to an F/M ratio shock loading of the bioponds, resulting in the growth of filamentous bacteria and bulking sludge carryover from the secondary clarifiers.
Entz added that the company is dedicated to working within their permitted limits, “It just comes back to being responsible and committed to your permit limits and doing the right thing. So we continue to pour a lot of resources and funding into making sure we find better ways.”
A Dissolved Air Flotation device is being used on a 60-day trial basis to see if it lowers biosolid levels. The draft report makes several other suggestions like constructing a new biopond clarifier, a polishing clarifier, a fabric media disk filter, and a compressible media filter. The suggestions had price tags ranging from a couple hundred-thousand dollars to several million in capital, and annual, costs.
The report references the NPDES Waste Discharge Permit Number WA0000809 for effluent contaminant limits. Typical effluent values for Outfall 001 for 2014 and 2015 are shown in Table 2.3.
The report said “It is anticipated the results of the proposed improvements will consistently meet the current NPDES criteria and lower the fecal coliform levels discharged to Grays Harbor.”
Dye Study Finds More Questions
The Washington Departments of Health and Ecology, along with the Federal Food and Drug Administration, Cosmo, Coast Seafoods, and Quinault Tribal members took part in a dye study earlier this summer at the request of Cosmo. The study sought to better understand where the treated water was traveling and if the state could approve a seasonal relaxation of the current closure trigger for shellfish harvest in the central part of the harbor at lower river flows.
That study found, among other things*, that the state could not support a relaxation of the current closure trigger for the Central Bay portion of Grays Harbor Shellfish Growing Area.
Local Commercial Growers Get Involved
Farm Manager Kyle Deerkop is watching the study closely, he tells us Pacific Seafood has beds along the North and South portions of the harbor. “These beds are really important for our company because you’ve got other areas like Humble or Coos Bay, or Tillamook Bay, that close down for an extended period of time.”
A recent economic study showed that shellfish harvesting in Grays Harbor provides about $12-million in annual revenue on about 4,000 acres of commercial harvesting tideland, and directly or indirectly supports up to 200 jobs.
Seasonal and bacterial closures are nothing new to Pacific Seafood, but can set them back when the water doesn’t pass health and safety standards. Deerkop explained, “You know you get a harvest plan and if you don’t get all the oysters off of that bed you’re not able to replant. All oysters aren’t the same size, and all orders for oysters aren’t the same either. So if we’re not able to harvest those beds, or finish harvesting those beds, we’ve got all this seed coming up behind it.” Chehalis river flooding, as well as higher fecal coliform levels from the Aberdeen and Hoquiam wastewater treatment plants, can prompt a closure.
Local commercial harvesters have enjoyed a relaxed classification in Grays Harbor since Weyerhaeuser shut down their mill in 2006, but the 2014 request by Cosmo to study a seasonal relaxation of trigger levels has prompted the need for further research and more dye studies.
The department of Health says there have been 13 emergency closures due to high levels of coliform in twice-daily samples, for a total of 118 days of closure in Grays Harbor since 2011.
*The 25-page study also found that Effluent from the CSF plant can reach the Approved portion of the growing area in one major ebb tide at much lower Chehalis River flows than encountered during a previous 2003 dye study. Dye enters the north channel and then into the Approved portion of the growing area in one major ebb tide as well.
Time of travel estimates from the outfall to the growing area sanitary line are about the same as the 2003 study based on data from the sentinel cage nearest to the sanitary line. Unfortunately, the initial ebb tide plume arrived earlier than expected so tracking data could not corroborate cage data. An additional study tracking the dye plume on ebb tide during daylight hours would help refine time of travel estimates and closure triggers for the South and North Bay portions of the growing area.
Unexpected high readings at two locations (the sentinel cage just north of the South Bay boundary and tracking readings in the Central Bay) on the first major ebb tide require further study.
The study also found significant reflux of dye occurs in this growing area so steady state dilutions in some areas are much higher than initial peak dye readings would indicate. Estimation of steady state dilutions based on FDA methods has limited utility due to inclusion of die-off and decay factors for this facility.