The North Shore Sanitary District (NSSD) has applied to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) for a construction permit to build a sludge processing plant at its Waukegan location. That facility is located north of Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Sludge is a wet byproduct of sewage treatment processes. The sludge treatment facility combines a sludge dryer with a sludge melter-incinerator. During the drying phase the sludge is dried into sludge pellets. These pellets are then used as fuel to power the incinerator, which melts the pellets into a glass-like product. Mercury is emitted during this second stage, and nitrous oxides (NOx) are also released when pure oxygen is used to help fuel the incineration. According to NSSD, the pellets are inert and it is not possible for the chemicals captured in the glass to be released. They would be sold to Minergy, a subsidiary of Wisconsin Energy, for use as fuel in an energy-to-waste facility. If IEPA approves the facility, it would be permitted to emit a maximum of 92 pounds of mercury per year and nearly 100 tons/year of NOx.
The Lake Michigan Federation objected to the permit and submitted comments to IEPA. We are particularly concerned about the potential impacts to Lake Michigan from the mercury emissions. Lake Michigan is considered an “impaired” body under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act and is currently under a fish consumption advisory for mercury. The lake cannot afford to receive another ounce of mercury, let alone 92 pounds per year!
Waukegan Harbor, the site of the proposed facility, is on the verge of becoming a binational toxic cleanup success story. The grant or denial of this permit application represents a critical crossroads for the region. Although Waukegan Harbor is still considered one of 42 Areas of Concern around the Great Lakes due to PCB-contaminated sediments, preliminary fish sampling results indicate that PCB levels have decreased significantly. Citizens and community groups, including the local Citizens’ Advisory Group, have begun turning their attention to how the harbor front can be revitalized to showcase the aquatic assets of the area.
Many residents and local officials have come out vehemently against the new facility. The comment period for the permit is now closed, but significant public outcry and Federation involvement on the issue continues. Instead of placing an emphasis on polluting technologis on the lakefront, we need to build upon positive momentum to go forward in restoring the Waukegan’s long neglected Lake Michigan shoreline, while diligently working toward protection of Lake Michigan from any future contamination.
For more info, visit our website listed below.
Lake Michigan Federation
Serving as Hub for Illinois
222 S. State Street – Suite 1900
Chicago, IL 60604