EPA fines City of Lynnwood $550,259 for wastewater treatment plant violations

The Lynnwood City Council on Monday authorized Mayor Christine Frizzell to enter into a settlement agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that requires the city to shut down its sewage sludge incinerator by the end of May 2024 and imposes a penalty of $550,259. The EPA issued a notice to the city alleging multiple instances of noncompliance with emissions limits, operating limits and stack testing requirements.

Lynnwood uses an incinerator installed in 1993 to eliminate waste from its sewage. When wastewater is sent to the treatment plant, the waste that is removed becomes sludge, which is incinerated after a long drying process. Lynnwood’s incinerator is taking in less sludge than it needs to for the system to work effectively, and the sludge that it does take in is wetter. When the system is unable to incinerate waste at the correct pace, the sludge builds up and compounds the problem.

Lynnwood’s wastewater treatment plant

During a February council meeting, public works department staff provided details regarding the issues facing the treatment plant. At the time, staff recommended that the city replace the sludge incinerator to meet new Puget Sound wastewater discharge standards and prepare for anticipated growth, and to replace worn-out equipment. 

The Clean Air Act authorizes the EPA to impose and enforce emissions limits on sewage sludge incinerators. One test used to evaluate compliance is a stack test, which measures gasses and solids that come out of the smoke stack after the incineration process. While Lynnwood met EPA standards for several of the regulated emissions, it was not able to demonstrate compliance with the emissions limits for particulate matter, hydrogen chloride and carbon monoxide. Age and overall condition of the sludge incinerator made it unable to perform a fully compliant stack test. According to city staff, none of the violations were due to operator error but instead the failure of the sewage sludge incinerator and scrubber equipment to perform as expected.

The incinerator complied with air quality standards when it was installed in 1993 but more stringent air quality standards were adopted by the EPA in 2016. To comply with those stricter regulations, the city installed a new scrubber in October 2016. It complied with initial stack emissions requirements in January 2017. The city reports that it retained an engineering and operations firm, an environmental consultant and coordinated with the scrubber manufacturer in repeated efforts to achieve compliance. After several recommended modifications and numerous emissions tests to evaluate their effectiveness, Lynnwood still has not been able to demonstrate compliance.

Director Bill Franz and Deputy Director Jared Bond spoke about the wastewater treatment plant in February.

“Lynnwood’s wastewater treatment plant has a long history of complying with environmental regulations the vast majority of the time and has even been given excellence awards for years when there were no noncompliance issues,” Public Works Director Bill Franz said. “This has been a frustrating experience for our dedicated staff, who pride themselves on assuring compliance with the many standards that apply to the treatment plant and that we know our community expects.” 

The city will decommission the sludge incinerator by the end of May 2024 and will begin a multi-year process of replacing it with a system that does not incinerate sludge, eliminating any future potential for exceeding air quality standards. The EPA acknowledged the attempts made by Lynnwood to improve sludge handling. 

Mayor Christine Frizzell

“The City of Lynnwood takes its environmental compliance responsibilities very seriously and has a longstanding commitment to the health and safety of our community,” Frizzell said. “Our employees have fully cooperated with the EPA throughout this process and have exhibited their commitment to meeting these responsibilities time and time again. Wastewater treatment plants are complex and expensive facilities, and we rely on our customers’ funding to support these vital systems. While we respect the EPA’s obligations to enforce the standards, we are disappointed that the law requires such a substantial penalty with ratepayer funds going to the US Treasury instead of being invested back into our community.” 

To learn more about the wastewater treatment plant and to sign up for updates, visit lynnwoodwa.gov/WWTP.  

  1. This sounds like another money grabbing venture by the feds. If they really cared about the environment, they would let that half million dollars penalty be invested back into the sewer plant instead of putting it in the general fund. Looking back it is unfortunate that the system wasn’t, pardon the pun, scrubbed back in 2016.. Hopefully we kept the receipts and can return it. LOL!

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