$20,000 Experiment Saves Berkeley Heights Township a Million Dollars

Tom McAndres Credits: Barbara Rybolt

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – In February, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) approved the use of a new technique as the final step in disinfecting water from Berkeley Heights township’s wastewater plant. The arrival of that permit was cause for celebration for Tom McAndrew, superintendent of the Department of Wastewater Treatment, Township Administrator John Bussiculo and the township.

The approval meant the township saved about $900,000  in equipment and installation costs, another $100,000 in engineering costs, and avoided about $50,000 in annual maintenance costs for an ultraviolet disinfection system for the final treatment of waste water before it was discharged into the Passaic River. 

The township council and public began hearing the words "peracetic acid" more than a year ago at meetings -- usually from Bussiculo, who would occasionally report on the progress of getting the NJDEP to allow them to test. Earlier this year, he reported that the tests were a success and the new method of the final disinfection of the waste water was approved. 

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During a recent meeting with the two men, McAndrew said the story began about two years ago, when the NJDEP sent the township a notice that “under the new renewal, we would be given stricter limitations on Chlorine Produced Oxidents (CPOs)” when the current five-year permit ran out. Under the department’s current mode of operation there was no way the department would meet the new regulations, so McAndrew and Bussiculo began looking for other options.

After a search, they found there were three feasible options – one was ozone generation, which McAndrew said was “very costly, very unstable … and if you are not comfortable with it, not something I would recommend … it’s explosive,” McAndrew said.

The second option was the installation of ultraviolet disinfection, which is much more stable, but “the actual process itself is finicky,” he said. “The disinfection process depends upon a number of different operational parameters – the clarity of the water, the wave length of the light is very precise” and it creates an environment that can’t be reproduced.”

Bussiculo said he and McAndrew were “very concerned about maintenance,” and estimated maintaining the system would cost about $50,000 every year. That cost, on top of the $1 million to get the system in place was daunting.

Still, that was the direction the DEP was moving in, he said.

After some more research, they discovered peracetic acid (PAA) was being used in other states, although it was not “industry standard.” He described it as being like “vinegar on steroids,” adding it is a chemical compound made up of acetic acid and H2O2.

The real appeal, however, was that installation of a PAA system would cost about $45,000 and maintenance of the system  between $800 and $1,200 a year McAndrew said. 

Right now, PAA is used in hospitals, cafeterias and restaurant settings to disinfect dishes, silverware and other items.

McAndrew and Chris Jepsom from VanCleef Engineering contacted the NJDEP and asked if they could bench test PAA and see if it would work on a small scale – that was in 2016. They developed the protocols to permit them to do the study and in February 2017, “We got an eleven-week study test approved,” McAndrew said.

Bussiculo said, “We were pleasantly surprised, normally they don’t do things that quickly.”

McAndrew and Bussiculo met with people from the DEP at the plant twice and once in Trenton.

After finding the right place to add the PAA, “We got terrific numbers … which exceeded what was required,” he said.  

When they presented the results to the DEP, they expected a long wait, but “They told us to leave the temporary system in place, so we did,” said McAndrew.

As of February 1, they had the permit modification from the DEP that removed CPOs as part of the parameters and now are using only PAA, he said.

With that success under their belt, McAndrew has been asked to present at NJ Water Enviroment Association Conference last May and have been asked to do it again. McAndrew also spoke at the New Jersey Association of Environmental Authorities.

McAndrew and Jepsom are also published – spreading the word about the value of PAA.

“Without the support of the administration of the township, John, the Mayor and Council, none of this goes through,” said McAndrew. “They said, ‘Okay, Tom, we’re going to support you and give you the funds,’ and they did.”

The test itself cost $20,000, but the savings, in the long run are more than worth it. PAA will cost the township about $23,000 a year, and Bussiculo predicted the price would drop as more wastewater treatment facilities use it.

Bussiculo said, “Fortunately they had faith in us."

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