MidAtlantic Biosolids Association
Biosolids NewsClips - May 30, 2023

NewsClips is filled with important articles from around the region and the world. This edition includes some positive and informative articles, including articles about interest, advancements, and upgrades in biosolids technologies and handling at WWTPs across the globe, as well as local initiatives to facilitate information sharing within communities.

Unfortunately, there are many less-than-positive articles in this edition, including articles about issues at facilities and within local communities, as well as issues surrounding concern and conversation about PFAS, and the ongoing developments in Maine. 

Stay tuned for more information from MABA.  

Biosolids News 

Mahoning Township approves sludge request
Mahoning Township, PA (20 Apr 2023) - Mahoning Township has adopted a resolution to oppose the use of treated sewage sludge as fertilizer for landscaping or agriculture. Carol Etheridge, of Save Carbon County, attended a recent meeting “to educate the public” about the toxic issues with biosolids (sewage sludge), which is human waste that’s been treated.
PFAS levels concerning from sampling data near sewage sludge sites: Casella says levels are ‘miniscule’
Steuben County, NY (21 Apr 2023) - Every water sample from 32 private wells near or adjacent to Steuben County fields that have been spread with municipal sewage sludge contained PFAS chemicals, recent independent testing found. And water sources near fields that have had sludge spread since the 1980s had consistently higher levels of the ‘forever chemicals’ than sources adjacent to fields where sludge spreading began 30 years later.
Hochul admin projecting major expansion of sewage sludge spreading as fertilizer on farmland
Seneca Falls, NY (28 Apr 2023) - The Hochul Administration’s new plan to recycle 85 percent of the state’s entire solid waste stream by 2050 relies on spreading more — much more — municipal sewage sludge on fields as a crop fertilizer.
Dozens at meeting, hearing on applications for mining, reclamation work in western Schuylkill County
Tremont, PA (18 May 2023) - More than 50 residents turned out Wednesday for a public meeting and hearing on three pending applications for mining and reclamation work in Frailey, Hegins and Porter townships. Among the concerns residents raised at the session in the Tremont municipal building was how the work could affect water runoff and drinking water.
‘Forever chemicals’ found in fertilizer raise concerns
Mayo, MD (22 May 2023) - Spring is planting time for farmers and home gardeners alike. They usually give their soil a dose of fertilizer to help their sprouts grow. For some, that might mean applying biosolids. Biosolids are created from sewage sludge at wastewater treatment plants that has been treated to remove disease-causing pathogens and some pollutants. Hundreds of thousands of tons of it are produced annually at facilities across the Chesapeake Bay watershed and applied to cropland, pastures and gardens.
Maine Representatives propose PFAS solutions
Bangor, ME (24 Apr 2023) - Toxic forever chemicals known as PFAS can be found in everyday materials from nonstick cookware to stain-resistant carpets - and sometimes in Maine drinking water. As prevalent as PFAS can be, the inadvertent effects and potential solutions are perhaps just as wide-ranging. Ellsworth wastewater director Mike Harris says bills passed last year that banned the practice of composting biosolids, as well as the transportation of out-of-state trash into Maine, have changed the way they do business.
Sludge crisis to impact sewer rate payers’ bills come July
Across Maine, sewer rate payers are starting to see increases to cover the cost of the sludge crisis
Lawmakers clash over bill to delay out-of-state trash ban
Maine legislature considers pause in landmark landfill law
To address sludge crisis, Maine officials back delaying restrictions on out-of-state waste
Portland Water District looks to create facility to treat PFAS contamination
'People are scandalized:' Maine sludge shipments lead to oversight push in New Brunswick
Half of the $60M state PFAS response fund may go directly to farmers with contaminated land
Cost to help Maine farmers affected by PFAS estimated at $82 million
Maine wildlife officials reduce area of PFAS concern in Fairfield, Skowhegan
Augusta, ME (24 Apr 2023) - The state has significantly reduced the size of an area in central Maine in which it had previously warned of potentially harmful chemicals in deer and wild turkeys. In November 2021, the state issued a warning that covered 125 square miles in parts of Fairfield and Skowhegan. They were concerned about the presence of PFAS in the animals harvested in those areas and warned against eating the meat. After testing 60 deer and 51 wild turkeys harvested in the area, the state has reduced the advisory to 25 square miles.
State lawmakers eye bill to protect soil, farms from PFAS
Northhampton, MA (15 May 2023) - PFAS contamination from using treated sludge as a fertilizer, leaving the so-called forever chemicals in the soil and groundwater, has forced the closure of dairy farms in Maine and impacted more than 50 farms in that state.While similar action of closing farms to address the impact of PFAS is not being proposed in Massachusetts, a bill sponsored by Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, and Rep. Paul Schmid, D-Westport, is advocating for the testing of sewage sludge, also known as biosolids, putting warning labels on products containing PFAS, and providing money to help farmers access alternatives to these products.
Raleigh buses will soon be powered by human waste
Raleigh, NC (21 Apr 2023) - City buses will soon be powered by gas made from human waste. It's one of the perks of an upgrade to Raleigh’s wastewater treatment system that will help the city save money and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Now, the utility is in the process of converting to an anaerobic system featuring a thermal hydrolysis process that acts like a giant pressure cooker. The process will also create a renewable natural gas that will be captured and put into the pipeline to fuel an estimated 50 to 70 GoRaleigh buses each day.
The Elk River Wastewater Treatment Plant: What happens after the flush?
Eureka, CA (22 Apr 2023) - The Elk River Wastewater Treatment Plant is beautiful, in an industrial art-deco kind of way. It has massive white tubes, odor-proofed, that pipe the stuff we flush down toilets through the different stages of treatment. The water slowly gets clearer as it moves through the systems, ending in a pond frequented by birds.
Coldwater and area farmer working together to dispose of biosolids
Coldwater, MI (24 Apr 2023) - Area farmer Brian Sexton and his son Chad are working to prepare fields for planting this spring. That includes injecting biosolids in liquid form from the Coldwater Board of Public Utilities Wastewater plant before planting the 600 acres. After the cost of traditional fertilizers spiked last year, Sexton said, “It’s very effective as far as that goes, economically effective.”
Wizz Air backs production of SAF from sewage sludge
London, England (24 Apr 2023) - Wizz Air is investing £5 million into sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) research and development.The budget carrier is backing biofuels firm Firefly Green Fuels to supply SAF to its UK operations from 2028, with up to 525,000 tonnes over 15 years. The agreement has the potential to save the equivalent of 1.5 million tonnes of CO2.
Campaigners hit out at use of sewage as fertiliser, claiming it simply moves pollution around
London, England (26 Apr 2023) - River campaigners in Wales have hit out at the practice of spreading waste from sewage treatment works on farmland, warning that a lack of oversight means it risks further damaging polluted rivers. They warned that many of Wales’s watercourses were already saturated with nutrients and that the human waste was likely to be contaminated with “forever chemicals”, microplastics and pharmaceuticals. The practice of giving so-called biosolids to farmers is widespread in the water industry as a way of disposing of the vast amounts of sludge it produces each year.
Concerned citizens organize biosolids meeting
Warren County, SC (27 Apr 2023) - A local group of concerned citizens are meeting to learn more about the usage of biosolid fertilizers within Van Buren, Warren and surrounding counties. Biosolid fertilizer is a by-product of sewage treatment facilities and has been used locally, at no cost to farmers, for several years. The smell and concerns for public safety have brought a group of locals together on Facebook. The online group was started on March 1 and has quickly grown to over 100 members.
Biosolid refinement bill glides to Senate
Tampa Bay, FL (28 Apr 2023) - At least 10% of funds would go to projects in rural areas of opportunity.
Legislation to encourage better refinement of human solid waste is on its way to the Senate after passing the House this week. There were no questions or debate on the floor. There are Class AA, A and B biosolids, and the bill (HB 1405) facilitates wastewater treatment plants pursuing the higher-quality product.
Fears sewage sludge fertiliser polluting farmland and food with 'forever chemicals'
Glasgow, Scotland (1 May 2023) - Using sewage sludge as fertiliser could be polluting farmland and food with “forever chemicals” and microplastics, a group of charities says. A report by eco coalition Scottish Environment LINK has demanded stronger regulations. Farmers use the sludge, a by-product of wastewater treatment, as a low-cost, natural fertiliser for soil. It said it was better than using environmentally-damaging chemical fertilisers but stressed tighter rules are necessary to monitor contaminants.
Fort Wayne Biosolids Facility helps keep materials out of landfills, turns them into reusable products
Fort Wayne, IN (5 May 2023) - Fort Wayne has a facility where materials are processed and reused for other purposes. Located on Lake Avenue, The Fort Wayne Biosolids facility spans 300 acres and uses materials like wood and concrete, which would typically go to landfills, and turns them into materials like mulch, biosolids and rocks used for reconstructing roads.
City of Austin gives back to the planet by repurposing 2023 winter storm debris
Austin, TX (8 May 2023) - Since the 2023 winter storm, Austin Resource Recovery continues to pick up all the debris. With the help of outside contractors, the City of Austin has collected nearly 170,000 tons of storm debris – enough to fill Q2 Stadium about four times. Not shutting down has helped keep operations running, but there's so much debris that it will take months to process all of it. While the process to get rid of the debris will take a while, all of the tree limbs and branches will be given back to the Earth through "Dillo Dirt."
Nebraska researchers conduct largest biochar field trial in the state
Lincoln, NE (10 May 2023) - Compared to other soil amendments, biochar stands out. This material, produced by pyrolysis of waste wood or other organic waste material, can reliably increase soil organic matter content in the long-term without needing repeated applications and has exciting potential to enhance carbon sequestration in soil. Despite receiving increased attention both from researchers and the public, biochar is still relatively new and the effectiveness of this treatment for larger-scale agricultural operations remains underexamined.
Metro St. Louis sewer district plan improving air quality rejected by county councilman
St. Louis, MO (11 May 2023) - The Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) received backlash from a St. Louis County councilman on its plan to upgrade systems at its Bissell Point and Lemay Wastewater Treatment Plants on Thursday. With MSD Project Clear, the company plans to spend $900 million on new biosolid systems with construction expected to begin by the end of 2023.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency takes action to address forever chemicals in the environment
Ottawa, Ontario (19 May 2023) - In keeping with its mandate to protect the health and safety of Canadians and the environment, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is initiating the process to implement an interim standard for domestic and imported biosolids contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) or "forever chemicals" sold in Canada as commercial fertilizers.
Beyond the Circular Economy:  
Celebrating the Role of Biosolids in Climate Mitigation
Provided for consideration to MABA members by
Bill Toffey, Effluential Synergies, LLC

The consensus among scientists is that a planetary emergency threatens all present and future generations (Climate Endgame: Exploring catastrophic climate change scenarios). Ours is a species with a human-carbon nature out of context with Earth’s capacity to withstand GHG emissions and resource extraction.  Our future will inevitably be defined not by expansion but by contraction, and we must learn to reduce our “take” from Nature and increase our “give” in terms of energy and natural resources (An Inconvenient Apocalypse: Environmental Collapse, Climate Crisis, and the Fate of Humanity).  We can do all of this, if in a modest way, with biosolids.

Our global response to the climate challenge is to reduce depletion of resources by directing waste back  into production – a practice that is now called the Circular Economy. A circular economy reduces the amount of waste produced by creating valuable products out of traditional waste streams.  Water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs), at the confluence of carbon, nutrient and water flows, can directly contribute to a circular economy by producing clean water, nutrients, renewable energy, and other valuable bio-based materials from wastewater.  The reduction of resource extraction directly connects to steps needed to reduce emissions of climate changing gases (The role of the circular economy in climate mitigation). 

Our professional organizations are taking on the circular economy. WEF has announced: “We must expand water’s role in the circular economy,” and the US Water Alliance promotes “Net Zero” emissions.  We hold up examples in our very own region of public agencies recovering nutrients and energy. Hermitage Food Waste to Energy Facility in western Pennsylvania has deployed its robust two-phase thermophilic anaerobic digesters to become a central processor for commercial food wastes, selling substantial electricity back to the grid.  Rahway Valley Sewerage Authority in New Jersey is in partnership with Waste Management to accept an “engineered bioslurry” into its anaerobic digesters, powering large internal combustion engine generators, and deploying waste heat to make a dried biosolids soil product. Phosphorus extraction from centrate is underway at Hampton Roads Sanitation District in Virginia Beach and in York County, Pennsylvania, using the Ostara PEARL process to produce a granular struvite fertilizer.  Landis Sewerage Authority in Vineland, New Jersey, is the region’s “greenest” WRRF, with not only enhanced biogas and electricity generation from high strength organic waste acceptance, hosting wind generators and solar PV panels, engaged in aquifer injection of its effluent,  and biosolids use on agency-owned farm fields – a full recycling of nutrients, carbon and water. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its Working Group III 2021 report Mitigation of Climate Change. Among the many practices in this 3,000+ page report is the capture of carbon in soil and biomass. We practitioners know that biosolids is a meaningful ingredient for doing so. The newly released BEAM 2.0 (Biosolids Emission Assessment Model) is a tool available to WRRFs to plan for and to select treatment technologies and biosolids use projects that best respond to the urgent need to respond to the IPCC challenge.  

Ranking well as a technology for GHG mitigation in BEAM is composting. Composting has shown itself to be a robust and resilient technology for biosolids processing. It is available at all scales and has been proven over many decades to build soil, replace fossil fuel-based fertilizers, and support local agriculture.  WRRF compost plants and merchant plants in Virginia (McGill), Maryland (Veolia), Pennsylvania (JP Mascaro), New Jersey (Denali) and New York (Denali) have for nearly 40 years supplied biosolids-based soil products to mid-Atlantic customers, and new facilities are under development in eastern Pennsylvania (McGill) and southern New Jersey (Synagro).  Importantly, compost is an ingredient in engineered soils that are useful in the “green infrastructure,” helping cities manage increased stormwater and rising urban heat. That biosolids compost can be applied to a variety of soil and biomass improvement projects is a factor in its importance in the circular economy.

Biosolids is a potential ingredient in land restoration,  a major category of climate mitigation actions.  Researchers in soil health, land rehabilitation and ecosystem restoration have studied the field-scale results of biosolids use, thereby lending credibility to its use in climate mitigation projects.  A sound research basis is necessary for biosolids to be part of the vibrant, emerging international Voluntary Carbon Market to accomplish greenhouse gas reductions. This is through a system of protocols accepted by financial markets for Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) for Carbon Management.  Protocols have been issued in recent years as a foundation for NBS , such as the American Carbon Registry for carbon accounting, the Verra Soil Carbon Standard, and the Carbon Action Reserve Soil Enrichment Protocol.  

The precise role of biosolids in soil carbon is still a matter of scientific discussion. While soil scientists explore new avenues of inquiry into soil carbon biochemistry, and while the fate of the carbon fraction of biosolids may still not be fully understood, less subject to debate is the field results of biosolids used to support bioenergy crop production on disturbed landscapes. The work of Sylvis Environmental at its BIOSALIX project in Alberta, Canada, is seminal for its focus on soil carbon and biomass production.

In the heavily urbanized Mid-Atlantic region, thermal conversion processes seem to be drawing entrepreneurial talent and public agency champions. The element of the circular economy ethos at play here is the embrace of technology that optimizes for thorough elimination of waste hazards, capture of pure water and elements, and output of useful products. Thermal processes follow along a gradient of increasing temperatures and pressures, with or without water as a matrix, accomplishing destruction of organic micropollutants (perhaps even recalcitrant ones in the PFAS group), elimination of microorganisms (including pathogens), production of sterile water and salts, and, in some technologies, yield of a char or biochar that can be applied beneficially for soil health improvement. 

A wide array of first-of-a-kind thermal projects are close to home in the Mid-Atlantic.  Somax Circular Solutions (hydrothermal carbonization) is under construction in Pottstown, PA.  Bioforcetech (biodrying and pyrolysis) is under construction at Ephrata Borough.  Ecoremedy completed a gasifier demonstration in Morrisville, PA, and moved its equipment to the state of Washington.  Aries Clean Technologies remains hopeful it will soon complete its gasifier at the Linden-Roselle WRRF in New Jersey.  EarthCare is developing a merchant gasifier in Bethel, PA, fed by animal rendering wastes as well as WRRF solids.  Biowaste Pyrolysis Systems is in a shake out period for its Schenectady (NY) installation. On the West Coast U.S., 374Water is underway with a project in Orange County, CA, and Genifuel has a hydrothermal liquefaction demonstration facility at Metro Vancouver, BC.  Should any one or more of these ventures prove successful, a transformative circular economy technology will likely be embraced by WRRFs nationwide, and especially in the mid-Atlantic. 

The key to altering humanity’s course on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions is to win the broad collaboration of the public and business enterprises (A public information campaign on the climate crisis is urgently needed).  Jonathan Safran Foer, the author of We Are The Weather, quips that “the planetary crisis hasn’t proved a good story. It not only fails to convert us, it fails to interest us.”  We practitioners in biosolids management have the same dilemma: wastewater, like climate change, is an aspect of daily experience in which all humans participate, but about which no one really wants to be reminded.  Communication specialists have suggested that the problem needs to be discussed in small pieces, with a local angle, with an invitation to participate, and with a message connecting to the big picture (SUFFICIENCY ECONOMY Envisioning a prosperous descent).  In that regard, social media posts are very popular for #compost, #urbanfarming, and #cleanwater, but not for #biosolids. 

Biosolids goes beyond the circular economy when it connects to local projects that make a difference today for people where they live. Yes, biosolids are meaningful in the very large global view of climate change when they decrease fossil fuel use, mitigate greenhouse gases, and sequester carbon. Yet our role may be more immediate and imaginable.  Biosolids soil products can be offered to communities as a “circular economy” tool for planting tree-covered heat islands, installing rain gardens for managing extreme storms, upgrading urban soils to the effects of drought and building soils for sustainable local food production.  Biosolids is THE manifestation of the “circular economy” at work today in many communities.  We need to celebrate and tell this as our primary message of biosolids management. 

Bill Toffey has over 40 years’ experience in municipal wastewater, environmental and energy management. He is the principal of Effluential Synergies LLC, a sustainable residuals consultancy, and until the beginning of 2022 served as the Executive Director of the Mid Atlantic Biosolids Association, a trade group that covers seven states and supports an industry with 800 biosolids generators and 1,800 biosolids practitioners. 

To view the MABA September 2022 Webinar: Beyond the Circular Economy: Framing Biosolids Recycling at The Food-Energy-Water Nexus, with Bill Toffey presenting, visit https://youtu.be/Ol4-gyBWMpo 

Do you have information, articles, or research to share about or with MABA members?Are you or a colleague interested in sharing a guest article for MABA members?
Contact Mary Firestone at [email protected] or 845-901-7905.

May 2023 - Sally Brown Research Library & Commentary

Sally Brown

Provided for consideration to MABA members by
Sally Brown, PhD., University of Washington

Environmental Justice

Welcome to spring and planting season! Time for something other than doom and gloom. Yet another example (and here I give it away) where we are the solution and not the problem. Environmental justice (EJ) is a real thing. Soil contamination is a real thing. The question is how and where do they intersect. The second question is where biosolids and composts fit into this picture. Urban soil contamination in the context of community gardens and urban agriculture is the focus of the May 2023 library. This is an important topic and an opportunity. Plus, I needed a break from PFAS. 

urban agricultures

There is a professor at University of Washington Bothell named Melanie Malone. She is the first author of the first article in the library: Uprooting urban garden contamination. In fact, this is her second paper on the topic. The first and a close contender for the library is: Seeking justice, eating toxics: overlooked contaminants in urban community gardens. In both papers, Dr. Malone reports on soil and compost sampling from community gardens in Seattle. The second paper includes data on plant concentration of the different contaminants that the authors have identified. I am not used to considering soil contamination through the lens of environmental justice. When I first saw one of these papers, I had the opposite reaction. I thought that the soils that were sampled were clean by urban standards. 

If you look at the figure below, the green line across the graph is the EPA ecological screening level that the authors refers to throughout. The purple line - higher than the green line - is the background concentration of Pb (lead) in Puget Sound. In other words, Malone is calling background concentrations of Pb in Puget Sound a cause for concern. Also note that the EPA 503 number for Pb in biosolids is 300 ppm. Dr. Malone also reports on high concentrations of diesel fuel and motor oil in compost. 

lead malone study

Now - these publications have many people in Seattle food policy scared of soils, scared of composts and not knowing what to do. You want to do the right thing, but what is the right thing? 

The second paper is another look at EJ and soils, this one is based in Ohio. Paper #2: Application of Citizen Science risk communication tools in a vulnerable urban community talk about soil contamination in the context of an underserved community in Columbus, OH. The authors give a great summary of exactly what environmental justice means and what the term refers to. You get to learn a new vocabulary word, albeit too long to ever appear in Wordle: ‘Exposome’ - the measure of all the exposures of an individual in a lifetime and how those exposures relate to health. 

In the case of EJ, soil contamination is just one of a long list of added health stresses that can impact people of color and people of poverty. The figure below shows how this translates into health metrics:

health impact

This paper was a team effort and involved people from multiple disciplines including public health and soil scientists. Efforts centered on a community in Columbus where a majority of the residents were both poor and black. Soil samples were collected and multiple elements were above background (As, Cd, Cu, Pb, Mo, Se, Tl and Zn) but all were below risk based residential screening levels. One thing to note here is that residential soil screening levels (400 ppm) are much higher here than in the Malone et al paper. Average Pb concentration in the soils was 160 +/- 48 ppm. Each of the residents who volunteered for this study was given a card with this on the front and their soil results (in relation to Ohio soils and regional screening levels) on the back.

study card

An email was provided for questions but there was no answer to ‘What do I do now’ type of questions. 

Article #3 : Urban Soil Safety Policies: The Next Frontier for Mitigating Lead Exposures and Promoting Sustainable Food Production takes a deep dive into regulatory and policy guidance across the US. The authors are focused on the 40 most populated cities and their recommendations for safe soil and what to do in the event that soil Pb is over background. What the authors found was that advice and guidance limits were all over the map. While it makes for a pretty, colorful, table, it certainly doesn’t help you sleep easy.

urban soil safety diagram

So, what do you do? You have people in the Seattle area, desperately wanting to do the right thing from an EJ perspective. You have people in OH starting a conversation but leaving it dangling. And based on paper #3, these two cities are fairly representative of the country as a whole. 

Thank goodness for paper #4: Safety of gardening on lead - and arsenic - contaminated urban brownfields. This paper is part of a series on growing food on urban soils with Pb, As and in one case PAH contamination. This particular paper reports on results from plots in Seattle and Tacoma. Cedar Grove compost and Tagro were added to the soils, as were limestone and fertilizer. As those of us who have gardened with organics already know - the amendments made a huge difference. They diluted both the total soil Pb and As. They also altered the mineral form of the Pb, making it less hazardous to people. They lowered crop uptake of metals. Finally, for the Tagro they got a tremendous yield response. 


This is something that many of us have experienced first-hand. 

And that takes us to the last paper Growing Gardens in Shrinking Cities: A Solution to the Soil Lead Problem? Here the authors note that if you have an abandoned lot and want to grow food, soil lead can be an obstacle. But they also recognize that turning that lot green and growing food is a fabulous thing. Other studies, not in the library this month (but just ask) have shown that well maintained greenspace in urban areas reduces crime and improves physical and mental health. Other studies have shown that urban gardens – community gardens, improve access to healthy food. In other words, all issues that are central to EJ concerns. What makes me so fond of this paper, is that it suggests that taking care of soil so that it can productively grow food, will simultaneously reduce any hazards associated with elevated metals in the soil. Now we are really talking about May flowers!

Sally Brown is a Research Associate Professor at the University of Washington, and she is also a columnist and editorial board member for BioCycle magazine. 


Do you have information or research to share with MABA members? Looking for other research focus or ideas?

Contact Mary Firestone at [email protected] or 845-901-7905.

<< first < Prev 1 2 Next > last >>

Page 1 of 2