to Action |
Wastewater Management (chapter
from the Solviva Book)
Welcome to the Wastewater
Home Page of the Solviva
In here you will gain
a deeper understanding
of the problems that result from current wastewater regulations,
the effective and economical solutions that are available for
eliminating those problems,
and the formidable regulatory obstacles that are preventing
the use of these solutions.
This lead page is divided
into 3 sections:
1) Description of the problems, 2) Description of the Solviva
Biocarbon Filter systems at my home, and
3) Description of the Solviva Biocarbon Filter system at the
Black Dog Tavern in Vineyard Haven, MA
Human Waste - Sewage....these
words, and the many others that we have for our body's waste
products, tend to evoke aversion. And for good reason: human
wastes contain microbes that, if improperly managed, can cause
various diseases. We therefore all agree that human wastes must
be managed in ways that adequately reduce these microbes. Human
wastes also contain very high levels of nitrogen, about 40-60
ppm (parts per million) in most wastewater, which, if released
into the groundwater causes harm to both human health and the
environment. We therefore also all agree that nitrogen release
must be adequately reduced.
All states have government agencies that create and enforce
regulations for the management of wastewater. In my home state
of Massachusetts, this agency is the Department of Environmental
Current regulations for Wastewater
Management fall in two main categories:
1. On-Site Septic Systems, treating sewage from a single home
or building right on the site, and
2. Centralized Sewage Treatment, treating sewage from many homes
and other buildings at a remote location.
However, there are several serious problems
that are being caused by current DEP regulations:
to Public Health - Over
10% of drinking water wells in the US are contaminated with
high levels of nitrogen that is released from septic systems
built in accordance with government regulations. This nitrogen
reduces the blood's oxygen capacity, causing "methemoglobinemia",
which is one of the causes of "sudden-infant-death"
or "blue-baby-syndrome", as well as brain damage
and cancer (for references, and see link "Test Result
& References", and surf the web under key words "Nitrogen
Harm to the Environment
septic systems built in accordance with government regulations
are incapable of reducing nitrogen to any significant
degree, and therefore release high levels of nitrogen into
the groundwater. All this nitrogen ends up in our estuaries,
ponds and harbors, whether they are 50 feet or 10 miles away
from the septic systems. This nitrogen causes vast algae
infestations that choke aquatic plants, fish and shellfish,
and cause foul odors and slimy beaches.
High Cost - New
or upgraded Septic Systems often cost $10,000-20,000, sometimes
as much as $50,000. Central Sewering costs many millions, with
annual costs of $1500 - $3000 per household.
- Large areas
are required for on-site septic systems, destroying beautiful
gardens, shrubs and trees. Central Sewage Treatment Facilities
require vast acreage, thereby destroying wildlife habitat and
22 beautiful trees
were cut down to upgraded this septic system, and
it cost $15,000.
A whole woods was
destroyed for this new septic system.
The bottom of the
leaching field is 10 feet deep, below the reach
of roots of trees and shrups that could take up
the nitrogen and benefit from it.
Sewage treatment facilities
cost many millions, even in small communities. They
require vast areas, cause foul odors, and use harmful
Algae infestation on
Vineyard Haven Harbor, which sometimes result in foul
odors enveloping the whole town.
James Pond: 50 or so
septic systems release nitrogen into this ecosystem,
previously clean and productive, now toxic and foul.
Imagine being a fish,
scallop or an eelgrass plant living in the water,
where the algae pollution is a hundred times worse.
This beautiful pond
is all gummed up
with foul-smelling algae.
Left: Imagine playing
on this algae-infested beach.
Large sections of
this marsh has been inundated and killed by thick
rotting algae slurry.
Left: Algae infestation on
Vineyard Haven Harbor, which sometimes result in foul odors
enveloping the whole town.
Edgartown Great Pond
polluted by excessive nitrogen.
it is obvious that
are in serious violation of
the Laws of Nature
better ways to manage wastewater!
For instance, the
Solviva Biocarbon Wastewater Filter Systems,
nitrogen release into the groundwater by 80-90%,
and therefore eliminate harm to public health and the environment
(for proof, go to the "Test Results" page),
* Cost 80-90% less
to install and maintain,
destruction to the landscape.
In fact, the Solviva Biocarbon Wastewater Filter
Systems are actually beneficial to the landscape because they
act as fertilizing and irrigation systems!
various Solviva Biocarbon Filter Systems
at my home:
A standard flushtoilet
flushes into this Brownfilter box, containing wood
chips, leafmold, and zillions of beneficial microbes
and earthworms. This is Earthworm Heaven!
with urine. Normally grows no more than 4 feet, but
this gorgeous plant ended up half way up the second
One area of the Solviva
Greenfilter garden, here showing dogwood, Rosa rugosa,
spruce and pine.This area has been receiving wastewater
effluent for 20 years, including standard detergents
and bleach, dispersed through perforated pipes laid
in shallow trenches winding among the flowers, shrubs
Compost from Solviva
Biocarbon Filter Systems: odor-free, soft, excellent
well-balanced nutrients. Great for flowers, shrubs
and trees. However, even though it has been tested
to be free of pathogens, I still believe it should
not be used for food production.
This vibrant flower
garden has been happily receiving toilet compost for
20 years, from both the Solviva Compostoilet and the
Brownfilter for the flush toilet system.
Another area of the
Solviva Greenfilter flower gardens, here showing a
stand of 5-foot cosmos.
Biocarbon Filter System at the Black Dog Tavern:
A story about a great success
...... and destructive interference by DEP
Solviva Wastewater Filter
system was installed
at the Black Dog Tavern on the harbor in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts,
in May 1998, for the purpose of reducing the nitrogen from 5000
gallons of restaurant wastewater per day.
The wastewater from the Tavern first went into the grease chamber
where all or most of the grease was supposed to be trapped,
then it continued to the septic tank which retained the solids.
The effluent then continued into a chamber from where it was
pumped into the first part of the Solviva system, the Brownfilter.
This filter consisted of two levels of perforated plastic barrels
filled with Biocarbon filter material, consisting of old leaves
and wood chips, alive with earthworms and other beneficial organisms.
Then the partially treated effluent continued to the perforated
pipes laid in shallow trenches in the Greenfilter garden filled
with the same Biocarbon filter material plus soil.
Because this garden
was to receive about 12" of effluent per day (imagine 12"
of rain per day!) I had planned for it to be planted with the
kinds of water-loving grasses and shrubs that grow around ponds
and wetlands. But the
Black Dog managers also wanted traditional cottage garden flowers.
I was highly doubtful that this could work, because such flowers
prefer much drier conditions. I thought that surely, if they
received 12" of water on a daily basis, their roots would
rot and the plants would die. But I was willing to give it a
Yes, the water-loving plants did thrive, but, to my utter amazement,
so did the cottage flowers. There were zinnias and cosmos, snapdragons
and tithonia, cleome, geum, sunflowers and ageratum, and many
other types. They were not just ordinary beautiful, they were
exceptionally, extraordinairily healthy huge and vibrant, even
through the dogdays of that very hot summer.
The Solviva Biocarbon
filter system transformed the wastewater from
the Black Dog Tavern .....
....... into glorious
flowers, shrubs and grasses ..... gorgeous clean compost
.... and superb test results.
After frost killed
the annual flowers, the garden was seeded with rye,
which, because of daily dosing of wastewater effluent,
grew thick and green through the whole long, cold
By early April the
iris, hollihock and rye were about 4 weeks ahead of
other gardens. It was stunning and heartbreaking when
DEP ordered the Solviva Greenfilter garden to be removed.
hard frost finally killed them, the annuals were removed and
that part of the garden was seeded with rye. The rye quickly
grew thick and healthy, and it kept growing through the long
cold winter: the ground never froze because of the daily dozing
with warmish wastewater effluent.
The filtering process through the Brownfilter and the Greenfilter
took about 5 minutes, and the nitrogen was reduced by 70-90%,
the BOD by 92-98%, and the fecal coliform by 94-100% (as proven
by monthly tests at certified labs). The system produced not
only the wonderful garden, but also, from the Brownfilter, magnificent
compost filled with healthy earthworms. This compost was also
tested by certified labs, which showed excellent nutrients and
"below detectable limits" of 49 different toxic substances.
But, in spite of these extraordinairily successful results,
the DEP gave orders to
the Black Dog in April 1999
to remove the Solviva Biocarbon Filter and to replace it with
a standard leaching field. This, like all other standard DEP
septic systems, of course releases all the nitrogen into the
groundwater and straight into the adjacent harbor. The obvious
question is: Why did DEP order the removal of the Solviva system?
The search for
the answer to this question is murky indeed, but perhaps the
most important key is the fact that in the Fall of 1998 there
was a major shift in the leadership of the administration. Governor
Weld resigned and Lieutenant Governor Celluci took the helm.
At that same time Trudy Coxe resigned from her post as Secretary
of Environmental Affairs. A few years earlier, on a visit to
the Vineyard in 1995, she had accepted an invitation to come
see the Solviva Wastewater Filter systems at my home. She was
mightily impressed by their simplicity and lack of odor, and
the gorgeous Greenfilter flower gardens. When I mentioned the
fact that DEP (one of her departments) had still not issued
the permit that I had requested almost a year earlier, she expressed
despair over the bureaucratic obstacles within DEP that prevented
satisfactory progress with new de-nitrifying septic system designs,
and frustration over her own lack of power to change the policies.
She offered to help, and subsequently did help boost my permit
applications through DEP. When Secretary Coxe left there was
no replacement for several months.
This left the DEP in chaos, with no one willing/able/daring
to make decisions. The program for "Innovative/Alternative
(I/A) septic system technologies" was passed down from
the Boston DEP to the regional DEP offices, and that's when
the trouble began. I could name names but I won't, at this point.
Suffice it to say that the attitude of the Southeast Region
DEP office clearly indicates a committment to maintaining current
standard on-site septic system regulations, which, because of
the expense and pollution they cause, and the large land area
they require, automatically leads to their highest goal: Big
Sewers Everywhere (megabucks for the Consulting/Engineering/Sewage
Installation industries, which work very much hand-in-glove
with the regulators nation-wide). And, their actions clearly
indicate a committment to greatly discouraging any I/A systems,
especially those that were proving to be successful at reducing
nitrogen with less cost and less land than central sewering
or standard on-site septic systems.
The DEP officials labeled as "violation" anything
about the Solviva system at the Black Dog Tavern that did not
strictly adhere to written or unwritten rules, and within a
year they felt their list of violations was long enough to warrant
To be sure, there were various problems that developed with
the system. The most serious was the fact that a lot of grease,
primarily olive oil, was getting into the filters, thereby gumming
them up and killing many of the earthworms. This problem was
unexpected because the grease was supposed to stay in the grease
trap, but because the restaurant used very hot water instead
of bleach for disinfecting the dishes, the grease did not have
a chance to congeal and therefore migrated into the filters.
We quickly made numerous small but important adjustments to
the system to rectify the grease damage, such as increasing
the drainholes in the Brownfilter containers, adding fans and
replacing the medium in the Brownfilter. However, according
to DEP, no adjustments could be made without getting a permit,
which of course would take months, and to wait was impossible
because the adjustments had to be done when they had to be done,
because 5000 gallons of wastewater effluent kept coming each
day. So these adjustments were added to the list of violations.
Each of the problems that arose could have been solved with
relative ease, but DEP would not allow these improvements and
instead ordered the system to be removed.
But some great
things came out the Solviva system at the Black Dog: superb
test results, and photographs of the magnificent Greenfilter
garden, which will of course be used in the upcoming effort
to change the DEP regulations for on-site septic systems.
There is still
one item that is left hanging on the line: the compost. As mentioned
above, the first batch of Biocarbon mix in the Brownfilter was
removed after the first few months. A plan had been prepared
to store this compost at one of the permitted sewage facilities
on the Vineyard, but when the time came, nobody dared to accept
it, for fear of DEP repurcussions. The compost, wonderfully
clean-smelling and filled with healthy earthworms, had be placed
somewhere. So I placed it on a remote fenced-in field on my
farm, and covered it securely with a tarp.
Then all hell broke lose. The West Tisbury Board of Health was
ordered by DEP to order me to remove the compost, which they
called "septage", or face a $500 fine per day. I showed
the Board the suberb test reults, which proved that the toxic
contents in the compost was 1/100 - 1/1000 of what state regulations
allow for spreading as soil amendments. I invited them over
to see for themselves. They came, they saw, they sniffed, but
even though it appeared to them that it did not constitute a
public health hazard, they said it was not up them, they had
orders from DEP. I put all the compost into 50 strong plastic
barrels with tight-fitting lids, and tied them all together
securely, but the Board still had orders from DEP to remove
the "sludge". However, the Board did lower the fine
to $50 per day - and - I got a $50 ticket every day for the
next 24 days.
During this whole time I tried frantically to get permission
from DEP, but the chaos was still going on up there, with no
one daring to actually assess the risk and admit that there
was none. I faxed and phoned and fed-exed to legislators, representatives,
the Governor, the press, lawyers, conservation groups, but although
they were all sympathetic no one was able to help. It was clear
to everyone that this case was "falling between the cracks".
This compost/"sludge" was being classified in the
same category as sludge from municipal sewage treatment facilities,
which of course does contain toxic substances. There simply
was, and still is, no category on the books for a small quantity
from one non-industrial source, and no one was, or still is,
willing to think "outside the box".
I finally gave up trying to get permisson to keep it on my property,
and instead sought permit to keep it at the Edgartown Sewage
Treatment Facility. The members of that committee were highly
sympathetic when they saw the compost and the test results and
voted to accept it for temporary storage until I got my DEP
permit. But, the DEP would not allow it to be stored at the
By this time I was getting frantic, and extremely pessimistic,
and angry with regulators who have the gall to allow and indeed
require the installation of septic systems that release high
levels of nitrogen, which has been proven to cause serious harm
to both public health and the environment, yet would not allow
even enclosed storage of compost that had already been tested
to be perfectly safe!
Finally DEP issued permit for Edgartown to temporarily store
the 50 barrels of compost, and with a local lawyer continuing
to help me, the West Tisbury Board of Health rescinded the $1200
accumulated fines, and fined me just $100 total.
I continued the work to get DEP permit to store the compost
on my property. I was told I must first get a total TCLP test,
and they sent me the application. I was shocked when I saw what
this entailed: a full test for 49 of the most toxic chemicals
used in our society, including PCB, Pentachlorophenol, 2,4.6-Tribromophenol,
Lindane, Endrin, Chlordane, Toxphene, Tetrachloetylene. And
even more shocked when I found out what it would cost: around
I asked: "How could there possibly be any of these poisons
in this compost that comes from a small restaurant?"
The answer: "We wouldn't know until it is tested."
Pleading for help from officials in other DEP departments, the
response from several was: "This is a preposterous demand!
A TCLP test is clearly not needed because there is no possibility
that this compost would contain any of those substances. Let
me see if I can find a way through."
And then a few days or weeks later: "I am so sorry. I tried,
but I can find no loop hole."
So, I finally bit the bullet and sent a sample of the compost
to be TCLP tested. The results came back: "below detectable
limits" on all 49 substances. And this cost me $1300.
Armed with this test result I applied again for a permit to
store the compost on my property. But I was in for a rude awakening:
The TCLP test was not enough. Now I must get a permit for my
land to be classified as storage facility for sludge, and this
would cost at least $1050 and would probably take at least a
year to get. Words cannot describe my level of disgust. This
is it. Here is where I draw the line!
If you are still with me to this point, I congratulate you for
your perseverence, and I am grateful. It is not easy for people
to think about wastewater. Most people abhor the very concept,
and are unwilling to engage their brains sufficiently to "get
it". Also, they have a hard time believing that governmental
regulations in this matter could really be as bad as they really
are. How is it possible that an agency that is named the "Department
of Environmental Protection" can be so guilty of creating
and enforcing regulations that are so destructive to the environment,
not to mention to public health?
To sum up, this is where it all stands at the present time,
in February 2002: the compost is still in Edgartown, and I have
been waiting for 5 months for a response to my latest plea to
DEP to bring it to my land. The system at the Featherstone Meetinghouse
for the Arts is still purifying their wastewater, without any
problems. My home systems are still transforming wastewater
into beautiful flowers and trees, without any odors, flies or
other problems, ever. There is zero "yuck-factor".
It is a joy to flush the toilet and thereby providing favorite
food for thousands of happy earthworms and millions of microcritters.
It is so obvious that these systems work in accordance with
the Laws of Nature.
Now, with the
help of many others,
we will continue the difficult but essential Good Work of changing
the DEP regulations.
You are welcome to join this noble effort. Please do.
For more information on my personal experiences with wastewater
go to Wastewater Management
(chapter from the Solviva book),
then go to the Call to Actionsection
to see the proposal for change.
Please pass on this information to others. Thanks. Together
we can do what needs to be done.
May every effort
you make to achieve a more sustainable lifestyle be rewarded
with joy and success.
Wishing us all
a good life, for 7 x 7 generations,
Home Page |
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Wastewater Management (chapter
from the Solviva Book)