WHEATFIELD – The two state legislators who live in Niagara County called Wednesday for the state to revoke Quasar Energy Group’s permits to store or use a byproduct from its food waste and sewage sludge digestion process.
State Sen. George D. Maziarz and Assemblyman John D. Ceretto wrote to Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joseph Martens to urge that Quasar be barred from storing or selling “equate,” as the company calls the byproduct.
It’s a watery, nitrogen-rich substance that Quasar touts as an excellent agricultural fertilizer. Its original ingredients include the sludge taken from sewage treatment plants – materials which, as opponents point out, included human waste.
Quasar opened an anaerobic digester on Liberty Drive in November, after receiving permission from the Town of Wheatfield and a tax break from the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency.
The machine uses microbes to convert fats, oils and greases as well as sewage, material that otherwise would be landfilled or incinerated, into methane gas. The gas can be used to drive a turbine to produce electricity, or processed into compressed natural gas.
But the company needs an equate storage site, and after the Town of Cambria rejected the company’s plans to dig a 10-million-gallon lagoon on a Raymond Road farm last summer, Quasar submitted a plan to erect a 5-million-gallon storage tank behind the digester.
It’s stalled at the Wheatfield Planning Board, while the Town Board is to hold a public hearing April 28 on a moratorium on the storage or use of equate in Wheatfield, while it considers changes in its laws.
Ten farm properties in Niagara County have DEC permits to inject equate into their fields.
Maziarz and Ceretto wrote in their letter, “The spreading permits must be revoked because we have no confidence in the claims made by the company and, more importantly, residents almost unanimously share that view.”
“I stand with my constituents, who are worried about the health of their community. Industrial waste in our backyards is a major public health issue, and residents are justified in their concerns,” Ceretto said Wednesday. “I do not want to see this industrial waste dumped in our community, and I’ll be working with my constituents and Sen. Maziarz to protect our community’s health and make sure equate does not make its way onto our land.”
The company responded in a press statement: “Equate is not an industrial byproduct. Neither is it hazardous or human waste, as Messrs. Maziarz and Ceretto incorrectly describe it. Equate is a natural agricultural product created from highly-treated municipal waste, food scraps and agricultural waste. It is cleaner than traditional manure and more environmentally friendly than chemical fertilizer. … It is safe. It is not a risk to public health.”
“Many local farms use anaerobic digesters to produce energy from animal waste and then reuse the byproduct as fertilizer. This proposal, however, seeks to also include human waste and that raises unique concerns that must be addressed,” said Maziarz.
The legislators’ letter to Martens said, “The Quasar facility and the targeted farm fields exist almost literally in the shadow of Love Canal, and with that as a backdrop, it is unconscionable that you would allow this facility and the spreading of potentially dangerous equate to go forward. In addition, Quasar is seeking permission to construct a storage tank which would hold dangerous sewage sludge and other toxic materials in a location that lies near the Niagara River.”
“None of our facilities operating now or proposed for the future are ‘by the Niagara River,’” Quasar’s statement said. “They are safe, secure and protected against environmental harm. … The analogy to Love Canal is misleading in the extreme and does a tremendous disservice to the people of Niagara County. Love Canal concerned toxic industrial chemicals discarded in a land pit. Equate is produced in a natural process that is tightly regulated, regularly tested and conducted in full public view. It is a social benefit, not a burden or a threat.”