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York, PA, will turn phosphorus in its wastewater into fertilizer

  • By Staff and Wire Reports on October 01, 2010
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State, local and environmental leaders in York, PA, in September unveiled a new sewage treatment technology that will not only reduce the amount of phosphorus released but also turn much of its byproducts into environmentally friendly fertilizer.

The company, Ostara Nutrient Recovery technologies Inc., has pioneered a technology to turn the phosphorus removed from treated wastewater into seed-size white pellets, which will become additives in a fertilizer marketed as Crystal Green. The pellets will be mixed with fertilizer products and sold in garden stores, including several in Pennsylvania.

Ostara will charge the Pennsylvania city a $30,000 monthly fee for the technology. The company will then buy back the fertilizer, paying $100 a ton. Company and city officials estimate the arrangement will save the city about $90,000 a year.

While they're reusing the phosphorus, Ostara is providing another environmental benefit. It's getting more of the phosphorus out of its wastewater stream. The city's previous limit was 2 parts per million, but Ostara is helping to drop that by more than half, to 0.8 parts per million, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Ostara's system is relatively new: Portland, OR, and Suffolk, VA, are the only other two U.S. cities using the technology. Edmonton, Canada, has been using it since 2007.

But such arrangements may become more common as the EPA presses states for more pollution reductions in the total maximum daily load, its pollution diet.

Pennsylvania sewage treatment plants have struggled to reduce pollution, as upgrades are costly and many rural areas to do not have the tax base to fund them. Yet it is in these places where the upgrades are so important, as many of these rivers and streams flow directly into the Susquehanna, which contributes 50 percent of the Bay's freshwater.

Perhaps underscoring that importance, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell showed up at the event to show off the new technology. So did Robert Kennedy Jr., founder of the Waterkeeper Alliance and nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy Jr.

"It's the kind of thing you really want to see," Kennedy told the York Daily Record.

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