A top Colombian health official has reacted angrily to a plan under consideration by the D.C. government to ship sludge created at the Blue Plains sewage treatment plant in Southwest Washington to Colombia, vowing that "under no circumstances" will the material be admitted.
"We are absolutely opposed to such a project," the Associated Press quoted Colombian Health Minister Alfonso Jaramillo-Salazar as declaring after learning of the plan.
The apparent demise of the proposal creates new problems for the District, which is under court order to find a way to dispose of up to 900 tons of liquid sludge a day by the fall.
City officials and representatives of Steuart Environmental Systems, the firm that proposed the shipments to Colombia, have in the past year cast their gaze farther and farther down the varied land masses of the Western Hemisphere in search of a final repository for the sludge. So far, the gaze has been returned by unfriendly eyes.
The Steuart firm first proposed that the sludge be shipped to the small Caribbiean nation of Haiti, but officials there angrily killed the plan. Then the firm began negotiations to ship the material to the even smaller and more southerly Caribbean island of Antigua, but again, irate local officials shouted no.
The Colombian plan was first disclosed over the weekend, when D.C. City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers confirmed that the Steuart firm was conducting negotiations to have the sludge shipped to the South American nation for eventual use as fertilizer.
The firm proposed to pick up the sludge at Blue Plains, ship it to a tanker facility at Piney Point, Md., and transship the liquid sludge to ocean-going tankers that would carry it to Colombia for processing at a fertilizer plant.
The operation would have begun on Oct. 15 -- the day the city's contract with another firm that sought to dispose of the sludge, Dano Resource Recovery Inc., will be terminated. That also is the deadline for the city and other area jurisdictions that process their sewage through Blue Plains to have in place methods for disposing of the sludge.
Despite the setback to the latest plan, Rogers said yesterday: "We will meet the deadline. We're still talking to Steuart, Dano and a number of other firms. We'll have it in place."
News of the Colombian plan was carried to the capital city of Bogota on Monday via a Spanish International Network radio broadcast. Health minister Jaramillo's angry reaction came on Tuesday.
The people of Colombia "can rest assured that under no circumstances will we accept bringing that sludge," the Associated Press quoted Jaramillo as saying. Efforts to reach Jaramillo for further comment yesterday were unsuccessful.
Sludge has become a politically potent issue for the District, with suburban Rep. Standord Parris (R-Va.) last week holding up two crucial pieces of city-related legislation on Capitol Hill to protest another city plan to dump sludge at a site near Lorton in the district Parris represents in Congress.
Parris, who sits on the House District Committee, has threatened to fight other District legislation in Congress unless city officials abandon that plan. D.C. City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon and council member Jerry A. Moore sent a joint letter to Parris yesterday, urging him to suspend his opposition pending negotiations with the city. There was no immediate response from Parris.