By Michael Jessen
Waste is often a resource going in the wrong direction and Chris Bullock is intent on proving it.
The Castlegar engineer has been supervising a number of field trials this summer utilizing industrial by-products from the Celgar Pulp mill in a unique experiment to remediate agricultural land.
Biosolids -- a blend of waste fibre and lime -- from both the effluent treatment process at the mill and the spill pond, plus waste lime from the lime kiln have been applied to land at Champion Creek.
Anyone who has driven from Castlegar to Trail will probably know the site -- an expansive terrace of land with numerous fruit trees still standing -- that is owned by the United Spiritual Communities of Christ.
The land has been out of agricultural production for almost 50 years due to acidic soils with concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, lead and zinc exceeding agricultural standards. It was contaminated from air-borne emissions originating at the Cominco smelter in Trail prior to improved pollution control standards.
Bullock, who grew up in Castlegar, admits to being obsessed with finding uses for pulp mill effluent.
"After completing my Master's theses in pulp effluent treatment, I started working with a consulting company in Vancouver specializing in evaluating the beneficial reuse opportunities for pulp mill by-products," says Bullock. "During initial discussions with Celgar several years after the mill modernization, Celgar recognized the potential value their biosolids from the effluent treatment process represented to the sandy soils in the West Kootenay."
Bullock was involved in the initial environmental evaluation of the products and set-up pilot composting and soil amendment trials to demonstrate the beneficial properties of these products. Successful reclamation projects by Cominco's Trail operations followed.
"These opportunities provided me the impetus to move back to Castlegar to establish Western BioResources Consulting Ltd. to further develop these and other opportunities with other industrial operations."
In the past three and a half years, Western BioResources has assisted with the continued use of Celgar biosolids around Cominco's operations and the development of a septic composting process at a local landfill, a yard and garden composting operation in Trail, and the initial development of a composting operation and native plant nursery at Champion Creek. Late this summer Bullock also began trials using Celgar's hog fuel, biosolids, and partially digested knots to determine the technical feasibility of composting as an alternative management option. Composting windrows at Champion Creek have proved that significant composting has taken place.
Bullock is beginning work on another community greening project using biosolids next week for Teck Cominco. His company is going to manage the hauling and placement of biosolids on a section of the steep sandy/gravelly slope below Shavers Bench in Trail, then seed it with a light grass mix and recommend some native plants for planting in spring.
"Teck Cominco is donating the required amount of composted Celgar biosolids and paying the trucking charges, plus Chris's fees," said Steve Hilts, Community Remediation Manager for Cominco's Trail operations. "The slope in question is not a particular metals hazard, but it's one of the big remaining dry, sandy eyesores. It also has a nasty habit of falling down into several people's backyards. So, we're hoping to conquer it a piece at a time."
Bullock is also working for Cominco on a restoration design for the riverbank below Trail Operations. He and a local geotechnical engineer have produced a design to stabilize the steep slope with some vegetated terrace walls and cover the bank with biosolids and plants.
Finding uses for industrial by-products is imperative in our society according to author Paul Hawken who estimates 3,200 pounds of waste are generated to create one pound of product. Germans call this a product's "environmental rucksack." Celgar Pulp Company produces 1,200 tons per day of Northern Bleached Softwood Kraft pulp that is used in the manufacture of high quality paper products. According to Bullock, the mill also produces 10,000 dry tonnes per year of hog fuel, 15,000 wet tonnes per year of combined biosolids, 1,000 cubic metres per year of knots, and 1,000 tonnes of lime per day when the limn kiln is inoperative.
While a detailed report is expected later this month, initial field trials proved interesting to Fiona Mackay, Environmental Superintendent at Celgar Pulp Company (www.castlegar.com/celgar). Mackay, who admits to being highly obsessed about "waste", says the mill's by-products may help improve soil fertility, crop growth yields, and crop uptake of existing soil metals.
"A number of factors over the last decade has required Celgar Pulp Company to rethink traditional disposal methods and recognize some of our 'waste streams' as 'wasted resources'," says Mackay. "Our challenge has been to find the value in these wasted resources and to demonstrate viable alternatives to otherwise traditional disposal procedures." Mackay added that landfill space is limited and incineration of wood waste creates a natural gas demand and generates greenhouse gases.
Celgar's and Cominco's initiatives dovetail neatly with efforts by the environment ministry to make Canadians aware of air and water pollution and energy use during Waste Reduction Week from October 15 to 21.
"In our consumer society we often undervalue resources and take them for granted," says David Anderson, Minister of Environment. "Some materials cost so little that we tend to throw them out without really thinking about the environmental consequences of doing so. It is becoming apparent that this cannot go on."
Thanks to Chris Bullock and Fiona Mackay, Celgar's industrial by-products are being recognized as resources and put back into use.
ONE SMALL STEP - On September 28, about 50 persons attended a By-Product Synergy Workshop convened by the Kootenay Association for Science and Technology (www.kast.com). The conference will probably result in the establishment of a committee to explore further development of new products or uses for currently underutilized resources. For further information, contact Claudia Trudeau, executive director of KAST at email@example.com. Bullock can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and Mackay at email@example.com.
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