MARINETTE — The Marinette Water & Wastewater Utilities Commissions signed a reimbursement agreement Wednesday with Tyco Fire Protection Products/Johnson Controls to assist in paying for disposal of approximately 2.3 million gallons of stored biosolids, more commonly known as sludge, that was contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

The emerging contaminant family of compounds known as PFAS is a group of substances that can be found in common household products such as stain- and water-repellent fabrics, nonstick products, polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products and firefighting foams, but can have detrimental health affects for those who consume it. PFAS in the Marinette County area originates from Tyco, which began using the compounds in the 1970s for firefighting foams and sprays. The chemicals used seeped into the groundwater, which the company publicly announced in November 2017, and some of the contamination is attributed to Tyco’s flushing of PFAS-containing chemicals into the City of Marinette wastewater system, where it collected in biosolids that were spread on local agricultural fields. Tyco’s disposal of PFAS down the drain and the city’s spreading of biosolids on local fields have been halted, and the two entities are working together to dispose of the contaminated sludge according to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) safety regulations. 

While the DNR gave the City of Marinette the option of either incinerating or landfilling the affected biosolids, Water & Sewer Operations Manager Warren Howard said Wednesday the city decided to use its existing contractor, Full Service Organics Management LLC, to haul the contaminated sludge after a de-watering and thickening treatment process. The reimbursement agreement with Tyco states that the company will pick up the extra cost for the extra work, while the city will pay its usual rate to the contractor. 

“We worked out an agreement to cover those costs,” he said. “The only costs we’ll be incurring are the normal costs that we pay every year to dispose of it, which will be our normal (3.57) cents per gallon that we pay. Everything else will be covered, Tyco will cover the rest of those costs.” 

Commissioner Barb Kopish and Chuck Boyle, a member of local citizens’ action group Concerned Friends and Neighbors for Safe Drinking Water (S.O.H2O), both pointed out that the contract is designed as “a one-time thing.” 

“I have a feeling that it was written that way deliberately, not to cover future expenses, figuring that we don’t know where those are going to go at this point,” Kopish said. 

“My understanding of this is, to take care of the issue at hand, they don’t want an open-ended contract,” said Mayor Steve Genisot. “The contract is to specifically take care of our biosolids that we are currently holding.” 

Howard said that the process to treat and remove the biosolids will begin “as soon as possible,” probably during the first weeks of August, and last approximately one to two months. He explained that, following the de-watering and thickening process, the contaminated biosolids will be loaded into specially-lined containers which will be transported to Chicago, then shipped by train to a landfill site in Oregon. Once the biosolids leave the wastewater treatment plant in Marinette, Waste Management will assume full ownership and liability for the substances. 

At 3.57 cents per gallon, 2.3 million gallons comes out to just over $82,000 for the city cost. The estimated full cost for the entire de-watering and thickening and transportation process comes to nearly $2.2 million. The commissions unanimously approved the reimbursement agreement, as well as contract addenda to the city’s contract with Full Service Organics Management. 

Howard explained, following the meeting, that the decision to move the contaminated biosolids to a landfill in Oregon was made after comparing it to two other options — incineration in either a Canadian facility or a facility in Arkansas. 

“The access is easier, we thought it would be timely, and it held the city liable for nothing once it got to Oregon,” he said. “We thought this was the best way to go, and the best option.”