Advice for Generators Contracting Biosolids Services
by Greg Kester*
I was recently asked for advice from a municipality entering into a contract for biosolids management. I may have a bit of a different perspective since I am a former regulator. My beliefs however, are rooted in a firm commitment to the viability of land application (including Class B) and maintaining credible and strong programs.
My basic recommendations are as follow:
Never assume transfer of liability via a contract. This is especially true if the contractor is not changing the characteristics of the biosolids (ie, becoming a generator themselves). A fundamental flaw in the early years of biosolids management was an attempt to wave goodbye to biosolids and liability at the POTW gate and assume the contractor would properly manage the biosolids from that point forward. We had many cases when low bid contractors did not manage biosolids correctly and this led to local ordinances, public distrust, and bad management. It is ultimately in the best interest of the POTW to maintain some level of oversight and liability over the actions of the contractor.
Different states allow different levels of liability transfer, but federal rules are clear that the generator maintains ultimate responsibility. If you are contracting with a third party who will be changing the characteristics of the biosolids through further treatment, like composting, then they become a generator and would become permitted as such. I would argue that even in this case, if mismanagement occurred by the third party, the originating municipality could still bear some liability.
I would always argue for a cradle-to-grave mindset on the part of municipalities, even if not strictly required by law. It ensures integrity at every level.
With respect to biosolids quality, the ultimate disposition should be articulated in the contract dependent on meeting specifications (ie, land application, landfill, further treatment, etc. and under what circumstances). In this manner, the contractor is fully aware that if land application specifications are not met, another option must be employed.
It is certainly fine to allow the contractor discretion as to which land application sites might be used, or even which disposition method to use. I would argue that they simply be in contact with the generator to ensure all parties are on the same page.
I would also recommend that contracts be awarded based on experience and a proven track record and not to be tied to the lowest bid, if at all possible. You can ensure low-ball bids that cut corners by including detailed expectations and responsibilities for high quality practices in the request for bids.
Director of Renewable Resource Programs
CA Association of Sanitation Agencies