Activist urges tight rein
on proposed sludge plant
A New York community activist who lives in the Bronx near the world's largest sludge-to-fertilizer plant warns Honolulu to hold Synagro accountable if it builds a similar plant here.
The New York Organic Fertilizer Co., now owned by Synagro, started operating in 1993 in a neighborhood that includes a sewage treatment plant and a number of other industries that have odors, said Elena Conte, waste and energy coordinator for Sustainable South Bronx.
"But there was no mistaking when this plant came on the scene," Conte said.
For the 11,000 people who live within two miles, it can be "really nauseating," Conte said.
"You can get to the point you want to throw up," she said. "It's a very particular smell, not the same as sewage. More noxious, more unnatural -- both chemical and fecal."
The odor seems to have gotten worse over the years, and community members remain unhappy with the amount of information they can get about the content of air emissions from the plant, Conte said.
The plant Synagro would build on Honolulu's Sand Island would not have the odor problems of the Bronx plant because it will handle one-tenth the amount of sludge as the Bronx plant and will use a new technology to keep all smells within the egg-shaped structure, said Pamela Racey, a Synagro vice president for business development.
Frank Doyle, Honolulu's director of environmental services, said he expects the Synagro plant to emit less smell than the current sludge processing at Sand Island.
"The odor controls will work," Doyle said.
Based on her experience with Synagro in the Bronx, Conte advised: "The biggest thing folks in Hawaii need to know is: Don't believe the hype. That company is only as good as the community is at checking it."
She noted that the Riverside County, Calif., community established a citizens' advisory board to review the performance of a Synagro plant there.
A community advisory board would be good -- if it had teeth, said Rodney Kim, spokesman for the local group Citizens Advocating a Safe Environment.
The coalition consists of the Sand Island Business Association, Kalihi-Palama Neighborhood Board, Kalihi-Palama Community Council, Matson, Horizon Lines, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
Kim said yesterday that the coalition still opposes the city going ahead with the Synagro plant without the city first testing the safety of the product.
The coalition remains concerned that the Environmental Protection Agency is studying the long-term safety of sludge fertilizer, Kim said. It also questions whether the plant is most economical way to deal with the sewage sludge.