The administration of Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has agreed to a novel pilot project in which an Arizona company will try to turn tons of sludge from the Southwest Sewer District into usable heavy industrial fuel oil.
If the project proves feasible, it could not only produce revenue for the financially pressed county, but also save Suffolk much of the annual $5.2 million cost to truck nearly 110 million pounds of sludge to two landfills upstate and two other sites in Connecticut.
"The idea that the county could turn a multimillion-dollar annual expense into an annual revenue stream is certainly an exciting possibility," Bellone said. "It affords us a tremendous opportunity to be on the cutting edge of a really exciting technological concept without spending taxpayer dollars."
The project also could be crucial to boosting the economic viability of plans to extend the $640 million Southwest Sewer District -- once scandal-ridden, but now an engine for economic development -- eastward to the Ronkonkoma Hub, Oakdale, Sayville and industrial tracts in Holbrook and Bohemia. The county said it could not say how much the Arizona company, RDX Technologies, is spending on the project.
County: No game plan yet
The pilot project, which was slated to begin last year, already has been delayed twice. It is scheduled to begin Tuesday for a two-month test period, although a revised contract has not been finalized. In a meeting this month, RDX Technologies, which originally had promised to do the pilot project for free, sought to have Suffolk pay $50,000 for staffing. The county refused.
Dennis Danzik, RDX's chief executive, declined to comment about the Suffolk proposal. He said the company still had no contract with the county, the company's board had not yet been informed, and as a public company, it needed to file federal financial disclosures.
County officials say the pilot project so far has involved construction of a small, one-story building at Bergen Point treatment plant, where dewatered sludge will undergo preliminary processing. The partially treated sludge then will be shipped to Carthage, Missouri, to a company plant. Once there, the waste would undergo a process to manufacture No. 6 industrial fuel.
Bellone administration officials could not say how much of the county's sludge would be processed or how much the county might save in disposal costs during the pilot project. They had no estimates of savings or revenue should the county start full-scale operation.
"We're not at a point where we are rolling out a game plan," said Bellone spokesman Justin Meyers. "We're at a very early stage and we will assess it as we move forward."
Danzik, an industrial engineer and inventor with a number of patents, announced the company had "the first water treatment technology to extract effluent and make liquid fuel" in a January 2014 news conference in Scottsdale, Arizona.
He expressed high hopes for the Suffolk project in an Aug. 17 conference call with investors. "We've never done a municipality before, but we're ready to go," Danzik said. "We're not making any promises, but we expect it to go well."
More than 600 complaints
RDX Technologies ran afoul of regulators in October 2013 when rotten egg odors escaped from old petroleum tanks at the firm's Santa Fe Springs complex in Los Angeles County, according to California state regulators. State investigators determined that hydrogen sulfide gas had escaped from holes in old tanks containing waste water that lacked adequate pollution controls.
More than 600 complaints -- including headaches, nausea and tightness in the chest -- resulted from two incidents at the site in July and October 2013. The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued 12 violations. It ordered RDX to shut down its old tanks and remove them, and blocked new permits until changes were made.
Air quality officials say odor problems have persisted, with 11 complaints during the past three months and two as recently as Dec. 22. The district board last month issued an order to "immediately cease and desist" illegal operations and deliver a remediation plan that can be approved by the district and the City of Santa Fe Springs.
"We have had significant problems with the company, to say the least," said district spokesman Sam Atwood.
RDX declined to comment.
Suffolk officials say the Sante Fe Springs odor problems were the result of RDX using former petroleum storage tanks. The operations in Suffolk would have no odor issues, they say, because the work would be done inside a building with equipment specifically designed to handle sewage.
Danzik also headed a firm, U.S. Enviromed Corp., in Las Vegas, which in 1998 lost its city business license after it was discovered the company had buried medical waste on its own property rather than recycling it as required.
More than 500 tons of dirt containing hospital sharps, syringes, blood bags, IV tubing and soiled hospital gowns were dug up from a hole 62 feet long, 12 to 35 feet wide and as deep as 23 feet in some areas, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
According to news reports, Danzik blamed the dumping on a disgruntled employee and criticized officials for using a competitor to clean up the site.
He declined to comment about the issue, saying, "That was 20 years ago."