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Soaked garbage incinerator burps contaminated brew

Inundated with the same rains that have flooded other areas in recent weeks, the county's garbage incinerator in Shady Hills has collected more than a million gallons of toxic rainwater, all contaminated with metal-laden ash from the incinerator.

And it happened at the worst possible time.

The county has a treatment plant for the ash-contaminated rainwater, called leachate, which contains harmful metals such as lead and cadmium. But the facility has been shut down for more than a month for annual maintenance.

So the leachate has been piling up _ so quickly, in fact, that officials began shipping some to Tampa to keep the storage tank from overflowing.

"The storage tank was almost full so we've had to start trucking to Tampa," said Doug Bramlett, the assistant county administrator overseeing utilities.

The 33-foot-deep tank holds up to 2-million gallons of leachate. The tank had been emptied for inspection just before the heavy rains started in mid June.

"Then we got hit with over 20 inches of rain in the past 2{ weeks," said John Power, the county's solid waste manager. "It took us from virtually 1 foot (of leachate) in the tank up to the current level of 25 feet. We just got overwhelmed with the amount of rain."

On June 23, the county started sending truckloads of the stuff to the Howard F. Curran Wastewater Treatment Plant in Tampa. The county has sent about four to six loads a day since then, with each tanker carrying 6,000 gallons of leachate.

Once it arrives at the Tampa plant, the leachate is mixed with the sewage and treated. The cleaned-up effluent then pours into Hillsborough Bay.

American Water Services Residuals Management Inc., a Houston-based company formerly known as Azurix, provides the leachate trucking and disposal for $141 a load. Pasco County already had a contract with the company for just this kind of emergency, Power said.

In fact, the hauler took away 304 loads of leachate for the county earlier this year when Pasco had to empty the storage tank for inspection.

The county's budget includes funding to haul the leachate away, if necessary, Power said.

"That's just part of the backup we have, so in case something goes wrong with the plant, we're not going to be left holding the bag," Power said.

The county's leachate treatment plant should be up and running again within a week or so, Power said, once a recalibrated valve arrives for one of the machines. In the meantime, he estimates about 1.4-million gallons of leachate remain in the storage tank, and more is added with each rainfall.

"We get as many trucks as we possibly can," he said. "We wish we could get more, but they're busy, too."

_ Bridget Hall Grumet covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is