Tuesday, November 26, 2013

This is what happens when you get really busy.

We have been very busy and, as a result, I have not updated the blog in quite some time.  Between designs, drawings, installations and O&M manuals I just haven't had a few free minutes to add some content.
I am still very busy but figured it was time to get a post up.

Here are a few notable projects we've completed since the last blog post:

Another Highway Rest Area in Eastern Montana.  We worked with WGM Engineering out of Missoula and Diamond Construction of Helena on the job.  These are two top notch companies to work with and the job was smooth and trouble free.  Justin Buchanan of E-On Northwest was responsible of the installation and start-up of the system.  

This rest area, like all the others, produces some very high strength wastewater so it was important to get the design right.  Our experience with rest areas has proven that the Eliminite system is well suited for these applications and we won this job on a competitive bid meaning our price was also the best of the bunch.  

A Restaurant in Helena Montana. This job was in last months issue of Onsite Installer.  A popular and growing steak house in Helena, Montana needed to expand their onsite system and hired us to provide the treatment system.  Justin spearheaded this project also and received a nice recommendation from the owner at the completion of the job

A Condo Development in New Mexico. The condos were served by a system that failed quite some time ago but the lot was so small that there was barely any room to install a new treatment system and drainfield.  I worked with the contractor to help design the replacement and he installed it.  The fit was perfect and the system is working well.  

A Retrofit of Another Failed system in New Mexico. Jerry Richardson of Ruidoso Septic Service installed an Eliminite system as a retrofit.  Another brand was specified but after a conversation with the project engineer we were allowed to substitute an Eliminite for the original system.  The owners are pleased with Jerry's work and they understand why the Eliminite is a better system than what they were going to use.  

A Resort in Michigan.  The clients, with whom we have worked with for years in Colorado, did not want the unreliable system that was being proposed for their job so they brought us in to design something that would work for their application.  Timelines were tight for this one because they had to have design, permitting and construction completed so that they could open by Thanksgiving. With only a month and a half of lead time, we had to work hard and smart.  The system was completed and is operational before the Thanksgiving deadline.

Several Water-Reuse systems in New Mexico.  Reusing wastewater is important in arid areas like New Mexico.  We have been working with an expert in the field to design systems that produce highly treated effluent for a reasonable price.  I have designed several of these and recieved state approval for installation.  

10.2 mg/L  That was the most recent total nitrogen result from a development with a centralized onsite system.  I have written about this project a few times.   It currently serves about 30 homes and didn't meet it's nitrogen requirements with the two brands of treatment systems that the owner started with.  Now that they are using Eliminite exclusively....well, TN=10.2 mg/L says it all.

Another RV Park Serving the Bakken Oil Fields.  This one was just completed this week.

A slew of Individual Systems.

We are not at all busy, however, with:  Service calls, call-backs or repairs.

Eliminite denitrification system serving two highway rest areas.

This system serves both the east-bound and west-bound rest areas.  The Department of Transportation asked for the panels to be installed at the system.  If they had been mounted to the building, there would be no visual impact.

The system consists of: Primary treatment, biological nitrification and denitrification, post-anoxic denitrification and final effluent polishing.  The highly treated effluent is discharged to two shallow pressurized drainfields.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Total Nitrogen and Fecal Coliform

Annual results from one of our standard 120 C treatment units.  TN measured 11.0 mg/L and fecal coliform in the effluent was zero. 
This system was part of a study we participated in several years ago and from these results it is clear that it continues to perform exceptionally well.  Nothing has been done to the system other than to collect a sample once per year.  I suppose I could make a few fine adjustments and get the TN down below 10 mg/L...but what would be the point?  It's already well below the permit limit.
The average TN for the 18 month study was about 7.5 mg/L . 

These are great numbers and I know this industry well enough to know that any manufacturer would love to obtain these results consistently, and very few do in real-world applications.  The fact is, Eliminite does achieve these results, not only on single family residential systems, but on community and commercial systems, as well.  This system was installed by one of our distributors and cost thousands less than any competing systems expected to achieve similar results. 
Our designs are copied by the giants in this industry, but our numbers are better.  Our edge is not just in the intelligent design and careful engineering, but also largely attributable to our MetaRocks media.  You have seen manufacturers use all kinds of media...plastic beads, Styrofoam packing peanuts, filter fabric aka textile, peat moss, coconut shells, plastic blocks, foam cubes and the list goes on. If you think about it, not a single one of these media was developed specifically to treat wastewater; they were all commandeered from some other use and force fit into onsite wastewater treatment systems.  MetaRocks, on the other hand, were developed specifically for job they do.  This is an important distinction and the benefit is clear and unequivocal; better treatment results, lower cost, less maintenance.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nitrogen Reducing Wastewater Treatment System for a Highway Rest Area

We recently completed construction of a wastewater treatment system at another busy highway rest area, located in a rugged area at high elevation.  The system is designed to remove nitrogen from the high strength wastewater encountered at this facility. Highway rest areas are common across the country, but what is not common is the knowledge that the wastewater they generate is much more concentrated than residential wastewater.  In fact, just about the only facilities that produce residential strength wastewater are residences, and we've actually encountered a fair number of residences that produce the higher strength wastewater more typical of restaurants or other commercial applications.  We have a lot of experience working with restaurants, RV parks, campgrounds, churches, rest areas etc. and they all produce wastewater that is considerably stronger than that produced by average homes.  This fact has caused real problems for many different facilities because the design engineers and manufacturers of the treatment systems did not understand what the system would be receiving, or, in some situations, I suspect they understood the nature of the wastewater but turned a blind eye in order to force-fit a technology from a preferred vendor or contractor whose technology wasn't necessarily suited for the job.
I can only sigh and shake my head at a system design I read about the other day that was installed at a highway rest area in Colorado.  Colorado seems to have a pretty poor track record when it comes to treatment systems at their CDOT rest areas.  They apparently tried several big-name systems which I heard could never meet their discharge limits (results on file with the state confirmed this).  This is a very serious environmental problem considering the sewage, after going through the system, is discharged directly to the river. The treatment systems I saw were pretty involved contraptions consisting of tanks, filters, upflow reactors, downflow reactors and more.  Even after all those steps, and after the Dept invested hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, into the system, the operator told me that they could not even come close to meeting the permit limits for the river discharge...not that it stopped anyone from continuing to discharge.  So, Colorado recently tried something different.
As best as I can determine from the article, a box of magic wood chips was installed--a box of woodships that would be a panacea..."green" and "sustainable" and "zero impact", etc etc.  Apparently, the bed of wood chips is installed directly under the toilets.  As rest area users deposit the "stuff" onto the top of the wood chips (it helps to develop a mental image of this) it is magically transformed into pure, clean and harmless minerals.  All I can think is what a mess this is going to be to clean up.  If it works as promised, the entire decentrlized industry will be revolutionized!  Everyone except the manufacturer of this magic box will be run out of business!  Seriously, I actually hope it does work, because the last thing Colorado needs is another system spewing raw or poorly treated sewage into the environment.  But, I've been working in this field for longer than I care to admit, and I predict problems.  I'll be keeping my eye on the treatment results.
Eliminite take a slightly different approach...one that does not attempt to violate the First Law of Thermodynamics.  Is the Eliminite a "zero impact" system?  No.  It requires a modest amount of power to run the pumps, and the media is engineered, it isn't just "harvested" from mother nature, though MetaRocks are made from material that is at least partially plant based and is deemed by its supplier as "green".  It does take energy to produce MetaRocks.  But, it takes quite a bit of energy to clear logs from a mountain forest and mechanically convert them into wood chips, too.  At least MetaRocks won't need to be replaced--one batch will last the life of the system.  I have my doubts about wood chips that are abused in the manner described in the article I read.
The photo shows the surface exposure of the finished treatment plant.  (Sorry but I am not providing detailed photos because, as I have mentioned before, I don't really feel the need to be generous to my competitors.  The last time I provided details of one of our systems, our competitor released their "new" product line which is a direct knock-off of our system.  Who sets the bar in this industry, the one with the original idea or the one who copies the original idea?  )
The photo shows the entire treatment system which is capable of 90%+  nitrogen removal with a design flow of over 6000 gal/day.  It is installed on Lookout Pass at the Montana-Idaho line and will be subjected to harsh winter conditions.  Our unique design allows us design for high strength wastewater and high capacity while keeping the footprint compact.  The system is fairly simple, making it easier for the operator to maintain and monitor.

The videos below help visualize the characteristics of our patented MetaRocks.  The first one shows the rough sandy surface magnified and illustrates the rough textures surface providing area for microorganisms to attach and grow.  The second video shows how water behaves on the surface of MetaRocks.  You can see that the rough surface "wets" as the water is dripped on it and pulls the water around in a thin film.  Because the film is thin, oxygen is able to easily diffuse into the biofilm.  The large pores between individual MetaRocks carry bulk air with little headloss so the entire system is easy to keep aerobic.  This combination of characteristics really is not replicated in any other treatment media and is part of the reason we have such good results across a wide range of waste strength and flow.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The best treatment media for onsite systems

Have you ever thought about how advanced onsite septic systems work? Is there a key component similar to the engine in a car that is the driving force of their functionality?


Most wastewater treatment systems rely on microorganisms to effect the treatment. These biological organisms are naturally present in the environment and are ideally suited for the task. The only thing we have to do is provide a comfortable home for them...like Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come.


The goal is to provide a place to which the microorganisms can attach themselves so that they can populate the treatment system and grow. That's it. The heartbeat of an advanced onsite system is therefore the attachment surfaces or media as it is commonly called. (Systems that use air bubblers and little or no treatment media, aerobic systems, are not discussed here because I want to focus only on systems that actually have a hope of working)


Eliminite is one of the few, maybe the only, advanced onsite system manufacturer that developed its own proprietary media designed specifically for the onsite industry. Most of the other system manufacturers borrowed something from some other application, stuffed it into a tank and called it a wastewater treatment system. This is not unlike "fixing" something by wrapping duct tape around it; it may hold for a while but it is a temporary solution at best.


The cost associated with developing a new media is significant. There is the testing, patenting, manufacturing and marketing. This is why most manufacturers have opted out of development in favor of utilizing something off the shelf. They did not see the need to re-invent the wheel.


My opinion is, the wheel needed reinventing, or at least, perfecting, and that's why we did it. We developed our MetaRocks media to address the specific needs of this industry. One of our achievements is a media that does not require cleaning. 


We engineered our MetaRocks with large open spaces that allow the free movement of air through the system because if the microorganisms cannot breathe, they will die.  If air flow is restricted, solids will build up on the surface of the media further restricting air movement. 


Everyone has seen a clogged drain.  Most sink drains in a home receive relatively clean water and they still have a tendency to develop clogs.  Now imagine the liquid flowing out of a septic tank and think about the potential for clogging.  Most media-based system manufacturers will tell the owner that it is necessary to hose off the media, fluff it(because the stuff it is made from compresses over time and strangles the microorganisms) or replace it entirely.  If you think about the actual procedure necessary to accomplish any of these tasks, you can see why none of them are very desirable requirements.  It's not like they can take the system to their shop and do the dirty work, it must be done right in your yard.


MetaRocks are an entirely different beast.  A system based on MetaRocks is simply more stable and robust than the others.  Owners may use it without the constant worry that any little thing they do will damage the system.  Once you know about MetaRocks you will never want to use anything else.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Ruidoso Septic Service Installs an Eliminite Nitrogen Removal System for an RV Park

Jerry Richardson of Ruidoso Septic Service recently installed an Eliminite system for an RV park expansion in Alto, New Mexico.  A few years ago Jerry installed an Eliminite for the first phase of the RV park and the owners were so pleased with his work and the reliability of the system that they hired him to do an expansion.
System Installed by Jerry Richardson

RV park wastewater is generally quite a bit more concentrated than domestic wastewater and New Mexico has seen so many advanced treatment systems fail that the Ground Division of New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has essentially placed a moratorium on new RV parks unless the wastewater is discharged to an evaporative lagoon.  You RV park developers can thank the manufacturers of inferior treatment system for the restrictive rules. 
Jerry installed an Eliminite at this RV park a few years ago under the Liquid Waste Division of NMED and has been monitoring it is as required.  Apparently the Department has been very impressed with the results obtained from the first system and quickly permitted the expansion. 
Several owners of  O&M companies that collect samples from Eliminite systems, who also collect samples from many other systems, have told me that Eliminite results are always far superior to any other treatment systems they monitor. 
So it appears that all the manufacturer hype about how well their system works is just that, empty talk.  The Eliminite has not needed any maintenance or cleaning and has been functioning without problems.  Some installers don't appreciate the reliability however, because, their business model is predicated on return visits where they can charge for scooping out feculent peat moss, or fluffing little foam balls or changing filter fabric.  The air bubbler systems need to be pumped out  so often that the cash flow from necessary maintenance operations becomes more significant to them than the initial cost of the system.  Septic system maintenance becomes the gift that keeps on giving.
We, on the other hand, have developed a system that does not require the constant babysitting and cleaning.  Eliminite systems operate trouble free under a wide array of wastewater flow, wastewater strength and climatic conditions.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

“The alternative systems’ nitrogen removal is not that good, and they’re very expensive to maintain.”

The title quote is from a recent article in the Barnstable Patriot out of Hyannis, Massachusetts.  Apparently, a 60-unit condo complex there needed to upgrade their onsite systems.  The owners association considered installing alternative onsite denitrifying septic systems or a central sewer connected to a central treatment system.

The final bids for sewering the Center Village project were around $800,000, breaking down to about $15,000 per unit. The condo association representative stated, “That is less expensive than installing an alternative system, and should be forever because we’re in the town sewer.”

So the bottom line is that Massachusetts has approved a number of alternative systems for nitrogen removal that, according to the people actually paying for and using the systems, (1) Don't work well and (2) cost more than $15,000 to install and maintain. 

I thought it would be interesting to see what systems are approved in Massachusetts that fall into these two catagories.  The link is: http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/water/wastewater/summary-of-innovative-alternative-technologies-approved.html

If you go to the bottom of the page you will see a list of I/A Technologies with Nitrogen Reduction Credit .  I will let you draw your own conclusions.  But this is typical of many regulatory authorities, they are far more concerned with adherence to the mountains of red tape they have created to justify their existence than they are with protection of the environment.  In other words, it is more important that a manufacturer has conformed to their procrustean approval process than it is that the system actually performs and is available at reasonable cost.

Here is the full article:  http://www.barnstablepatriot.com/home2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=32904&Itemid=30

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Onsite Installer System Profile

Eliminite is featured in the May 2013 issue of Onsite Installer Magazine.
The photo shows Tom and Justin finishing up an onsite denitrification system at a Man Camp. 

Eliminite systems go together quickly and operate reliably regardless of site conditions.   If you are interested in becoming a distributor or learning how we can save you time and money on your next project send an email to info@eliminite.com

Sunday, April 21, 2013

RV Parks, Highway Rest Areas, Restaurants, Homes, Recycling Centers and Oil Field Man Camps

The reason I haven't posted to this blog recently is not because I have lost interest. To the contrary, I am more interested now than ever--we've just been very busy designing, building and installing the systems identified in the title. I keep thinking that I need to get a new post written, but it seems that every time I get started, something else pops up.

Thankfully, Eliminite is very busy and our clientele has grown steadily for the past year+, without much of a lull this past winter.  We have been enjoying a tremendous amount of repeat business and one of the companies that provides O&M for a number of different brands of onsite systems, including Eliminite systems,  told me last week that he believes Eliminite is superior to its competitors.  He had apparently related this sentiment to a County Health official after becoming frustrated with consistently poor results/unreliable field performance from other systems.

 Since my last post, Justin Buchanan of Eon-NW, installed the system serving the 220 bed man camp located on the Montana-North Dakota border.  The installation went smoothly and there were no problems, despite the remote location and mid-winter installation date.  I worked with Justin and we were able to install and test the entire system in about one week.    Onsite Installer Magazine is featuring Eliminite in an article focused on the man camp in their May 2013 issue.  I’ll post a link to it here as soon as it is available online.

Onsite Installer Magazine also asked us for a short case study for the current issue.  Here is the link:  http://www.onsiteinstaller.com/editorial/2013/04/advanced_treatment_units2

There are a few other systems included in the case study article but it is interesting to notice that we were the only company that included actual treatment results. The others either are silent about the actual field results or only supply aspirational numbers…basically, just variations of "this system is expected to meet such-and-such standard", or, "was designed to meet such-and-such standard."  Our case study describes a 68 lot subdivision where each home has its own septic tank and Eliminite treatment unit.  Treated effluent is collected in a small diameter effluent sewer and routed to a central dosing tank.  The dosing tank pumps to a pressurized drainfield.  Samples are collected quarterly and the most recent sample, a winter sample, was tested by a certified laboratory to have a total nitrogen concentration of 9.8 mg/L. 

The interesting thing about this system is that in the early stages of the subdivision the owners allowed the installation of two other brands of onsite wastewater treatment systems.  Initially, there were no Eliminite systems installed on the project, and the subdivision never met its discharge limits.  The systems that were installed initially both have NSF certification and one is NSF 245 certified.  And, despite the fact that the owners spent tens of thousands of dollars on the certified treatment systems, they still did not meet the discharge requirements. 
One of those systems is the proverbial, “$20,000 septic system.”  I cannot even imagine spending that kind of money for a single family residence septic system and NOT meeting the State permitting requirements.  Onsite systems seem to be one of the very few consumer products in that price range that can consistently fail to perform as intended without suffering any real consequences.  The consumer suffers the negative consequences of bad odors, frequent maintenance, additional expenses and reprimands from health departments for failure to meet permit limits, and the environment suffers the negative consequence of degraded water quality and site disturbance, but the manufacturer rarely suffer any backlash when their systems fail to perform...health departments rarely de-list approved systems for failure to perform, and owners cannot hope to recover damages from a manufacturer because warranties are generally drafted in such a biased manner that even the slightest deviation from design flow parameters or usage patterns nullifies those warranties and places blame on the consumer, the design engineer, the installer, the maintenance provider, or some combination of the four. 
The average consumer is better off buying a replacement system and hoping for the best than trying to wade into the murky waters of taking legal action against a large manufacturer.  So, usually the expense and frustration fall on the system owner, who in turn contacts the design engineer, who in turn contacts the installer, who in turn contacts the maintenance provider, the latter of which generally receives the least amount of compensation and is the least culpable for the system's failure to perform but is most likely to take on the enormously frustrating task of troubleshooting and attempting to fix problems that are often un-fixable. 
So, the point of this is to explain why I consider a compliment from an onsite system maintenance provider to be of the highest order--when the guy who goes into the field and physically inspects and works on systems says my system works the best, I take it very seriously.  It means all the blood, sweat and tears (and that isn't just an empty expression!) we've expended designing, troubleshooting, testing and re-testing for years on end is paying off.  It means our stuff works in reality, not just under the imaginary, idealized set of circumstances so often contemplated during the design process that almost never actually exists in the field.
Anyway, back to the subdivision that was the subject of the case study.  The owner decided that he did not like receiving violation notices and contacted us.  We started installing systems for homes as they were constructed.  Because our treatment units consistently produce effluent that is substantially cleaner than the permit requires, the Eliminite systems are actually diluting the poorly treated effluent from the other systems and the subdivision has not been out of compliance since Eliminite systems were brought on line.  In fact, it is interesting to see the total nitrogen trend as more Eliminite systems are added.  The numbers improve with the addition of each Eliminite.  Now there are so many Eliminites on line that they control the quality of the final effluent.

 This illustrates the seemingly obvious--but often ignored--fact that slick marketing, teams of government relations people (lobbyists), endorsements from members of academia who are paid to proffer their "expert" and "unbiased" opinions, and even well-regarded national certifications cannot make an ineffective system function.  In the field, each treatment unit must stand on its own and produce high quality results because, eventually, trading on corporate name and long-held market shares, and dedicating more time to manipulating environmental health regulations than to creating a truly effective, reliable system will not be enough.  As clean water supplies dwindle and demand continues to increase, more people are taking an active interest in onsite system performance, and more people are watching.  The worn out excuses, finger pointing and blame games that seem all too pervasive in the decentralized industry will no longer be tolerated, and a few technologies will continue to slowly but steadily rise above the rest.  At Eliminite, we're determined to make sure our system is one of them.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Two Semi Truck Loads a Tandem Trailer and a Pickup Truck

We shipped out two semi truck loads of MetaRocks yesterday.  The shipment is headed to the Bakken and we will be building four advanced onsite wastewater treatment systems for an oilfield support facility there. 

They needed denitrifying systems because a conventional septic system could not be approved by the department of environmental quality. After researching available systems, the owners of the facility decided to work with Eliminite. 

The septic tanks and treatment tanks were locally sourced which means reduced cost and additional benefit for the local economy.  This is in contrast to importing a more expensive, less reliable from who-knows-where.  The smart design of the Eliminite system allows us to use local material for almost every job.  We prefer doing business this way because it adds a nice boost to nearby businesses and costs less.  Plus we get to work directly with the tank manufacturers to make sure the client gets what they need.

Our engineers worked with the owners engineers to develop an intelligent design and layout for the system.  We also helped out on the large pressure dosed drainfield which was designed using our patented computer software Squirt: Hydraulic Analysis and Design Software.  Squirt, has the ability to analyze the entire pipe network of the pressurized drainfield as a complete system.  It is vital when a client is investing a significant sum of money into a large pressure-dosed drainfield system that the right tools be used to conduct the design and analysis.  A guy in cubby running a cobbled together spreadsheet is simply unable to provide the degree of analysis that Squirt is capable of.  Ordinary pump selection programs are just that, programs designed to sell pumps and parts for manufacturers, they are not dedicated hydraulic analysis programs aimed at providing the client with the most efficient possible design. 

Suspended Growth Systems

I am going to pick up where I left off last week with the discussion regarding suspended growth systems in a day or two.  I want to dig deeper into the reasons these types of systems are so unreliable.  I was reading an NSF report for one of these air-bubbling systems pursuing an NSF 40 certification the other day and noticed the average influent BOD5 to the system during the testing. If you are familiar with the term BOD5 you probably have some idea of normal ranges for different substances, for instance:
Milk 110,000 mg/L
Blood 200,000 mg/L
Winery Waste 5,000-20,000 mg/L

Domestic wastewater, because water saving devices are common in homes ranges from 300-600 mg/L.  Commercial facilities that don't include laundry, dishwashing or showers will run at least twice as high.  The Air-bubbler system was tested with wastewater with an average BOD5 of 140 mg/L.  This value is much lower than what is routinely encountered in the field and helps explain why these systems, even after receiving a national certification, produce abysmal results in actual operation.

We also need to cover why fixed-film systems are so much more resistant to upsets as compared to SBR's, MBR's and ATU's.  Maybe you have heard that some types of wastewater treatment systems need to be fed dog food.  Yes, Ol'Roy dog food spoon fed directly into and ATU. 

I will also draw a distinction between different types of fixed-film systems because the design, operation and maintenance requirements of these vary significantly.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

MBR, SBR, Activated Sludge, ATU, Suspended Growth

MBR:  Membrane Bio Reactor
SBR:  Sequencing Batch Reactor
Activated Sludge
ATU:  Aerobic Treatment Unit

Question: What do these three types of system all have in common?

Answer: They are all Suspended Growth systems.

MBR's, SBR's and activated sludge and ATU systems all work in the same manner: they blow air into wastewater.  That's it.  Within the pool of frothy wastewater are free swimming microorganisms that utilize the wastewater as a food source. The wastewater is supposed to be treated as the microorganisms act on it. 

This design, generally best suited for municipal scale systems that have access to a supply of full time(24 hr/day) operation and maintenance personnel,  has been adapted for smaller scale and residential systems as well.  You can find them under a variety of brands but they all look about the same and they all operate in nearly exactly the same manner.  A blower blows air into a pool of wastewater 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

However, and this is common knowledge to almost everyone in this industry even if they don't like to admit it, suspended growth systems are notoriously unreliable.  In fact, I attended a conference where the president of one of the really big manufacturers of a suspended growth systems was arguing that his company's individual systems should not be assessed based upon the results they were producing but rather, all the systems should have their results averaged.  I would like to be able to extend this logic, however tortured, to traffic laws.  "Well officer, I was only speeding for 10 minutes but I have been driving for 3 hours, so on average, I have not been violating the speed limit!"

Eliminite is an advanced onsite wastewater treatment system that differs significantly from the suspended growth systems.  The microorganisms providing the treatment are not free swimming in a pool of liquid.  Instead they are attached and immobilized on the surfce of our patented MetaRocks.  Why is attached superior to suspended?

"It is obvious that attached microorganisms stay in the system longer than non-attached microorganisms. Retention of slow-growing microorganisms such as nitrifiers and methanogens is facilitated by attachment, this leads to a higher inventory of the microorganisms in the system and thus reduces the hydraulic retention time required for treatment."

One reason is that the biofilm in which the microorganisms are embedded provides significant protection from toxic substances.  You can think about this as the difference to being outside versus being indoors.  The free swimmers are relatively unprotected and exposed to the elements where the attached growth has the protection of the biofilm.

I recently read a study that helped explain why so many suspended growth systems have such poor results.  In my experience, the ATU systems seem to perform well if they are in a study that is carefully choreographed and executed.  Once they are in the real world, everyone is left scratching their heads trying to figure out 1) why the ATU is not working and 2) how to fix it.  I have written on this blog a few times about Maryland's Best Available Technology (BAT) and how the state was required to allow loads of additional nitrogen into the aquifer and Chesapeake Bay because the BAT-ATU could not duplicate the same level of treatment it displayed in one of those play-act studies. 

Here is what I learned:

Bacteria within biofilms are much more resistant to toxins than are free-floating bacteria.  One study found that a bacteria attached to glass slides displayed a 150-fold increased resistance to chlorine disinfectant compared to free-floaters.  In another study, antiseptic concentrations had to be incresed by 40 times to kill attached bacteria versus the free-floating counterpart.   

It was previously thought that attached growth systems resistance to shock loads was due to the huge numbers of bacteria present.  I will write about this in a few days because it is true and worth examining.

If you look at manufacturers recommendations for ATU systems you will find that they are very concerned about what you put down your drain.  They don't want you to use bleach, water softeners, anti-bacterial soap or pine based cleaners.  A distributor of ATU's told me, trying to make excuses for his systems poor performance, that one person in the home was taking chemotherapy drugs and this was why the residents, in addition to dealing with cancer, had to deal with a non-compliant septic system as well.

Eliminite systems seem to take whatever is thrown at them, deal with it and produce stellar results.  A recent set of samples taken from one of our heavily used, high strength waste systems produced the following results:

Eliminite Results
Ammonia: 99% removal
TKN: 99% removal
TSS:99% removal
BOD: 99% removal
TN: 90% Removal

This data was collected in Montana in late December from a system that has had nothing done to it and no operator. It has been receiving high strength waste:  BOD>1200 mg/L, Total nitrogen>400 mg/L.  I will gladly provide the actual lab data if you ask.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Isn't there something useful they could be doing?

"Wrightstown officials have filed citations in district court against 77 township property owners who haven't pumped out their septic systems in more than three years."

"He said residents who have been cited can still pump out their systems and avoid a court hearing, but must still reimburse the township for the cost of filing the citation. Penalties for continued failure to comply include fines of up to $500 a day, said Pantano."

Someone needs to spend a few minutes with Chester and teach him how a septic tank functions:

"The big picture is public health and making sure it is maintained properly," said township supervisor Chairman Chester Pogonowski. "While there is no imminent health threat, these residents need to get their systems pumped out so they don't overflow."

Septic tanks don't overflow?  Where does the liquid go?

"Wrightstown has an ordinance requiring the systems to be pumped out every three years to avoid problems such as sewage leaking out of septic tanks and into ground water or wells."

Wow, they must have some enormous holding tanks.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

The gift that keeps on giving

I was reading a short newspaper article the other day about a company that installs and repairs septic systems. Specifically, they focus on aeration septic systems. Another term used to refer to these types of systems are aerobic treatment units (ATU).  In general, while there are many different brands,ATU's all do exactly the same thing: a pump of some sort runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year forcing air into the sewage. 

My interest in the article focused on the service interval they were saying is necessary to keep these types of systems operation because, according to the service provider:
"If these systems are not properly maintained, they could release raw sewage, which is known to spread disease."

Apparently it is necessary for the service provider to visit the system several times per year to keep it from releasing its load of raw sewage.   The article goes on to say:

"Getting people to understand the importance of maintaining their septic system. Aeration systems need consistent maintenance. On average, homeowners need to service their systems two times a year. Serving the motor in your septic system is just as important as servicing your car. The motor will last longer without expensive repairs."

To be clear, I am not faulting the service provider. They obviously an provide an important service to the people that have these systems.  I was, however, amused by their candor regarding the necessity of the service requirements because the potential for surfacing raw sewage sure doesn't sound like a very powerful selling point making me want to run out and spend $12,000 for one of these things.
As I read the article I compared Eliminite system service requirements to the service requirements being discussed for the aerobic systems. 

First, an Eliminite system rarely needs "service."  State regulations generally require advanced onsite systems receive periodic maintenance visits based on a model developed by NSF, at minimum, two visits per year for the first two years and annual visits thereafter.

In Montana, ATU's are required by the State DEQ to recieve twice the number of O&M visits required for Eliminite technology.  If an ATU is installed in Montana, the State DEQ requires four visits per year for the first two years and 2 visits per year thereafter. 
Eliminite systems receive an inspection and inspections are quite a bit different from service.  If the effluent pump, for example, has reached the end of its long life, it is simply replaced with a new effluent pump.  Inspections generally involve looking the system over, reading the dose counters in the control panel, taking a wastewater sample for lab analysis and cleaning the effluent filter.  The whole operation takes about 30 minutes and is a "clean" operation (No tyvek suits).

The idea that if the ATU septic system will release raw sewage if it is not serviced regularly should send owners and regulators running from these things.  Aerobic Treatment Units usually are built in a single tank.  The building sewer dumps its entire load into this tank and the air blower forces air into the sewage.  If the air blower fails or if the volume of air is insufficient to stabilize the sewage or if  someone in the house uses some anti-bacterial soap, or does an additional load of laundry, or if the weather is cold or if the owners horoscope said it was going to be a bad day,  the ATU stops working.  When this happens, whatever comes in goes straight out.  And it is not uncommon to see ATU's permitted with a surface water(river, stream, creek) discharge.

In an Eliminite this condition simply cannot exist.  If the recirculation pump experiences a malfunction, the control panel activates an alarm.  If the problem is not corrected, the system will not allow any further discharge of wastewater.  The system provides several days of storage giving the service provider time to get to the site and correct the problem.  Additionally, the wastewater enters the Eliminite after having been partially treated through a septic tank.  So in the worst case scenario, the system would function as a normal septic tank and drainfield. 

Most of the ATU manufacturers do not require that a septic tank precede the aeration tank.  This means that, in order to sell these things cheap, they omit the single most reliable component of any onsite system, the septic tank. 

Owners of onsite wastewater treatment systems generally do not enjoy paying for service visits.  If you look at the cost of ATU's in, for example, Maryland, where the prices for "Best Available Technology" are listed on the department of environment website, it's not difficult to understand why owners don't want to continue to keep pouring money into their septic sytstem.

We have had some systems where for whatever reason the service contract was not renewed. It was good to find that after almost five years of no visits, the system serving two homes was still functioning (It hadn't caused an Ebola outbreak) and the sample showed a total nitrogen concentration of under 10 mg/L.  ATU's  could not meet this standard if the president of the company built his house over the thing with it exposed in his living room and fed it a hormone-free vegan diet of alfalfa sprouts and tofu.

When we developed Eliminite in the 1990's there were no requirements for maintenance contracts in the state. (These came later on at the prompting of manufacturers of other systems because they knew that in order for their system to have a prayer of operating, there were going to have to be governmental regulations in place forcing owners into a service contract.  In fact I heard recently that one of the manufacturers that sells systems in Montana routinely turns homeowners into the state enforcement department if they don't renew their service contract.  How is that for service after the sale?!)  We decided to develop a reliable system who's operation did not depend on the services of a full time septic nanny.  We have data showing systems operating for years without service that once they were visited and checked were still were operating correctly and removing 75%+ of the total nitrogen load to the system.  This is what I mean by reliability.

I think the reason manufacturers and service providers advocate unreliable systems is because they reap the monetary benefit of a perpetual maintenance contract.  This idea is not unlike the concept of planned obsolescence. Think about it, the cell phone company will give you the phone if you sign the contract.  For the ATU's however, the owner gets to pay dearly for the contraption while the state holds the threat of hard time in a septic gulag over their heads if they don't agree to a perpetual maintenance contract.  What a business model.

I mentioned the Peoples Republic of Maryland earlier.  They are having quite a time with their onsite program right now.  Their governor has decreed that onsite system are the scourge of the planet and must be stamped out at all costs.  Maryland's department of the environment has identified, on pretty scant data, a set of systems designated as Best Available Technology (BAT).  They should seriously consider dropping the "Best"because these systems are merely, "Available Technology."  We participated in two studies (government run, third party, long term)  with a system Maryland claims is "Best" and in both studies, the manufacturer of that system pulled their "Best" system out because it was failing so miserably.  These systems were the recipient of special favors award in Maryland because the state gifted the manufacturer special consideration regarding the treatment results from the system.  After the system was approved, they figured out they weren't working.  I think the original approval required a total nitrogen limit of 20 mg/L but after it was apparent there was no way the systems could meet this standard, the regulators in Maryland rewrote the approval allowing that system to discharge 35mg/L.  Maryland apparently doesn't require compliance samples anymore and I would bet that most of those system are not meeting the 35 mg/L standard. What confuses me is, if the 20 mg/L standard was developed to protect the Chesapeake Bay, who or what is the the 35 mg?L standard intended to  protect?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year

To our friends we have worked with this past year, Thank you.  You have helped make 2012 a great year for us and we hope we have helped streamline your projects and assist in your success.

2013, can you believe it?  I remember being a kid watching the movie '2001: A Space Odyssey', thinking that, by now, we would all be flying around with jet packs and taking weekend vacations to Mars.  I was certain that our energy was going to come from fusion reactors, and transporter beams were going to start looking like a real possibility.  When I watched Apollo 11 land on the moon, I was pretty sure space colonies were just around the corner.  Man, was I a few years off, because in 2013 most advanced onsite treatment manufacturers can't even build a reliable denitrifying septic system yet, but, to their credit, they sure have mastered the art of marketing in the 21st century to make you believe they can.

Eliminite has been busy with quite a few new and interesting projects.  We currently have three new highway rest areas in various stages of completion.  We completed a good deal of field work on a large highway rest area treatment system in November. The working conditions were pretty miserable, but we were able to get the internal components of the treatment system installed before the contractor had to shut down for winter. 

Justin and Tony at the highway rest area installation on one of the nicer days.
This is a custom system specifically designed for the application and site conditions.  For many reasons, most manufacturers only supply pre-fabricated pods.  Big pods, little pods, medium pods, but always just a bunch of pods, most of which feature parts manufactured overseas or, at minimum, outside the U.S.  That's one way to run a business, but it's not how we run our business at Eliminite. We balance many interests and needs on every single job; each client has different objectives, different budgets, different treatment demands. So, we select design configurations and materials best suited for the job, utilizing as many locally-sourced materials as possible.  Anything we don't make ourselves, we prefer to purchase from a business in or near the same location as the actual job. Sounds obvious, but it is less common than you'd think...a lot less common than it should be, in this industry. On this particular rest area, we used tanks from a local supplier, which is better for the local economy than shipping in pods from who-knows-where, and minimizes waste inherent to shipping long distances. Sometimes, cheaper isn't better, especially when the "cheaper" per-item cost fails to reflect the true cost of importing something thousands of miles, from a place with few environmental regulations.  The local supplier was able to manufacture tanks that fit the site conditions very well, which made the job easier on the contractor. 

Back in 2005 at this site, the first contractor installed fiberglass septic tanks which, from what I hear, was quite a failure.  The site has high ground water and the contractor had a heck of a time dewatering and setting the fiberglass.  It sounds as if the tanks were never installed properly and, if the engineering consultants had thought about it, they would have designed something different.  But, big fiberglass tanks are usually selected without any thought for site conditions or bedding haul distances, particularly on jobs where state, federal and grant funding are available.  The system we are constructing is housed in strong, durable precast concrete cells.  This means that backfill and bedding operations are not nearly as critical as they would be with fiberglass, and there was no need to import expensive sand and peagravel to be placed by hand.  Dewatering was not as critical because the concrete tanks do not float like fiberglass.  In miserable field conditions(snow, cold, rain, sleet, ice pellets and frozen fog) the last thing you want to be doing is monkeying around with a bunch of temperamental, fragile pods and installation-sensitive fiberglass tanks. Of course fiberglass tanks have their place and when they make sense they are a good product.  My point is, Eliminite provides options that the others cannot provide due to inherent limitations to their underlying technologies and processes.
Eliminite systems are less expensive, period, and that's by design.  We are working on a highway rest area job that was recently out for competitive bid. The Eliminite system was quite a bit less expensive than the pod system, and Eliminite was awarded the job.  This is a common occurrence:  once engineers, contractors and owners see and understand what we can do, we usually get the job.   We also have the experience and knowledge to provide meaningful design assistance to the design-build team and can usually help save them some additional time and money. 

The bottom line is, this all comes down to numbers, not feelings, catchy sales slogans, or who has a bigger team of full time lobbyists.
  • Equipment cost numbers
  • Installation cost numbers
  • Treated results numbers
  • Time between maintenance interval numbers 

I look forward to working with you all in the new year, and I can assure you that Eliminite is committed to you and your project.  Now is a good time, if you don't have experience with us already, to give me a call and discuss that important project and the numbers.  We have a nice long list of references that I would be happy to share with you.