When it comes to human waste being converted into fertilizer, some Oahu residents may become a bit squeamish at the mere thought. But when you learn that tens of thousands of pounds of the stuff is being used at city parks, some residents may become downright indignant.
According to a new report issued by the city's Department of Environmental Services, the Synagro egg-shaped digester at the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant produced 2,926.3 tons of fertilizer pellets last year. The pellets are made from sewage sludge, but are considered a Class A biosolid by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which means it doesn't contain any pathogens and won't make you sick.
The Synagro facility cost the city $40.6 million and has been in operation since 2006.
"Well at this point, according to all the tests and so forth that we have, we don't think that there's any type of safety risk, and if there were, we would obviously be very, very concerned about that," said Councilman Stanley Chang, who heads the Public Safety and Economic Development Committee.
According to the report released Tuesday, 87.8 percent of the Synagro pellets produced in 2013 went to Niu Nursery on Sand Island Access Road, which sells the product to other nurseries, plant growers and farms. The other top users were Yamada Farms at 5.46 percent and the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill at 4.87 percent.
However, smaller percentages were also distributed to the Waipio Soccer Complex and three city parks: Hans L'orange, Kokohead, and Thomas Square. The soccer facility received 1.76 percent of the pellets produced last year, while each park received 0.02 percent.
The percentages may seem tiny, but when you do the conversion from tons, the soccer complex received about 100,000 pounds of pellets, while the three parks received about 1,200 pounds each.
Councilman Ron Menor, who represents the district that covers the soccer complex, told KITV4 he wants further assurances from Mayor Kirk Caldwell that the pellets are absolutely safe.
"If the city administration and the Parks Department want to still proceed with the use of these pellets, then I think that they should provide more specific assurances to the residents of my district that these pellets will not present any health hazards to the users of the park," said Menor. "Whenever you talk about these pellets there may be concerns among members of the public regarding whether or not these pellets present health risks."
Environmental Services Director Lori Kahikina said she's satisfied the fertilizer pellets produced by Synagro are completely safe, and questioned why Menor would express concern to KITV4.
"If (EPA) is approving this, I'm not sure what more he wants," said Kahikini, who confirmed the city receives no revenue from the sale of the pellets.
In December, the city broke ground on a second egg-shaped digester at the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant at a cost of $29.1 million, which is expected to be finished by mid-2016. The city says a second digester will provide additional capacity that's needed for existing and projected future loads of sewage sludge.
Meanwhile, Chang hopes the city will eventually begin converting sewage sludge into energy by building a new state-of-the-art facility.
"Because the city is not receiving any money for these reused pellets, I think a better way to use the pellets would be to convert them into energy, which would safe taxpayer money by helping out with our energy costs," said the councilman.
For a link to the city report, click here: 2013 Annual Synagro Status Report