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Purifying wastewater: EPC America unveils BioDisk sewage system in Cavitt’s Creek

TAZEWELL, Va. — A potential “game changer” in wastewater treatment was unveiled at Cavitt’s Creek Park in Tazewell County Friday morning, the result of an international partnership between the county and an Israeli company.

Called the Bio-Disk Rotating Biological Contactor (RBC), it “combines nature with smart technology to purify wastewater,” according to the company that developed and manufacturers it.

The company is EPC America, a subsidiary of E.P.C. LTD of Bet Itzhak, Israel.

Jeremy Weissman, CEO of EPC America, was on hand Friday to explain how the system works and why it is more efficient and far less expensive than traditional wastewater treatment facilities.

Weissman also said that the company plans to eventually manufacture the systems in Tazewell County, with the timeline and scope of the operation depending on demand.

Not only does the system cost less than a traditional system to install, its “life cycle” cost is only about 40 percent of what is used today, he said.

“Not only that, there is no smell and no noise,” he said. “It leaves a small (ecological) footprint and there are no spare parts.”

The system does not need an operator either, and routine maintenance takes less than an hour a week, he added.

Weissman said the system is self-contained and can be manufactured to serve only a handful of customers or thousands.

The process, he explained, is not complicated and involves raw sewage pre-treated in tanks for initial sedimentation and organic load reduction, then moved into vats at a steady flow where rotating immersion discs pick up the water and expose it to the atmosphere.

That exposure is the key, he said, because it infuses oxygen into the liquid to spur growth of the bacteria needed to break down the sewage.

The biomass grows naturally by itself on the discs with the units designed to prevent clogging.

After that process, the liquid flows into a separator for final clarification as excess sludge is removed by sedimentation into a sludge holding tank and then back into the pre-treatment tanks.

The clear, odorless liquid remaining can be utilized for irrigation and other purpose. High-quality effluent can receive more treatment, if desired.

Weissman said very little electricity is required since the motor that turns the disks is only three horsepower.

“One system serves 4,000 customers in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “You have to tell me what you need and we will provide the solution.”

With construction of polypropylene and stainless steel, the components have an indefinite life span, he said, with little maintenance.

The Cavitt’s Creek system was installed as a model of sorts but will serve all of the cabins being constructed at the park. Two are already there and will be open for rental in March 2018 and more are planned for construction.

State Sen. Chandler Swope, R-6th District W.Va., was on hand and has been interested in the technology since he first heard about it.

“I’m excited about it,” he said. “We have to get it in West Virginia.”

Chandler said he has been working through the state to get the approvals necessary so an initial system can be located in Coalwood in McDowell County.

“They have done a brilliant job of engineering,” Swope said of the Israelis. “You don’t even need an operator.”

The current systems in West Virginia are expensive and require an operator and maybe miles of lines to run to interconnect customers to one plant. It’s an expensive undertaking and costly to operate.

That’s not the case with the new technology, he said, which allows systems to be built to scale and serve individual areas with no long pipelines needed to interconnect to other communities and no pump stations.

“This is big,” Swope said, adding that he is a contractor and builder and recognized the value of the technology straightaway. “You could pay twice for this system than what you do for what is now being used and still save money.”

He said when he first heard about it earlier this year, he met Charles Bostwick, president of EPC America and project manager for the Tazewell site, and took him to Charleston to meet with state officials including Austin Caperton, secretary for the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

“Within an hour, they said we need to make this happen in West Virginia,” he said, and that started the ball rolling on getting through all the permitting processes that took years in Virginia. “We have the political will in West Virginia (to bring in the technology).”

Swope said the systems are ideal for isolated communities where hooking on to a large public wastewater treatment facility is cost-prohibitive.

“There is no limit to the scale (of the system’s size).” he said.

Virginia Del. James W. “Will” Morefield, R- 3rd District, also attended the event.

Morefield spearheaded the initiative to bring the technology to Tazewell County.

“It’s exciting,” he said of the completion of the project, a process that started three years ago when he visited Israel as part of a delegation with Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Virginia Israeli Advisory Board.

“I stayed a few extra days after that to see if anything else may present an opportunity,” he said. “We identified Jeremy’s company.”

That led to a second trip to Israel and a partnership with Virginia Tech on the agricultural end to help bring “technology that could potentially save millions in wastewater treatment costs,” he said.

Morefield said he is also excited about the technology going to help places like McDowell County, where his mother’s family is from.

“We are confident this system will provide wastewater treatment to those areas (that need it),” he said, adding that it will provide it in an environmentally friendly and cost-effective way.

Bostwick said Friday that he had been welcomed in the county and everyone made him feel “like family.”

He also praised all of the county employees who helped with the project.

“We foresee significant growth for our Tazewell based company as we market these solutions nationally,” he said in a previous statement.

McAuliffe weighed in on the Tazewell project earlier this year.

He said the BioDisk technology installed at Cavitt’s Creek Park will enhance the county and state’s economic future by providing an example for rural development through improved wastewater treatment technology to prevent waterway contamination.

“Onsite wastewater treatment is an important cornerstone for catalyzing tourism growth for the state and the county,” he said. “With this system in place, the park is on its way to becoming a state park thereby bringing in more tourists and adding another positive factor to the area’s economic growth.”

McAuliffe said the system offers a “superb” energy efficient green technology which uses 90 percent less energy than traditional systems and does not produce unpleasant odors.

“It is a win-win situation,” he said.

Chandler said the system can be used at West Virginia state parks as well, adding that all seven of the state’s parks are due for a wastewater system upgrade.

According to information on EPC’s website, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends decentralized wastewater treatment systems as much more cost-effective outside of urban densely populated areas.

“In addition, there is a recommendation to eliminate the conventional septic systems in favor of an onsite treatment unit for all relevant new construction,” the website says. “Based on this recommendation, the EPA projects the need for one million onsite waste water treatment units per year for the next ten years. Also, due to failing septic systems currently in use in the U.S., up to an additional two million homes will become candidates for septic system replacement over the next several years.”

According to the website, the Private Public Partnership Project in Tazewell County is a “groundbreaking major development. It is a first for Virginia and as well for the entire United States.”

“The project is a template for economically and effectively solving the unmet wastewater needs of communities throughout the region and the entire United States,” the website says. “EPC America LLC will be setting up manufacturing operations in the area to supply the domestic market and will also export systems worldwide.”

— Contact Charles Boothe at [email protected]

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