Construction at Mississauga’s lakefront wastewater plant hopes to mitigate odour ahead of massive development
The ability to safely deal with human waste was what differentiated ancient civilizations from what followed, when the earliest sewage systems were engineered in Cyprus more than ten thousand years ago and in China more than eight thousand years ago. In Mesopotamia (present day Iraq and surrounding areas), clay pipes were first used for human waste about six thousand years ago.
But in all that time, even through our unfolding modern era, managing the foul odour of sewage has perplexed the most innovative engineers.
Without wastewater treatment facilities, raw sewage would enter our waterways, increasing exposure to a variety of deadly infectious diseases including salmonella, hepatitis and dysentery. Testing of wastewater also became an innovative and lifesaving measure during the pandemic to monitor the levels of COVID-19 in various communities.
Entering a wastewater treatment facility, where raw sewage contains dangerous bacteria, is like stepping onto another planet. The scope of how much waste we produce is made vastly apparent by the enormous size of the holding pools and endless network of tanks and pipes. The need to treat and test the wastewater to keep us all safe becomes more understandable inside a facility that collects the byproducts of more than a million residents.
The G.E. Booth wastewater treatment plant located in Mississauga’s southeast corner, on the Lake Ontario waterfront near the Toronto border, is one of the largest in Canada, managing and treating waste from all of Peel Region, as well as some of Toronto and York, servicing over 1.5 million people.
Wastewater treatment plants are meticulously planned municipal infrastructure systems that are crucial to environmental and human health and safety.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
Despite what some may think, on a cold, wet, winter day with very little wind, there is relatively little malodorous air. Walking along the pathways between the facility’s 13 tanks, the smell is unpleasant, but not overpowering. Take five steps back and you can no longer smell the waste at all.
On a hot humid July day, with wind blowing off Lake Ontario to the northwest, the waste collected at the facility can be so overpowering, nearby residents have to stay indoors. Even then, the foul smell can reach inside.
Warm temperatures increase the ability of odour causing bacteria to multiply, intensifying the unpleasant odour from the uncovered pools and tanks. As temperatures increase, liquid and solid particles transform to gases, allowing them to travel farther and with more concentration in the surrounding air.
The sprawling Mississauga location was chosen in the 1950s, when the facility was built in an area that was heavily industrial with very little residential development. The giant Lakeview Power plant was built next door shortly after. But over the decades, features such as the nearby yacht club and marina and some small residential subdivisions began to inch closer. About 75 projects at the facility over the decades allowed adaptation and expansion. And some attempts were made to mitigate the growing problem of the smell, as more residents settled in the surrounding area.
The G.E. Booth plant is situated on a 95-acre lot with approximately 75 acres of actual servicing area, and can treat, on average, 518 million litres of wastewater per day.
Enormous growth is being planned across Mississauga’s waterfront and the wastewater facility will soon be surrounded by one of the largest residential development projects in North America—Lakeview Village.
According to a report submitted to the City of Mississauga in 2022 by the development consortium Lakeview Community Partners (LCP), the closest existing residential or commercial structures to the wastewater treatment facility are 400 metres away. Even at this distance, the City of Mississauga — often through local Ward 1 Councillor Stephen Dasko — has received complaints from residents about the intolerable smells. According to the G.E. Booth 2022 Annual Report, last year, eight complaints regarding odour were received, four of which referenced long term smell throughout August, September and November.
A map shows the immediate proximity of the Lakeview Village development to the G.E. Booth wastewater plant.
(City of Mississauga)
Under its plan for the massive project, which could see as many as 40,000 new residents living next to the wastewater facility, LCP is building condos right to the edge of the plant. The original design for the property, known as Inspiration Lakeview, included a 150-metre setback from the wastewater plant for any future development, a distance recommended by the Province. Instead, LCP decided to push that buffer 30 metres closer to the edge of the wastewater facility, to realize a taller, denser project.
High-end condos and townhomes located 120 metres from a massive wastewater treatment plant, with wind blowing off Lake Ontario, through the plant, into the community, could be difficult to sell. The allure of Lakeview Village is its proximity to the shoreline, surrounded by amenities and the brand new Jim Tovey Lakeview Conservation Area.
When you open your terrace door, you want to see a crystal clear lake, not concrete pools filled with sewage just a stone’s throw away, releasing nasty odours that routinely waft up into the surrounding homes.
So Dasko sought to, quite literally, mask the smell.
The Region of Peel, which is responsible for wastewater for the three lower tier municipalities, worked with LCP to establish a cost sharing plan for odour control at the plant.
John Glass is the manager of water and wastewater operation and optimization at the Region of Peel and is in charge of the upgrades to the G.E. Booth wastewater plant.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
John Glass, manager of water and wastewater operation and optimization for the Region of Peel, told The Pointer that odour control at the site is something that has always been a concern. Dasko emphasized, “it is the right thing to do”.
With the development of 16,000 units of mixed use residential, townhomes, low rise and high-rise condos — a number that doubled from the originally agreed upon 8,000 units, before an unexpected MZO was requested by LCP and handed down by Queen’s Park that “blindsided” Mississauga staff and councillors — G.E. Booth is undergoing major construction to transform the site. Expansive spaces with open concrete pools will be turned into a series of covered tanks and buildings.
“The issue that we had is each one of them individually, if the covers are opened up, and the building doesn't exist, each one of these is a big enough tank with enough solid material that the odor coming off would be impacting not only the new development, but the existing community also,” Glass explained.
This is not the first attempt the Region has made to mask the smell radiating from the plant. Years ago when Glass was a young operator, he recalls management using a cookie dough-scented spray to try and overpower the stench that rose from the tanks. It was utterly unsuccessful creating a “shitty cookie smell” as he described it.
Glass has been researching the project for years, and in speaking with operators from different wastewater plants across Canada, decided on an approach that uses both the lids and buildings to mask as much smell as possible. There are plants, he said, that use one of the two systems (either incorporating covered pits and pools, or enclosed buildings) but he has not come across one using both simultaneously.
“If I put a building, but I don't do anything on the inside, then I would speak with their [operational] staff who physically interact and they hate being in that space, it's disgusting,” Glass said. “But a look at just putting the cover system on, then… there was a hesitancy to take the covers off and perform servicing.” To avoid any potential gaps in quality assurance, testing, treatment and monitoring he is now consulting with other municipalities — such as Vancouver and Ottawa — on how to best adapt the plant to the rapid urbanization of the immediate area.
The first stage of the wastewater treatment process is a machine that removes any man-made materials that get flushed including condoms, feminine hygiene products and diapers. This stage of the process is housed within a building containing the putrid smell within four walls.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
The Booth plant is also taking a dual approach to address air quality issues. It uses a combination of a carbon system and a biofilter to extract any pollutants or odourous elements from the air released from the initial vacuuming process. A live bacteria population is housed which devours the hydrogen sulfide released — the source of much of the odour. But the biofilter system only has about a 70 percent efficiency rate. This is combined with a carbon system which can eliminate everything. However, Glass stressed the biofilter is still necessary because the carbon system is expensive. Eliminating some of the problems with the biofilter will allow the existing carbon system to last longer.
“I was thinking,” he says, “there's a commercial right now, where a husband takes his wife and kids to a vacation. And then there's one of those cartoonists drawing a picture of the children and it's awful. And then the kids are unhappy, the wife is unhappy, because he went on a low cost vacation. Well, you shouldn't have even gone on that vacation. You should have kept your cash. So either do it well or don't do it at all. And that's the approach we're trying here.”
The anticipated cost is pegged at $190 million over the next decade. Glass said he spent some time debating with the Region and development consortium over what kind of cost sharing model would be the most appropriate. Given the proximity to the Lakeview Village project (which is under construction) the majority of the funding — 90 percent — will come in the form of development charges. However, since the upgrades will still provide better service for all of Peel Region, the remaining 10 percent will be added to existing customer utility bills. This puts Peel residents on the hook for approximately $19 million.
John Glass points to where two additional tanks are in the process of being built, bringing the total number at the plant to 15.
(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)
In addition to the odour control project, the Region of Peel is also undergoing Phase 1 construction to add additional capacity to the G.E. Booth plant. Two more tanks are being added to the northwest part of the grounds which will add approximately 120 million litres of capacity to accommodate a larger volume of wastewater coming from a growing population. The entire design concept has been planned out with the next 20 years in mind.
“The sizing of all the larger infrastructure, power systems, conduit systems, the air ducting is all sized for that ultimate, we're not having to come afterwards and take those things out,” Glass said.
Ultimately that could change under the guidance of Bill 23. Under the Ford government’s highly contentious housing Act, the Region of Peel is expected to add an additional 246,000 housing units — 120,000 in Mississauga, 113,000 in Brampton and 13,000 in Caledon in about seven years. Conservative estimates suggest that each additional household would produce approximately 775 litres of wastewater per day. That’s almost 20 million additional litres of waste everyday, if Ford reaches his housing targets by 2031.
Glass cautioned that he is in the business of providing infrastructure, not building homes. When analysis is completed to determine how much capacity is needed, it looks at development starts, not finished homes.
“We can be on time, but then the housing may not exist,” he said.
In the meantime, there is a holding label on the residential blocks closest to the wastewater facility that prohibit construction until the stench issue is resolved.
The lids and building construction for the task of masking the smell will be rolled out in phases as the facility needs operational tanks to keep up municipal services. The odour control is expected to roll out completely in 2027, consistent with the timeframe of the Lakeview Village development.
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