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A cleaner solution to sewage

August 22, 2002

Paul Clinton

Disinfecting Orange County's sewage with chlorine may be new to

residents here, but the process dates back to the 1850s and has been

widely used by sanitary districts in other pockets of the country.

Last week, the Orange County Sanitation District joined many of

its peers in the waste treatment business by beginning a process in

which the sewage is soaked with industrial-strength bleach. After a

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dechlorination chemical removes the bleach, the waste is released via

an outfall pipe on the ocean floor 4 1/2 miles out to sea.

The bleach, about three times more potent than the everyday

household variety, kills off much of the bacteria present in the

sewage, which is also treated with other methods.

"The fact of the matter is the chlorination-dechlorination process

will remove up to 90% of the viruses," said Bob Ooten, the district's

director of maintenance and operations. "We're meeting our

disinfection goals."

The sanitation district uses between 18,000 and 20,000 gallons of

bleach per day on the 234-million gallons of waste water released

into the ocean each day. It's costing the agency about $8 million per

year to purchase the needed chemicals.

Sanitation district leaders asked regional water-quality

regulators in February if they could begin the disinfection as a way

of clearing the outfall pipe in the ongoing investigation into what's

causing bacteria outbreaks along Huntington Beach and Newport Beach

shorelines.

A $5.1-million water quality study, funded by the district,

concluded that a multitude of onshore causes -- including leaky

sewage pipes, urban runoff and bird waste in the Santa Ana River --

could also be contributing to the problem.

"There is some evidence that the plume is coming to shore," said

Key Tyson, an environmental scientist with the Santa Ana Regional

Water Quality Control Board. "[Disinfection] is providing further

protection to public health."

On July 17, the district's board approved a stepped-up treatment

method for the sewage. The decision came two days after the regional

board ordered the agency to begin chlorination by Aug. 12.

Local leaders aren't enthused about chlorination, but say it could

be used as a stop-gap method until greater treatment of the discharge

can begin.

"It's not the ideal situation," Mayor Debbie Cook said. "If that's

what we have to do, that's what we have to do ... We would prefer to

have no bacteria or viruses in our outfall pipe, but that's just not

the case right now."

QUESTIONS EMERGE

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