TAMPA — Hillsborough County won't allow industrial companies to dump more lead into its wastewater system after all.
As for arsenic, that's still up for debate.
County commissioners voted unanimously on Wednesday to keep at existing levels the allowable concentrations of toxic materials in wastewater from industrial facilities, backing away from a proposal to raise the threshold for nine chemicals, including lead.
But the county delayed a decision on what to do about arsenic after a company said it has trouble meeting the existing limit of 0.25 milligrams per liter.
The company, Progressive Waste Solutions, which operates the Sun Country Landfill in Wimauma, has at times exceeded the current allowable levels of arsenic in wastewater tests, according to a recent county review of the results.
"Not all the time," said George Cassady, director of the county Public Utilities Department. "It's intermittent, but it's to the point where they've got to do something about it."
But that revelation differs from previous remarks from county officials.
Last month, Cassady told the Tampa Bay Times that all 21 industrial wastewater permit holders are able to meet the current standard for all regulated toxic materials and they were not asking for the levels to be increased.
Cassady said that was an "oversight."
Speaking at Wednesday's commission meeting, Kirk Wills, who oversees Progressive Waste Solutions operations in Florida, said it would cost the company $1 million to add pretreatment processes to meet the existing arsenic standards.
The wastewater at the Sun Center Landfill is the result of rainfall and Wills said it's difficult to control.
"We're looking at a significant financial impact to our company and to our costumers," Wills said.
The delay will allow the county staff to further research what is the appropriate level of arsenic in industrial wastewater and to work with Progressive Waste Solutions.
Industrial wastewater is sent to Hillsborough County treatment plants, where it is scrubbed of its chemicals and metals before it is used in irrigation or discharged into Tampa Bay.
The proposal to raise the levels came after the state Department of Environmental Protection requested of review of the county's industrial wastewater regulations. Officials stressed that an increase of chemicals allowed into the system would not affect the quality of the water that leaves the facilities.
Nevertheless, Commissioner Pat Kemp and conservationists spoke out last month after the Times reported the proposed ordinance increased the limits for nine chemicals. It would have included tripling the allowable concentration of lead entering the wastewater system and more than doubling the arsenic threshold. Their concerns caused the county to take another look at the regulations.
Kemp said she is encouraged by the steps taken Wednesday. In addition to maintaining the existing standards for eight of the nine chemicals, the county will for the first time be able to test and monitor private industrial wastewater treatment plants that feed into Hillsborough's system.
Those private systems are often not kept up to Hillsborough's standards, creating problems when they overflow during malfunctions or heavy rains.
"There was so many really great enforcement increases and so many valuable changes that they're making so I'm pleased with most of it," Kemp said. "And I feel very good that arsenic is being looked at and examined so closely."
Contact Steve Contorno at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433. Follow @scontorno.