How to flush a billion-plus on sewage.
What about environmental effects of a land-based treatment facility?
(See Minister Penner's - Minister of Environment - response below this op-ed piece)
Published: Sunday, February 24, 2008
The undersigned public health officials (current and former) wish to make it clear that there is no measurable public health risk from Victoria’s current method of offshore liquid waste disposal. There have been claims to the contrary, but the facts do not support these claims.
At present, two deep-sea outfall pipes, at Macaulay and Clover Points, discharge our sewage effluent, which is 99.97% water. It is screened to remove any solid objects more than 6 mm in size (the size of a pea). In addition, the CRD has developed a highly effective source control program that prevents most toxins from entering our sewage system.
These two deep-sea pipes extend more than a kilometer out into the ocean and are located more than 60 meters below the surface. At the end of the pipes the effluent passes through sieve-like diffusers and it is rapidly dispersed by the churning tidal waters. The dilution effect is estimated at more than 130 times within 50 meters of the discharge at Macaulay Point and more than 200 times at Clover Point. A vastly diluted plume is estimated to reach the surface, during the winter months, only 1% of the time. The plume does not surface in the summer months.
During the past 25 years there has been continuous monitoring of the ocean floor, the surrounding waters and neighboring beaches, for bacterial, chemical and biological effects, to determine the impact of these discharges. This has also included tests for toxins in marine and bottom-dwelling organism tissues. This monitoring has clearly shown that there is no significant contamination of the surface waters, or our beaches, that can be attributed to these deep-sea discharges.
It is clear from the results of these studies that there is no measurable public health risk from our two deep-sea outfalls.
However, the Capital Regional District has been ordered by the Minister of the Environment to develop plans to create land-based secondary sewage treatment for the Core and Westshore areas of the region. $10 Million is being borrowed to continue this planning. This is less than 1% of the estimated $1.2 billion cost of this mega project, which will add an estimated $500 per year to the tax costs of the average CRD householder.
Ten BC marine scientists have argued that land-based sewage treatment in Victoria is a low priority for marine environmental protection (see www.rstv.ca ).
The case is even clearer with respect to human health and welfare. The proposed additional treatment will not result in any improvement for public health and may in fact have a negative impact. So what are the proposed benefits from this mega project?
We are concerned that no assessment has yet been made of the environmental or health harms that could be caused by land-based sewage treatment plants – particularly when you consider the marine, land, community and global environments. What about the energy used by these plants? What about the green house gas production? What about the massive amounts of sludge or bio-solids that will have to be disposed of or treated?
What about the impacts on communities of these treatment plants, their associated odors, the increased heavy traffic, and the impacts of sludge disposal on the community to which the sludge is trucked?
And what about public health risks and impacts (traffic crash and other injuries, diesel truck emissions, chemical exposures, and infectious diseases) to workers, residents, and the community that may result?
We also consider what else $1.2 billion could do to improve the health of our population. What about housing for the homeless, support for vulnerable children and families, public care facilities and equipment, light rapid transit etc? All these could actually improve the quality of life in our region, and all are available for federal-provincial funding.
Sound public health policy is that which aims for, and has the potential to improve the health and welfare of a population. This would include not only expenditures on health services, but also on education, social services, clean water, and provision of adequate and low-income housing. Protection of the environment is also vital, but it should involve a defined benefit for the expenditure of public funds.
It makes sense to improve the liquid waste disposal system that we have and to place additional emphasis on the successful source control program to prevent unwanted toxins from getting into our sewers, particularly the reduction of chemicals introduced from households. It makes sense to place a greater emphasis on cleaning up the contamination of our shoreline discharges. It makes sense to spend money for projects that improve and protect public health and the environment. It does not make sense to plan a massive public expenditure for which no measurable benefit has been identified.
Dr Richard Stanwick, Chief Medical Health Officer, VIHA
Dr John Millar – former Provincial Health Officer
Dr Shaun Peck - former Deputy Provincial Health Officer and Medical Health Officer, CRD
Dr Brian Emerson – former Medical Officer of Health, VIHA
Dr Brian Allen – former Medical Officer of Health, CRD
Dr Kelly Barnard – former Medical Officer of Health, VIHA
Minister Penner's response to the above published op-ed piece:
Published: Sunday, March 02, 2008
Re: "How to flush a billion-plus on sewage," Feb. 24.
While I respect the views of the current and former medical health officers that there is "no measurable public health risk from Victoria's current method of offshore liquid-waste disposal," they are missing the point. As Minister of Environment, I must take a broader view. While some argue that only human health concerns should be considered, it is my job to look at the overall health of the environment.
Every year, more than 40 billion litres of untreated sewage is discharged into Juan de Fuca Strait through two outfalls, one at Clover Point and one at Macaulay Point.
Research conducted in 2006 by an independent scientific panel, funded by the Capital Regional District, concluded that population growth makes the natural dilution approach unsustainable. The public should be aware that even if construction started today, it will be years before sewage treatment actually commences.
Another study by the Ministry of Environment found that contamination of the sea bed near the outfalls exceeds B.C. contaminated sites and water quality standards. Simply stated, the ministry must consider the issues of environmental protection and the aquatic food chain, in addition to human health impacts. We're also required to look at the long-term impacts that may affect our children.
The decision to move forward with treatment has already been made and is supported by the federal government and the mayor of Victoria. It's also supported by the actions of the Capital Regional District.
Minister of Environment