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Wastewater Home Page | Call to Action | Test Results & References
Wastewater Management (chapter from the Solviva Book)

Welcome to the Wastewater Home Page of the Solviva Website
In here you will gain a deeper understanding
of the problems that result from current wastewater regulations, and
the effective and economical solutions that are available for eliminating those problems,
and the formidable regulatory obstacles that are preventing the use of these solutions.
This lead page is divided into 3 sections:
1) Description of the problems, 2) Description of the Solviva Biocarbon Filter systems at my home, and
3) Description of the Solviva Biocarbon Filter system at the Black Dog Tavern in Vineyard Haven, MA


Wastewater - Human Waste - Sewage....these words, and the many others that we have for our body's waste products, tend to evoke aversion. And for good reason: human wastes contain microbes that, if improperly managed, can cause various diseases. We therefore all agree that human wastes must be managed in ways that adequately reduce these microbes. Human wastes also contain very high levels of nitrogen, about 40-60 ppm (parts per million) in most wastewater, which, if released into the groundwater causes harm to both human health and the environment. We therefore also all agree that nitrogen release must be adequately reduced.

All states have government agencies that create and enforce regulations for the management of wastewater. In my home state of Massachusetts, this agency is the Department of Environ-
mental Protection (DEP).
Current regulations for Wastewater Management fall in two main categories:
1. On-Site Septic Systems, treating sewage from a single home or building right on the site, and
2. Centralized Sewage Treatment, treating sewage from many homes and other buildings at a remote location

However, there are several serious problems
that are being caused by current DEP regulations:

Threat to Public Health - Over 10% of drinking water wells in the US are contaminated with high levels of nitrogen that is released from septic systems built in accordance with government regulations. This nitrogen reduces the blood's oxygen capacity, causing "methemoglobinemia", which is one of the causes of "sudden-infant-death" or "blue-baby-syndrome", as well as brain damage and cancer (for references, and see link "Test Result & References", and surf the web under key words "Nitrogen Pollution").
Harm to the Environment -
On-site septic systems built in accordance with government regulations are incapable of reducing nitrogen to any significant degree, and therefore release high levels of nitrogen into the groundwater. All this nitrogen ends up in our estuaries, ponds and harbors, whether they are 50 feet or 10 miles away from the septic systems. This nitrogen causes vast algae infestations that choke aquatic plants, fish and shellfish, and cause foul odors and slimy beaches.
High Cost -
New or upgraded Septic Systems often cost $10,000-20,000, sometimes as much as $50,000. Central Sewering costs many millions, with annual costs of $1500 - $3000 per household.
Landscape Destruction -
Large areas are required for on-site septic systems, destroying beautiful gardens, shrubs and trees. Central Sewage Treatment Facilities require vast acreage, thereby destroying wildlife habitat and recreation areas.

22 beautiful trees were cut down to upgraded this septic system, and it cost $15,000.

A whole woods was destroyed for this new septic system.

The bottom of the leaching field is 10 feet deep, below the reach of roots of trees and shrups that could take up the nitrogen and benefit from it.

Sewage treatment facilities cost many millions, even in small communities. They require vast areas, cause foul odors, and use harmful chemicals.

Algae infestation on
Vineyard Haven Harbor, which sometimes result in foul odors enveloping the whole town.

James Pond: 50 or so septic systems release nitrogen into this ecosystem, previously clean and productive, now toxic and foul. Imagine being a fish, scallop or an eelgrass plant living in the water, where the algae pollution is a hundred times worse.

This beautiful pond is all gummed up
with foul-smelling algae.

Left: Imagine playing on this algae-infested beach.

Large sections of this marsh has been inundated and killed by thick layers of
rotting algae slurry.

Left: Algae infestation on
Vineyard Haven Harbor, which sometimes result in foul odors enveloping the whole town.

Edgartown Great Pond
polluted by excessive nitrogen.
Thus, it is obvious that
DEP regulations
are in serious violation of
the Laws of Nature

There are better ways to manage wastewater!

For instance, the Solviva Biocarbon Wastewater Filter Systems, which:
* Reduce nitrogen release into the groundwater by 80-90%,
and therefore eliminate harm to public health and the environment (for proof, go to the "Test Results" page),
* Cost 80-90% less to install and maintain,
* Eliminate destruction to the landscape. In fact, the Solviva Biocarbon Wastewater Filter
Systems are actually beneficial to the landscape because they act as fertilizing and irrigation systems!

Pictures of various Solviva Biocarbon Filter Systems
at my home:

A standard flushtoilet flushes into this Brownfilter box, containing wood chips, leafmold, and zillions of beneficial microbes and earthworms. This is Earthworm Heaven!

Pokeberry fertilized with urine. Normally grows no more than 4 feet, but this gorgeous plant ended up half way up the second floor.

One area of the Solviva Greenfilter garden, here showing dogwood, Rosa rugosa, spruce and pine.This area has been receiving wastewater effluent for 20 years, including standard detergents and bleach, dispersed through perforated pipes laid in shallow trenches winding among the flowers, shrubs and trees.

Compost from Solviva Biocarbon Filter Systems: odor-free, soft, excellent well-balanced nutrients. Great for flowers, shrubs and trees. However, even though it has been tested to be free of pathogens, I still believe it should not be used for food production.

This vibrant flower garden has been happily receiving toilet compost for 20 years, from both the Solviva Compostoilet and the Brownfilter for the flush toilet system.

Another area of the Solviva Greenfilter flower gardens, here showing a stand of 5-foot cosmos.


The Solviva Biocarbon Filter System at the Black Dog Tavern:
A story about a great success ...... and destructive interference by DEP

The Solviva Wastewater Filter system was installed at the Black Dog Tavern on the harbor in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, in May 1998, for the purpose of reducing the nitrogen from 5000 gallons of restaurant wastewater per day.
The wastewater from the Tavern first went into the grease chamber where all or most of the grease was supposed to be trapped, then it continued to the septic tank which retained the solids. The effluent then continued into a chamber from where it was pumped into the first part of the Solviva system, the Brownfilter. This filter consisted of two levels of perforated plastic barrels filled with Biocarbon filter material, consisting of old leaves and wood chips, alive with earthworms and other beneficial organisms. Then the partially treated effluent continued to the perforated pipes laid in shallow trenches in the Greenfilter garden filled with the same Biocarbon filter material plus soil.

Because this garden was to receive about 12" of effluent per day (imagine 12" of rain per day!) I had planned for it to be planted with the kinds of water-loving grasses and shrubs that grow around ponds and wetlands. But the Black Dog managers also wanted traditional cottage garden flowers. I was highly doubtful that this could work, because such flowers prefer much drier conditions. I thought that surely, if they received 12" of water on a daily basis, their roots would rot and the plants would die. But I was willing to give it a try.
Yes, the water-loving plants did thrive, but, to my utter amazement, so did the cottage flowers. There were zinnias and cosmos, snapdragons and tithonia, cleome, geum, sunflowers and ageratum, and many other types. They were not just ordinary beautiful, they were exceptionally, extraordinairily healthy huge and vibrant, even through the dogdays of that very hot summer.

The Solviva Biocarbon filter system transformed the wastewater from
the Black Dog Tavern

....... into glorious flowers, shrubs and grasses ..... gorgeous clean compost
.... and superb test results.

After frost killed the annual flowers, the garden was seeded with rye, which, because of daily dosing of wastewater effluent, grew thick and green through the whole long, cold winter.

By early April the iris, hollihock and rye were about 4 weeks ahead of other gardens. It was stunning and heartbreaking when DEP ordered the Solviva Greenfilter garden to be removed.

When hard frost finally killed them, the annuals were removed and that part of the garden was seeded with rye. The rye quickly grew thick and healthy, and it kept growing through the long cold winter: the ground never froze because of the daily dozing with warmish wastewater effluent.

The filtering process through the Brownfilter and the Greenfilter took about 5 minutes, and the nitrogen was reduced by 70-90%, the BOD by 92-98%, and the fecal coliform by 94-100% (as proven by monthly tests at certified labs). The system produced not only the wonderful garden, but also, from the Brownfilter, magnificent compost filled with healthy earthworms. This compost was also tested by certified labs, which showed excellent nutrients and "below detectable limits" of 49 different toxic substances.

But, in spite of these extraordinairily successful results, the DEP gave orders
to the Black Dog in April 1999 to remove the Solviva Biocarbon Filter and to replace it with a standard leaching field. This, like all other standard DEP septic systems, of course releases all the nitrogen into the groundwater and straight into the adjacent harbor. The obvious question is: Why did DEP order the removal of the Solviva system?

The search for the answer to this question is murky indeed, but perhaps the most important key is the fact that in the Fall of 1998 there was a major shift in the leadership of the administration. Governor Weld resigned and Lieutenant Governor Celluci took the helm. At that same time Trudy Coxe resigned from her post as Secretary of Environmental Affairs. A few years earlier, on a visit to the Vineyard in 1995, she had accepted an invitation to come see the Solviva Wastewater Filter systems at my home. She was mightily impressed by their simplicity and lack of odor, and the gorgeous Greenfilter flower gardens. When I mentioned the fact that DEP (one of her departments) had still not issued the permit that I had requested almost a year earlier, she expressed despair over the bureaucratic obstacles within DEP that prevented satisfactory progress with new de-nitrifying septic system designs, and frustration over her own lack of power to change the policies. She offered to help, and subsequently did help boost my permit applications through DEP. When Secretary Coxe left there was no replacement for several months.

This left the DEP in chaos, with no one willing/able/daring to make decisions. The program for "Innovative/Alternative (I/A) septic system technologies" was passed down from the Boston DEP to the regional DEP offices, and that's when the trouble began. I could name names but I won't, at this point. Suffice it to say that the attitude of the Southeast Region DEP office clearly indicates a committment to maintaining current standard on-site septic system regulations, which, because of the expense and pollution they cause, and the large land area they require, automatically leads to their highest goal: Big Sewers Everywhere (megabucks for the Consulting/Engineering/Sewage Installation industries, which work very much hand-in-glove with the regulators nation-wide). And, their actions clearly indicate a committment to greatly discouraging any I/A systems, especially those that were proving to be successful at reducing nitrogen with less cost and less land than central sewering or standard on-site septic systems.

The DEP officials labeled as "violation" anything about the Solviva system at the Black Dog Tavern that did not strictly adhere to written or unwritten rules, and within a year they felt their list of violations was long enough to warrant closure.
To be sure, there were various problems that developed with the system. The most serious was the fact that a lot of grease, primarily olive oil, was getting into the filters, thereby gumming them up and killing many of the earthworms. This problem was unexpected because the grease was supposed to stay in the grease trap, but because the restaurant used very hot water instead of bleach for disinfecting the dishes, the grease did not have a chance to congeal and therefore migrated into the filters.
We quickly made numerous small but important adjustments to the system to rectify the grease damage, such as increasing the drainholes in the Brownfilter containers, adding fans and replacing the medium in the Brownfilter. However, according to DEP, no adjustments could be made without getting a permit, which of course would take months, and to wait was impossible because the adjustments had to be done when they had to be done, because 5000 gallons of wastewater effluent kept coming each day. So these adjustments were added to the list of violations.
Each of the problems that arose could have been solved with relative ease, but DEP would not allow these improvements and instead ordered the system to be removed.

But some great things came out the Solviva system at the Black Dog: superb test results, and photographs of the magnificent Greenfilter garden, which will of course be used in the upcoming effort to change the DEP regulations for on-site septic systems.

There is still one item that is left hanging on the line: the compost. As mentioned above, the first batch of Biocarbon mix in the Brownfilter was removed after the first few months. A plan had been prepared to store this compost at one of the permitted sewage facilities on the Vineyard, but when the time came, nobody dared to accept it, for fear of DEP repurcussions. The compost, wonderfully clean-smelling and filled with healthy earthworms, had be placed somewhere. So I placed it on a remote fenced-in field on my farm, and covered it securely with a tarp.

Then all hell broke lose. The West Tisbury Board of Health was ordered by DEP to order me to remove the compost, which they called "septage", or face a $500 fine per day. I showed the Board the suberb test reults, which proved that the toxic contents in the compost was 1/100 - 1/1000 of what state regulations allow for spreading as soil amendments. I invited them over to see for themselves. They came, they saw, they sniffed, but even though it appeared to them that it did not constitute a public health hazard, they said it was not up them, they had orders from DEP. I put all the compost into 50 strong plastic barrels with tight-fitting lids, and tied them all together securely, but the Board still had orders from DEP to remove the "sludge". However, the Board did lower the fine to $50 per day - and - I got a $50 ticket every day for the next 24 days.

During this whole time I tried frantically to get permission from DEP, but the chaos was still going on up there, with no one daring to actually assess the risk and admit that there was none. I faxed and phoned and fed-exed to legislators, representatives, the Governor, the press, lawyers, conservation groups, but although they were all sympathetic no one was able to help. It was clear to everyone that this case was "falling between the cracks". This compost/"sludge" was being classified in the same category as sludge from municipal sewage treatment facilities, which of course does contain toxic substances. There simply was, and still is, no category on the books for a small quantity from one non-industrial source, and no one was, or still is, willing to think "outside the box".

I finally gave up trying to get permisson to keep it on my property, and instead sought permit to keep it at the Edgartown Sewage Treatment Facility. The members of that committee were highly sympathetic when they saw the compost and the test results and voted to accept it for temporary storage until I got my DEP permit. But, the DEP would not allow it to be stored at the Edgartown facility!
By this time I was getting frantic, and extremely pessimistic, and angry with regulators who have the gall to allow and indeed require the installation of septic systems that release high levels of nitrogen, which has been proven to cause serious harm to both public health and the environment, yet would not allow even enclosed storage of compost that had already been tested to be perfectly safe!
Finally DEP issued permit for Edgartown to temporarily store the 50 barrels of compost, and with a local lawyer continuing to help me, the West Tisbury Board of Health rescinded the $1200 accumulated fines, and fined me just $100 total.

I continued the work to get DEP permit to store the compost on my property. I was told I must first get a total TCLP test, and they sent me the application. I was shocked when I saw what this entailed: a full test for 49 of the most toxic chemicals used in our society, including PCB, Pentachlorophenol, 2,4.6-Tribromophenol, Lindane, Endrin, Chlordane, Toxphene, Tetrachloetylene. And even more shocked when I found out what it would cost: around $1500!
I asked: "How could there possibly be any of these poisons in this compost that comes from a small restaurant?"
The answer: "We wouldn't know until it is tested."

Pleading for help from officials in other DEP departments, the response from several was: "This is a preposterous demand! A TCLP test is clearly not needed because there is no possibility that this compost would contain any of those substances. Let me see if I can find a way through."
And then a few days or weeks later: "I am so sorry. I tried, but I can find no loop hole."

So, I finally bit the bullet and sent a sample of the compost to be TCLP tested. The results came back: "below detectable limits" on all 49 substances. And this cost me $1300.
Armed with this test result I applied again for a permit to store the compost on my property. But I was in for a rude awakening: The TCLP test was not enough. Now I must get a permit for my land to be classified as storage facility for sludge, and this would cost at least $1050 and would probably take at least a year to get. Words cannot describe my level of disgust. This is it. Here is where I draw the line!

If you are still with me to this point, I congratulate you for your perseverence, and I am grateful. It is not easy for people to think about wastewater. Most people abhor the very concept, and are unwilling to engage their brains sufficiently to "get it". Also, they have a hard time believing that governmental regulations in this matter could really be as bad as they really are. How is it possible that an agency that is named the "Department of Environmental Protection" can be so guilty of creating and enforcing regulations that are so destructive to the environment, not to mention to public health?

To sum up, this is where it all stands at the present time, in February 2002: the compost is still in Edgartown, and I have been waiting for 5 months for a response to my latest plea to DEP to bring it to my land. The system at the Featherstone Meetinghouse for the Arts is still purifying their wastewater, without any problems. My home systems are still transforming wastewater into beautiful flowers and trees, without any odors, flies or other problems, ever. There is zero "yuck-factor". It is a joy to flush the toilet and thereby providing favorite food for thousands of happy earthworms and millions of microcritters. It is so obvious that these systems work in accordance with the Laws of Nature.

Now, with the help of many others,
we will continue the difficult but essential Good Work of changing the DEP regulations.
You are welcome to join this noble effort. Please do.
For more information on my personal experiences with wastewater management,
go to Wastewater Management (chapter from the Solviva book),
then go to the Call to Actionsection to see the proposal for change.
Please pass on this information to others. Thanks. Together we can do what needs to be done.

May every effort you make to achieve a more sustainable lifestyle be rewarded with joy and success.

Wishing us all a good life, for 7 x 7 generations,

Anna Edey

Wastewater Home Page | Call to Action | Test Results & References
Wastewater Management
(chapter from the Solviva Book)


How to contact Anna Edey, Solviva, Trailblazer Press:
18 Solviva Road, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568
Tel: (508) 693-3341- - Cell phone: (774) 563-0898 - - Fax: (508) 693-2228
e-mail:, website:

AND, as of January 2014, at Blog/Website: