PCBs in Walla Walla’s Wastewater:
PCB’s in Mill Creek
Reflections, Personal Experience and Learning Value:
Without a doubt in my mind, this internship has been the best experience I have had all semester. It provided a way to incorporate my learning into a real life application to help the City of Walla Walla solve, or try to solve a problem. Before I began my internship with the City, I didn’t know what to expect. What did it mean to study poly- chlorinated biphenyls in Mill Creek? The issue: Throughout the semester my role as an intern became much clearer. My primary job was to research PCBs. I needed to be knowledgeable about relevant background material in order to sufficiently analyze the following questions: Are the concentrations of PCBs in the Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) too high? What standards should be used to determine this value? Who gets to decide? What are the potential sources of PCB contamination in the Walla Walla Valley? Can these be removed? And lastly, if a limitation is set requiring the WWTP to decrease the concentration of PCBs, what methods are available to meet these standards?
The next step was to understand the Walla Walla River Chlorinated Pesticides and PCBs Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) (Water Cleanup Plan). The draft of the TMDL was issued in September of this year. After reading the report, several issues became more clear, but there continued to be areas of the report that were confusing. In the future, students who are involved in internships involving TMDLs would be wise to read and analyze the fine print as well as ask many questions about formatting of the document, where specific data comes from, and look into any relevant past precedent. For example, if I was to conduct my internship again I would ask questions like, what types of tests are being used to achieve the reported data? And are these tests used consistently?
To reiterate, this internship has been a valuable learning experience. I can’t number the outstanding conversations I had nor can the learning I attained ever be quantified. One moment, in particular, stands out. On October 3rd at the WWTP here in Walla Walla a group of individuals with varied interests representing a large variety of different groups gathered to discuss what implications the TMDL would have on the community. I had the good fortune to sit in on this meeting. I heard from members of the OMI corporation, from Larry Esvelt, an environmental engineer who helped design the Wastewater Plant in Walla Walla, from three different members of the Washington Department of Ecology, Frank Nicholson, Utility Engineer for the City (my adviser), and many others. Around that table sat ten different people. In a respectful and organized manner we discussed the implications of the 0.17 part per trillion baseline posed by the DOE. From multiple angles, covering a variety of subjects, the regulations were analyzed. It was the interplay between multiple subjects that was so fascinating and fit well with the notion of Liberal Arts. Through this project, I combined my basic knowledge of chemistry, my understanding of environmental impacts as well as environmental implications of certain actions, or inactions, as well as the relevant social and economic factors.
Were my Goals and Objectives met? If this project were continued into the future, what are my recommendations?
Throughout the semester I met the majority of my goals and objectives. I explored the sources of PCB contamination in the Walla Walla Valley, I analyzed how polychlorinated biphenyls get into water, and I evaluated the ramifications of these chemicals in the environment. Additionally, I researched potential ways to remove PCBs without too heavily impacting financial and engineering constraints. I also gained an understanding of the TMDL issued by the Department of Ecology and wrote a final report for the City of Walla Walla, which I have included with this report. Within my final report to the city I focused on the 209 different congeners of PCBs and discussed why some congeners are more toxic than others, for what reasons and whether or not all congeners needed to be included in the baseline level of PCBs issued by the DOE.
I don’t imagine that this exact internship will be viable to continue in the future for the following reason. The Department of Ecology in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency is currently evaluating the comments issued by the public and designing an implementation strategy for chlorinated pesticides and PCBs in the Walla Walla River. Until this implementation plan comes out, the WWTP and City of Walla Walla are in a holding state, waiting to hear the results.
I do foresee two possible continuations. 1. In greater detail locate the potential sources of PCBs in the Walla Walla Valley. This may involve finding old transformers and capacitors laden with PCBs, (or areas that once contained old transformers and capacitors whose soil is still heavily polluted) and replace them with new PCB-free electrical equipment. This could potentially be a joint internship between the City and Pacific Power. 2. The other option is to work with Frank on the next TMDL that was recently issued by the DOE. Though I am unsure what the specific TMDL covers, Frank has been an excellent adviser throughout the whole process.
The logistics of this internship were never a problem. Frank and I generally met once a week and we took many trips around the city. We visited the WWTP in Walla Walla four of five times, we went to the WWTP in College Place once, and visited the sanitary landfill on two separate occasions. Unlike the beginning of my internship, I felt much more connected to the project as my knowledge and understanding of PCBs increased. I felt that throughout the internship I built some personal connections with frank Nicholson, as well as many employees working for OMI. This connection made me feel much more comfortable and allowed me to enjoy the internship even more.
Successful Parts (value to the community):
The most rewarding aspect of my internship was attending the meeting with the Washington Department of Ecology as I discussed above. Within the three hour long meeting I witnessed an interesting interplay between the individuals and the information and insight I gained from this experience was incredible. I was encouraged to think about the TMDL in ways that I would not have come up with on my own. The second half of the semester continued to be successful. In particular, I enjoyed visiting the WWTP in College Place.
The difference between the two pants was startling and yet both plants will have to figure out the best management plan for meeting the new TMDL. In sheer magnitude and organization, it was clear that the City of Walla Walla was more in control. It seemed as though the WWTP in College Place controlled the people who worked there rather than the other way around. (As an aside, visiting the WWTP in College Place was in interesting insight into the advantages of hiring a private company such as OMI to ensure that regulations and requirements are met. OMI, for example has won numerous awards for meeting standards such as the “Outstanding Wastewater Treatment Award” issued by the Washington State Department of Ecology, U.S. EPA Region 10 as well as the “O&M Excellence Award.” In contrast, the WWTP at College Place has been dealing with many different law suits because they failed to meet numerous standards.)
Problems and Difficulties:
My main complaint with this internship is that it seemed to slow down dramatically once the comments were submitted to the DOE. After the submittal period, there were a few weeks with far less activity. This is to be expected, but I wished I had made a more concrete plan of my next steps after submitting my public comments. Within two weeks things were rolling again as I began to write my final report for the city and I visited the WWTP in College Place, but had I developed a more rigid plan I think those few weeks would have been spent more productively.
Secondly, I had a very hard time getting in touch with Bill Clemens at Pacific Power, their public representative to discuss where in Walla Walla PCB containing transformers and capacitors may still be located. I should have set up a meeting with him earlier in the semester so it didn’t come down to the wire.
I continued to have the flexibility the second half of the semester to dedicate most of Friday to my internship. As the semester progressed I felt that my researching became more effective as my understanding of what information I was looking for became clearer. Rather than spending hours searching for information and being only partially successful, the research within the past month has been short and productive, a wonderful combination allowing the time spent to be that much more fruitful.
1. Frank Nicholson, P.E.
Utility Engineer for the City of Walla Walla
Service Center: 55 Moore St. P.O. Box 478
2. Hal Thomas, P.E.
Public Works Director for the City of Walla Walla
City Service Center: 55 Moore St. P.O. Box 478
3. William (Bill) Slovensky
Laboratory Director/ IPP Coordinator
OMI, Inc. 527 Hatch Street
4. Larry A. Esvelt, PhD, PE, DEE
Esvelt Environmental Engineering
7605 E. Hodin Drive / Spokane, WA 99212-1816