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Milwaukee firm to clean up Zion sludge plant

Updated: December 19, 2012 11:43AM

GURNEE — Trustees of the North Shore Sanitary District have approved a $295,107 project to clean up toxic waste and prepare for removal of its defective sludge melting equipment at its Zion Sludge Recycling Plant.

The board agreed the specialized environmental engineering firm of Oneida Total Integrated Enterprises of Milwaukee was qualified to clean up the mercury and arsenic dust in Area D where numerous vitrified barrels of contaminated sludge have been stored, some since 2009. However, the general area is sealed off.

“There are no public health concerns,” General Manager Brian Dorn said. He said the melter was promptly turned off and the building placed off-limits to all staff, visitors and plant workers as soon as officials became aware of the contamination problem.

Oneida engineers now must determine the degree of toxic contamination in Area D, neutralize it, and safely prepare the way for a decommissioning-dismantling company to disconnect and remove the defective melter, its peripheral equipment and the contaminated barrels of fly ash still stored there.

During the seven-month project, Oneida is expected to take about 500 samples to analyze toxic conditions around the Zion plant. They will then summarize results and recommend a course of action for the district and the decommissioning company it hires in removing the melter equipment.

A decade ago, the district had great hopes for replacing its Zion waste sludge landfills with what seemed to be a promising German system of melting and drying the sludge to produce a glass-like aggregate, then selling the end-product for road construction purposes, instead of just burying the original waste.

But after investing $50 million over the years in the Zion plant and its equipment, little has changed in the district. Sludge from its three sanitary treatment plants is still being hauled to landfills and the envisioned revenue from the aggregate road building program never materialized.

The next meeting of the district board will be Dec. 12 when Preston Carter in Ward 1 will be seated as a new trustee. Democrat Carter, a retired NSSD mechanic from Beach Park, won the only contested district election Nov. 6 when he defeated long-time board member and current Treasurer John Paxton of Winthrop Harbor.

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