Canadian waste water treatment firm cleaning up with its technology

Jun 4, 2014

Globe & Mail

A small Canadian business with a unique technology that makes fertilizer while stripping damaging algae-causing nutrients from municipal waste water is on track to double the number of installations it has in service in North America and Europe.

Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies Inc., a private-equity-funded Vancouver-based company that caught the attention of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmental lawyer, started up its seventh facility in Madison, Wis., on Wednesday.

The $3-million unit, connected to the city’s Nine Springs Wastewater Treatment Plant, prevents phosphorus from entering waterways. Excess phosphorus in fresh water contributes to the algae growth, which chokes off sunlight and oxygen, destroying aquatic organisms and hurting fish.

That’s been a major problem throughout the United States, said Mr. Kennedy, who has been on Ostara’s board since 2009. He and his Waterkeeper Alliance affiliates have launched more environmental legal action than any another group in the U.S., patrolling rivers and lakes and demanding that laws to battle pollution are enforced.

The problem is that in recent decades, much of that litigation, about 100 cases, targeted municipal governments that operate treatment plants allowing phosphorus into waterways. Those governments were often forced to sacrifice other services to comply with cleanup orders, Mr. Kennedy said. Meanwhile, many of the established ways of dealing with the problem ended with materials being trucked to landfill sites.

For the son of the slain former U.S. attorney-general and presidential hopeful, the discomfort was even a little political. It is gradually getting relieved by Ostara’s technology, known as the Pearl process.

“Eighty per cent of the mayors in these towns are Democrats. I hated calling Democrats – many of them had pictures of my father on their wall – and going in there and telling them, ‘I’m going to bankrupt your town.’ It was a horrible, horrible experience for me,” he said in an interview. “Instead, I can call them up and say, ‘I’m about to solve one of your big problems, and make sure you’ve got money left for education and health care and police protection.’ ”

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