Friday, June 29, 2012

Eliminite Bio-Film

About two weeks ago I collected several MetaRocks from an Eliminite system that has been in operation for about seven years.   I have been meaning to take a bio-film sample from the surface and look at it under a microscope but have been busy and I forgot about the sample. 

Today I got tired of doing what I have been doing and remembered the cup with MetaRocks sitting on my desk.  The video shows the biological activity in the tiny scrape I took from the surface of the MetaRocks. 

I think it is important to note that, after two weeks of  sitting on my desk in a cup, the microorganisms are still alive and active.  This fact illustrates one reason why eliminite fixed-film systems are so robust and reliable.  The microorganisms stay alive, imbededded in the film, even though they are not receiving influent. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Denitrifying Onsite Septic Systems

Denitrify:  To remove nitrogen or nitrogen groups from a compound.

It is surprising to me that so many newspaper stories are written about denitrification.  I see these articles every day and, considering that denitrification in onsite septic systems seems to be such a popular topic, I am equally surprised at the lack of knowledge regarding them.

I see (and hear) all kinds of goofy statements about onsite systems and their ability to remove nitrogen. For example, when a leader in the field of onsite systems makes the statement that excellent nitrogen removal results are only possible if the occupants of the home are wearing diapers.....well, it's pretty clear to me that there is a problem in this industry.

The subject is complicated by the fact that many health department regulators don't really understand these systems and have to rely on manufacturers representations.  Obviously, manufacturers exist to sell treatment systems and there are a couple of ways they can do this:

1) Sell a good product at a fair price that produces the required results.

2) Emphasize expensive marketing, government lobbyists and misinformation.

To be sure, there is never a shortage of number two in this industry.

For instance, I was reading comments from a newspaper article in Rhode Island where denitrification systems have become a regularly discussed topic.  These readers were quite concerned that they would have to spend somewhere between $30,000 to $50,000 to install a denitrifying septic system for their home.  I would have been shocked by this dollar amount if I had not had similar experiences with the cost I have seen charged for these systems. 

If you need a denitrification system for you home or business, I can almost certainly help you get a better price.  Just mention the name, "Eliminite" to the person giving you the quote for Brand X.  Ask them about the nitrogen removal numbers from their systems and have them compare Brand X's numbers to Eliminite's numbers.  (I've included some recent sample results below)

At this point you should see some concern in their eyes and body language.  Most will try to tell you they have never hear of us and, because they are such experts in the field, and have been doing this work for 30 years, that if they have never heard of Eliminite, well, you shouldn't even consider a system they have never heard of.  But, if you press them a little, I have seen the Brand X's drop their price by 20%, 30%, 50%  in one step because they know two very important facts about Eliminite.

1) Our nitrogen removal numbers are far superior to theirs, and;
2) The cost of an Eliminite system is generally half (1/2) the cost they are going to quote to you.

Now you can imagine, these two facts can be quite disconcerting to suppliers of competing systems.  A common tactic is to try to talk over your head; tell you about BOD, COD and nitrogen ratios, give you a quick and dirty water chemistry lesson on pH and acid-base reactions.  They will tell you that you have to feed a septic dog food to get really good nitrogen removal numbers, or that you need to add sawdust, or wood chips, or upflow reactors or, that you need to wear diapers.  (I am not making this up!)

My advice is generally to trust your intuition.  If something does not sound quite right, or if you think you may be on the receiving end of a well crafted script, don't immediately think you are wrong.  If something sounds screwy (you have to feed a septic system dog food, for instance) it probably is wrong and you probably are right.

Here are some results I recently received from several Eliminite denitrification systems. The systems were installed by independent septic system contractors.  I was not onsite for any of the installations.  The samples were collected by a third party certified maintenance provider that services many other systems.  I had no role in collection or review of the samples other than to receive reports from the lab that conducted the analysis.

System 1) TN = 12.9 mg/L
System 2) TN= 6.4 mg/L
System 3) TN= 1.71 mg/L
System 4) TN =19.0 mg/L
System 5) Ammonia + Nitrate =2.3 mg/L
System 6) Ammonia + Nitrate =3.2 mg/L
System 7) TN =7.7 mg/L
System 8) Ammonia + Nitrate =9.9 mg/L

Average of  all eight: 7.9 mg/L

It is obvious that System 4 needs an adjustment.  It would take about 5 minutes to make this adjustment and I would expect its numbers to drop into the 5- 6 mg/L range.   These are real denitrification systems operating at real homes. 

Samples were also recently collected from a subdivision in Montana with about 20 individual Eliminite denitrification systems.  The subdivision is configured with individual treatment systems discharging to a central drainfield.   The Eliminite units discharge to a central dose tank and the certified O&M provider collects a sample from the dose tank.  It is interesting to see the nitrogen numbers change as new homes are added to the system.  The last winter sample was TN= 11 mg/L.  Three new homes were added this spring and the spring sample was TN=13mg/L.  As the three new systems develop, the nitrogen numbers will come down again.  BOD for the two were like 4 and 5 mg/L. 

These numbers represent about an 85% reduction in Nitrogen and about a 98% reduction in BOD and we do it with only one additional tank.  A normal residential system consists of one primary (septic) tank and one Eliminite tank. Every number above is from that simple configuration. 

I want to tell you the price but, as you may imagine, I am reluctant to include it on this blog.  I am confident that we have about the best prices in the industry by a fairly wide margin.  In general, all the same system brands are available in Montana that are available in your state and we were not always the most popular advanced treatment system.  But, over the last few years it has become apparent that people are more cautious with their money and spend a little extra time shopping for the best value.   They do their homework and ask about the cost of state-required maintenance, energy costs, treatment results and visual impact of the system.  In this cost-analysis, as with the lab analysis, Eliminite comes out on top with most people who need an onsite denitrification system.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

How exactlly does this work?

I could post hundreds of these types of articles; county and state officials requiring people to pump septic tanks to protect groundwater.  . 

Many homeowners in Chesterfield are shelling out big bucks to get rid of their waste under county law.
Some think the rule stinks!
Reminder letters went out to homeowners last month to pump their septic tanks, meaning a busy time at the wastewater treatment plant.
While one homeowner sees the necessity, he thinks the requirement is a burden.
As Stemmle Plumbing drops a hose into Mike Philips' septic tank, he writes a $250 check.
"Another expense brought upon by a law that I believe needs to be reviewed and decided by the people it's affecting," said Philips.
There are more than 22,000 septic tanks in Chesterfield.
Since January, more than 6200 homeowners have received letters from the county health department to get them pumped.
It's a requirement every five years.

The county has the ordinance because of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, which recommends pumping every five years to keep sewage from contaminating ground water.
But Stemmle said it also prolongs the life of the septic system.

Could someone please describe to me exactly how the act of removing sludge from a septic tank protects groundwater? It just makes no sense to me.  I am pretty sure that the county guy knows that pumping the septic does nothing to protect groundwater, so why do they actively force the proliferation of this myth?

I have a feeling this silliness is part of a broader plan to firmly implant the thought in people's minds that onsite systems are bad.  The goal of course is for local and state governments to belly up to the federal trough and get their hands on tax dollars to build sewage treatment plants.   Big centralized sewage treatment plants bring in a ton of money to the county government and also transfer a lot of control to them.  So, if they can make you believe that your septic system is a polluter, they can also get you to fork over some money to connect to their system. 

Do onsite system manufacturers share some of the responsibility that allows regulatory agencies to advance the notion that even advanced onsite systems are inadequate?  I think so. 

Once an advanced system has received, for instance, NSF approval, it is simply rubber-stamped by most states as being approved for unlimited installation.  Most of the state programs never bother to test the systems being installed so, essentially, state-wide approval is granted based on a single data point, NSF approval. 

Under the vastly different conditions encountered in the field, compared to NSF test conditions, most of these systems do not meet the numerical standards set by the state.  This is when the shenanigans begin.  Maryland, for instance, must have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars developing numerical nitrogen standards necessary, in their opinion, to protect and rehabilitate Chesapeake Bay. New onsite systems were required to meet these standards and Maryland selected several brand-name systems and identified them as "Best Available Technology."  These systems were paid for, at least in part, with tax dollars.  Well, apparently, the Best Available Technology could not meet the legal numeric standards for nitrogen in actual field conditions.  Did the state de-certify the manufacturer?  Did the state require the manufacturer to bring the systems into compliance?  Did the state require the manufacture to do anything?  No, No and No.  The state of maryland simply ignored, discarded or othewrwise turned a blind eye to the standards that they spent so much time, tax payer money and effort developing and simply raised the legal standard to one that manufacturer could meet.  Therefore, because the Best Available Technology could not meet the standard that was found to be necessary to protect the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, the state of Maryland simply adjusted the standard to allow the onsite system to discharge 50% more nitrogen.

Because this system carries the designation BEST , it must be the best  onsite treatment technology available.  And, if the best available onsite technology cannot even come close to meeting the standard necessary to protect the Bay, then NO onsite technology exists that can meet the standard.  Right?

Since no onsite technology is capable of meeting the standard.....the public gets to pay more and more money for big pipe sewers, massive lift stations, back-up generators, huge treatment plants and hundreds of additional personel to provide full time operation and maintenance.  Pretty clever, don't you think?

This is why Maryland, and other states, are reluctant to consider systems that actually meet the regulations.  If they allow affordable onsite systems producing compliant effluent at an affordable price, they lose the argument that no systems can meet the standards and the only way to save the groundwater is to build expensive, revenue generating sewage treatment plants.

I am not taking issue with a requirement to maintain an onsite system.  What bothers me is that the regulatory agencies choose to use fear as motivation.  If they can convince you that you are in danger, you are more likely to surrender to them in return for their protection.  Many manufacturers play directly into this opting for the quick buck rather than developing systems that will function reliably for long periods of time.

The most favorable conditions for an advanced onsite system would be warm temperatures and elevation at or near sea level.  Warm temperatures increase the activity of the microorganisms that are responsible for treating the wastewater and, because these microorganisms need oxygen, lower elevations translate to higher oxygen concentration.  In contrast, the harshest conditions for an onsite system is cold temperature and high elevation.  I have compared Eliminite systems operating in Montana and Colorado(cold climate, high elevation) to Best Available Technology operating, for example in Maryland(warm climate, low elevation) and found that the Eliminite systems in the harsh conditions discharge less than half the nitrogen of the systems operating in the favorable climate. 
With Eliminite systems operating in warmer climates, we see about five times less nitrogen being discharged.  Also, and this is important, the Eliminte system costs thousands less.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Recent News

Highway Rest Areas
The wastewater treatment systems at the rest areas are performing beyond expectations.  We pulled a sample on Memorial Day weekend and sent it off to the lab for analysis.  Influent from  these facilities is quite concentrated; Bod runs 1500 to 4000 mg/l, total nitrogen is 350 to 500 mg/l.   Here are the effluent results:
Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen as N 11.0 mg/L
Ammonia as N 8.07 mg/L
Nitrate + Nitrite as N 20.5 mg/L
Total Nitrogen 31 mg/L
Carbonaceous BOD, mg/L 3.6 mg/L
Total Suspended Solids, mg/L 12 mg/L
These results are better than what most systems can achieve with residential wastewater.  The state of Maryland’s, Bay Restoration Fund, using what they refer to as “Best Available Technology” fails to produce results this good even though those systems are receiving household wastewater.   

Back from Colorado
We were in Colorado last week again working on a nice project.  We are providing  expertise helping the developer gain county approval for a small residential PUD.  It was interesting to hear from other members of the development about the last project they worked on that used onsite systems.  In a conscientious move, the developer committed to requiring  advanced treatment systems on each lot.  They selected a system and wrote the manufacturer into the guidelines.  Once the project was approved, once the manufacturer figured they were locked in, we were told by the development team that the manufacturer raised their prices to the homeowners dramatically.   I am sure we will be installing Eliminite systems at that development this summer because our initial cost is thousands of dollars less and our maintenance costs are much lower.

West Yellowstone Montana
It looks like an existing development in West Yellowstone, Montana, will continue to pollute groundwater with its failed sewage system for at least another year. This is in spite of the fact that it is under an administrative order to replace the system and that all the necessary funding is in place.  In my opinion this is a crime against the environment and is unequivocally due to the incompetence of the project engineer. 

 The engineer was determined to conduct an unfair RFP process by specifying only a single advanced treatement system manufacturer.  The Dept. of Environmental Quality had to force the engineer to hold a fair Request For Proposals.  However, the the engineer was so singularly focused on ommitting  other manufacturers from the bidding that they fouled up important aspects of the project such as the discharge permit.  In the end, I heard their preferred vendor backed out because they could not meet the final discharge permit limits.   The limits were not even that restrictive....we meet them all the time. 

The whole thing was so clearly rigged that we did not even waste our time submitting a proposal.   The sad thing is we could have completed the project for ten of thousands of dollars less than the bid they selected and could have had it completed in about two months. But instead, the sewage lagoon continues to leak raw wastewater into the groundwater a few miles from Yellowstone National Park.   Wastewater isn't the only "dirty" aspect of this business.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Money on the Table

Thanks to our most active spring yet, it has been a few months since I put up a post. We have been busy in North Dakota, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, and California. As people hear of us, learn what we can do and compare our advanced wastewater treatment systems to competing systems, they recognize that Eliminite is the best onsite system available for their money.

Last week we installed an Eliminite system at a college in a scenic mountain community in Colorado. Due to the general contractor’s tight deadline for completion, we started the Eliminite installation on a Friday afternoon and, by midday the next day, the system was completed, tested, and switched into automatic mode. The layout was one of our standard C-Series, the same design that is now being copied by other manufacturers. I guess we should have guessed that would happen since, for our clients’ convenience, we posted detailed technical drawings of our firm’s design online, and our Google Analytics showed that our competitors were accessing our site regularly around the time the copy-cat behavior began. In fact, one of the copy-cats bid this job originally, but ultimately lost it to us. Interestingly, once the job was complete, we were told by several professionals associated with the job that we “left too much money on the table.”

Apparently, Eliminite ended up at half the cost of the competing technology; for an advanced onsite wastewater treatment system of this size, half represents a significant amount of money. However, the suggestion that we somehow inadvertently “left money on the table” is incorrect.

We were provided specifications for the job and gave the owner a fair price for a reliable wastewater treatment system, without regard for what we thought our competition might have bid, or how much money the school might be able to scrape together to sink into their onsite system. Our firm doesn’t play those all-too-common “bidding games”, partly because (take note, competitors) manipulative bidding practices and price-fixing based on competitors’ pricing is ILLEGAL, but mostly because we believe that offering a high quality product for a fair price is the better long-term business model, and is the primary reason Eliminite has enjoyed consistent growth, even during this economic downturn. The project engineer for the college was protecting his client’s interests by looking beyond fancy marketing schemes and flashy brochures for a system that would match the needs of the school.

That is an important consideration that is often ignored in the engineering community. Aggressive marketing campaigns, overly-attentive distributors (you know, the kind who “drop in” every few weeks to remind engineers not to consider competing technologies, and to drop off another $500 stack of brochures for the engineers to distribute to clients) require an enormous investment by the manufacturer; costs associated with marketing and advertising and multiple middlemen are necessarily passed along to consumers. So, it’s fair to say, the cost of a treatment technology rises proportionately with the costs of marketing; instead of paying more for a better treatment technology, consumers end up paying more for a better marketing campaign.

Unfortunately, shiny binders and frequent visits to engineering firms won’t help ensure consistent compliance with permit requirements and, contrary to popular belief, slick marketing does not always translate into better business practices, better products, or better product support. Anyone out there remember the supremely well-marketed Ford Pinto? And how about those really cool magnetic bracelets that are supposed to cure almost every ailment? And last, but not least, how about Facebook stock? Millions in advertising for products that just plain failed to live up to the marketing hype. I’m not saying competing wastewater technologies that are well-marketed are all junk, I’m just suggesting that the wide-eyed adoration I’ve witnessed from certain members of the onsite wastewater treatment community toward manufacturers who “have great marketing” (I hear this constantly) might be misplaced, and certainly shouldn’t result in the irrational, single-track thinking and single-brand loyalty that characterizes this field…ESPECIALLY when consumers trust their engineers to inform them about ALL of their treatment options, not just the one the engineer happens to think of first because that brand’s vendor bought him lunch last week or flew him out to visit their plant and play a couple rounds of golf.

Remember, in the end, the consumer pays for those lunches and “free” plant visits and classes and marketing materials, and, when those activities are taking place across the entire country, you can imagine how quickly those costs add up. That said, Eliminite staff is always happy to offer classes or take interested wastewater professionals out for lunch—we’re just more selective about where and when we participate in those activities, because we understand that consumers can’t always afford to pay the extra costs.

If you, as the client, need an advanced wastewater treatment system for your home, business or other facility, and you have not been informed that Eliminite is one of your options, you can be sure nobody is going to leave too much money on YOUR table at the end of the day.

I really want to put some photos of the system up but every time I show detailed photos, the competition comes out with a new model based on our design (not kidding). If you contact me, I will share the photos with you and answer any questions you may have about our engineering services and wastewater treatment products.