Water Industry News
Explosions, fires prompt
Ocala, FL to dump
USFilter sludge dryer
Jun 3, 2004
The Ocala City Council voted Tuesday to remove the $1 million machine
that dries sludge from its city's third water and sewer plant. It
exploded weeks ago. City officials said they were frustrated with the
product that has malfunctioned more than 50 times, and are angry at
manufacturer USFilter. The company has refused to submit an assessment
report to the city.
Acting against city manager and city staff's recommendation and legal
opinion, on a 3-2 vote, the council approved serving a notice that the
machine is to be removed, and directed city staff to get a consultant to
find a new manufacturer and replacement dryer. The Dragon Dryer was
installed at Water Reclamation Facility No. 3 in 2003. It is a product
of the USFilter Davis Products, based in Thomasville, Ga.
Council was divided over the issue Tuesday.
Councilman Mike Amsden was adamant about "yanking" the dryer
and suing USFilter for damages. He said he does not believe the
corporation "in good faith, (has) put a product in there that is
going to enhance the life of this facility."
"I want it out of there. I want it out of there now," said
Councilman Mike Asmden, who said the facility is supposed to have a
50-year life cycle. "I don't have any confidence or trust in this
machine. The whole thing's a joke. I don't think it's what the community
On April 14, there was a minor explosion inside the Dragon Dryer that
caused the metal to bend, doors to blow open and a pipe to pop off. The
machine uses an indirect heating technology to dry the wet sludge and
produce reusable Class AA biosolids, such a fertilizer.
In a performance report, Ken Lazaro, WRF No. 3 facility manager, said
the dryer has operated 71 days since its June 12, 2003 start-up. Of
those days, 55 "abnormal" events occurred, which created
numerous delays and shut-down of the dyer's operation. In addition to
the April 14 explosion, on Feb. 2 a fire erupted at the dry end of the
dryer with visible flames on the outside.
As a result of the April 14 explosion, the city has been diverting the
sewage from that plant to Water Reclamation Facility No. 2 across town
at 4200 S.E. 24th Street, a cost of $3,000 per week.
USFilter officials were prepared to start inspection, repairs and
installation of new safety features this month and compensate the city
for the hauling costs incurred while the dryer was not operating.
Company officials said the dryer could have been back on-line by July.
Tom Corley, vice president/general manager of USFilter Davco Products,
said he is disappointed in the council's decision and stands behind the
product. He said the company was committed to correct the problems.
"We are disappointed at the actions of the Ocala City Council, but
we will of course abide by their decision, and have begun discussions
with the city's engineering staff to determine the next steps,"
Corley said in a written statement. "Our disappointment stems from
the fact that we believe that USFilter has made a good-faith effort to
determine the cause of the flash fire and resulting system
over-pressurization in the dryer unit, has developed a set of measures
to guard against a re-occurrence of the incident, and was willing to
implement these recommendations at our expense. We believe the result
would have been safe, efficient operation of the dryer."
Council President Mary Sue Rich and Councilman Daniel Owen voted to keep
the dryer. Rich said pulling the machine and getting another one won't
save taxpayers any money. Owen said the company should have an
opportunity to repair its product and believes the company has learned a
The next step for the city is to find another dryer. A funding source
has not been identified, but likely it would be financed through bonds.
Other dryers include European-based Andritz, a 30-year-old company with
67 locations worldwide and 12 in the United States, and Fenton, based in
United States for 20 years, City Engineer Bruce Phillips said.
"We are waiting to hear from USFilter on the removal of their
dryer," said Henry Hicks, water and sewer director. "We will
be meeting with our consultants Black & Veatch next Thursday to
discuss options and possibly start on development of specifications for
an RFP (request for proposal) on a new dryer system. "
It has not been determined when recommendations will be ready for
council. CH2M-Hill, the city' former engineering consultants, worked as
the city's consultants on the design of the $25 million facility and
recommended against installing sludge digesters at a cost of $827,000.
It recommends a dryer. As a result the city would produce Class AA
sludge, a marketable product, rather than the traditional Class B, which
has to land applied.
Consultants started negotiations with Fenton, but after failing to meet
criteria they moved on to USFilter, which had purchased the patent from
Earlier Tuesday, the council had a workshop with various department
heads about whether to severe ties with USFilter or keep working with
the company. The five recommendations that were presented were:
USFilter repair the existing dryer per the agreed negotiations at no
additional cost to the city.
Remove the dryer and replace with sludge digesters requiring the land
application of Class B sludge, which would take up to two years to
design, permit and construct and cost $1 million; With this alternative,
the city would have to continue the costly hauling charges and find
available land to apply the Class B sludge which is scarce.
Remove Dragon Dryer, blend sludge from all three plants, install a
holding bin, modify sludge drying building and install a Fenton dryer;
Total cost is $1.6 million with a total completion of two years.
Build the digesters, remove Dragon Dryer, install Fenton dryer; Cost is
$2.3 million with a two-year completion date.
Remove existing dryer and install an Andritz Dryer; Design, permit,
modify building, manufacturer and installation would take two and a half
years because of complexity of Andritz and major renovations to dryer
"I'd just as soon start the process over. If it's two years, then
so be it," Amsden said. "I'd rather just start the process and
put something in there that other communities are using and that's
Lashonda Stinson covers the city of Ocala. She can be reached at