Not In My Backyard

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Residents voice opposition to a proposed study involving horse manure

By Kirsten Laskey

Flies, stench and safety concerns surrounding a proposed study of anaerobic digestion on local horse manure were voiced by residents in an e-mail to county planner Gary Leikness, which was distributed during a Dec. 7 county council meeting.
The anaerobic digester requires about 30 days to start up and two to three months to perform a full digestion, said Olga Chertkov, who wrote the e-mail and spoke at the meeting. The time to perform the digestion combined with the months required to build up a biomass inventory will produce a significant amount of flies and a pungent odor at the North Mesa Stables and nearby residential area, she said.
The digester also could create safety issues because the process to digest manure produces methane, which becomes highly explosive when mixed with air, Chertkov said. Also, digester gas is heavier than air and displaces oxygen, which can potentially suffocate humans and animals.
“People may get hurt,” she said.
The proposed scale at which to build the
anaerobic digester is not economically sound, Chertkov said in her e-mail to council. It would take a farm operating 8,000-10,000 animals to turn a profit. The North Mesa Stables has about 200 horses, she said.
Chertkov recommends moving the study to the waste treatment plant or the landfill.
“They deal with waste and they know what to do if something happens,” she said, adding that about 100 people agreed and signed a petition opposing the proposed Capital Improvement Project (CIP).
“Their study is important; they are trying to get energy and fertilizer out of waste material,” petitioner Megan Lu said. “I think they should do it at a better location.”
Lu also expressed concerns about digester bi-products such as methane gas and ammonia. Even though said to be safe, Lu said it is still risky, especially when the proposed digester would be next to the soccer fields and tennis court.
Paul Kressin, a CIP co-applicant with Bob Falco, said the petitioners are misinformed.
He has attempted to contact them but none have spoken with him, he said.
“They do not know what we are doing and they don’t want to know and they are spreading misinformation,” Kressin said.
The study is “just a study” to see if a pilot project at the stables is feasible and to determine its cost, he said. The pilot program should be unnoticeable; it would not be as big as three horse stables and if the pilot project proved successful, it would be moved to another location such as the Eco Station, Kressin said.
The methane would be produced at normal levels and would not pose burn or explosive hazards, he said, and the manure odor and accompanying flies would be addressed.
The Parks Division currently collects local horse manure once a month. The manure ferments each month, creating the offensive odor and swarms of flies, he said. The odor continues up to the Eco Station, which receives the manure. Kressin said the odor can also be smelled at the bus transfer station next door to the Eco Station. The anaerobic digester could reduce that odor and the flies, he said.
The CIP proposal responds to several problems, Kressin said. The flies and stench are one problem, a $50,000 annual cost to transport the manure to the Eco Station is a second problem. The third problem is the odor produced when manure mixes with waste treatment plant sludge along with wood chips from green waste to create compost.
Kressin said the CIP proposal also addresses turning organic waste into energy through anaerobic digestion. It’s an idea that has caught on not just in New Mexico, Kressin said, where Albuquerque produces $2 million annually from gas made from solid waste, but also worldwide.
Los Alamos can do this on a small scale, Kressin said. When solid waste is put into a solid oxide fuel cell, energy can be produced. If Los Alamos used all of its solid waste, enough electricity would be produced to supply 2,000 homes. However, the local pilot project is a merely starting point won’t and produce that much electricity, he said.
The anaerobic digestion could also save residents money, Kressin said. The Parks Division currently spends about $100,000 maintaining the horse stables. Stable owners’ fees cover 40 percent of that cost but the county council recently increased the fees to cover 60 percent of maintenance costs. Covering the entire maintenance cost would drive some stable owners out of market, Kressin said.
“This is a concern,” he said.
Some cost effective options include compressing manure and selling it to people to burn in their fireplaces or hiring a company to haul the manure away. Kressin said an anaerobic digester can produce grade-A fertilizer that can be sold to a merchandiser.
“We think the revenue from this transaction should cover all of the costs of maintaining the stables,” Kressin said.
The biofertilizer is both liquid and solid, he said, and in the anaerobic digestion process, horse manure enters a sealed tank, is heated to 95 degrees at which point the anaerobic bacteria breaks down the manure. Biogas, which is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide, is captured and used to heat the tank and can fuel a solid oxide fuel cell for electricity production.
The CIP Oversight and Evaluation Committee recently ranked the anaerobic digestion project 10 out of 16 projects. Council plans to discuss which proposals will receive funding during a special public meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday in council chambers.


Dangers of Anaerobic Digestion

My primary concern is with the proposed location of the study, especially with regard to the biohazards associated with anaerobic digestion.

Anaerobic digestion consists of a few biochemical steps, releasing gases such methane, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia. Methane forms explosive mixtures in air. Hydrogen sulfide causes eye irritation, headaches, nausea, and can also cause respiratory paralysis. Ammonia can cause serious lung damage. Elevated levels of carbon dioxide increase respiratory rate and heart rate. Apart from their individual hazards, methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide displace oxygen and can cause asphyxiation.

The applicants for this project have said time and time again said that the amount of methane produced would not be hazardous, yet they boast of the great amounts of biogas that could be produced to supply electricity to the city. Methane is the primary component of biogas…

There is no disputing the fact that 1) these gases are produced during anaerobic digestion and 2) they are hazardous because they can cause explosions, fires, and asphyxiation. Even when carefully controlled, accidents can happen. Accidents do happen. There are just too many potential dangers involved, and the advocates of this proposal have disregarded these serious health concerns in order to further their own agenda.

To have an anaerobic digester with deadly biohazards situated adjacent to several housing communities and just a stone’s throw away from the soccer field and tennis courts, is dangerous and reckless. Children play around there and families take evening walks in those areas. A residential community is certainly not the place to experiment or conduct a study that involves these biohazards.

This attempt by stable owners to decrease their own fees at the expense of the health and safety of North Mesa’s residents is selfish and inconsiderate. Transportation of the manure is very expensive, but such is the cost of owning a very expensive pet. If the horse owners really want a cheaper alternative, how about trying the local animal shelter?

Don’t put our environment and our health at risk.

against anaerobic digestion in the middle of North Mesa

Here is my view of the situation.

1. The project is meant to redirect a financial burden on the horse owners towards the public, in view of the increasing cost of the horse stable maintenance. That is, everyone in town must share responsibility for the horses, not just their owners. However, the public must find other projects more attractive and worth funding, for example, the one on the construction of covered tennis courts, which was ranked by County Council lower than the anaerobic digestion project.

2. The LA Monitor publication is meant to try to make County Council change their project ranking during tonight's meeting, that is, propel anaerobic digestion to its new heights.

3. Without going into much further detail (I'm sure the LA Monitor article and other comments explore those in full), it's quite obvious that anaerobic digestion in the midst of a residential area is (i) environmentally hazardous, and (ii) economically senseless (taking into account the total amount of horses in Los Alamos and White Rock).

4. Residents of the communities that may be potentially influenced by anaerobic digestion, should County Council decide to approve it (Mendius Lane and two appartment complexes west, Tsukumo Village east, and Broadview Estates south of the horse stables; those are only the closest communities, a bit farther away is the whole Barranca Mesa just across the canyon, which may be influenced as well depending on the direction and strength of the wind), must consider a collective law suit and a request for injunction, along with other measures to defend themselves (personal health, safe environment, the property cost, especially near the anaerobic digestion site, etc.).

Very expensive hobby

It looks like Los Alamos Horse Owners are so upset by 20% fee hikes that they are ready to do anything to avoid it. They are ready to spend $ 0.5- 2 million dollars of taxpayers money (your and my money) and build very dangerous pilot anaerobic digester in the middle of highly populated area. And they do not care about any dangers of biogas poisoning or methane explosions.

From North Carolina State University’s Cooperative Extension Service that developed several specific examples of how biogas can be applied on-farm:
James C. Barker, Professor and Extension Specialist 
Biological and Agricultural Engineering
 North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
“A well-insulated, three-bedroom home that requires 900,000 Btu/day for heating in cold weather could be served by 50 dairy cattle (assuming that around 35 percent of the biogas produced will be used to maintain the digester’s temperature).
Los Alamos Horse Stables have about 100 horses. So they can heat two three-bedroom houses with produced methane. (After they spent 2 million dollars to build an anaerobic digester)

Methane production for very well established anaerobic digester is about 1 cubic feet of biogas (60% methane) for 1 cubic feet of digester volume per day.
18000 cubic feet a day (for cylindrical tank 18 feet high, 18 feet in diameter).
This is “normal” level of a methane production for a bioreactor on a big farm (8000-10000 animals). And this amount can explode!!!!