Oklahoma City biosolids land application program, 2016

Biosolids Recycling Affirmed Once Again

There continue to be court actions and formal state reviews that confirm the safety and effectiveness of biosolids recycling to soils.  Most notable: Kern County, Pennsylvania, and now, once again, Virginia.

Last year, a decade-long legal battle in Kern County, CA ended with a strong endorsement of biosolids when a superior court struck down a county ban, stating “the overwhelming weight of the evidence is that there is no basis in fact for any determination that land application of biosolids poses any risk to Kern County residents, let alone a real and substantial risk that would be alleviated by banning such land application.”  This case involved extensive testimony and hearings on the technical basis for land application of biosolids.  During the years of litigation, biosolids land application in Kern County was never interrupted, and Los Angeles and other southern California WRRFs continue to rely on Kern and other land application sites for biosolids management.

Likewise, in 2015, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared that biosolids land application on farms is “a normal agricultural activity.”

In 2016, a Virginia court threw out a challenge to that state’s biosolids regulations.

In June, 2017, a statewide review of biosolids management in Pennsylvania was completed; it was mandated by the state legislature.  It confirmed many of the benefits of land application (less costly than landfill disposal or incineration, benefits to farmers) and made only one major recommendation: that “DEP should modify its General Operating Permit requirements to require biosolids generators to develop odor management plans covering both the operating facility and the receiving sites.”  (Odors have been, and are, the Achilles heel of biosolids recycling programs; their proper management is critical for success.)  The report is available at http://lbfc.legis.state.pa.us/Reports.cfm?ReportID=301.

And, in October, a review of Virginia’s biosolids regulations and practices by a joint legislative committee (JLARC), which was mandated by the Virginia legislature, found: “Land application of biosolids and industrial residuals poses some risk to human health and water quality, but the risk is low under current state regulations.”  The authors reviewed more than 150 recent scientific papers and interviewed numerous scientists with varying perspectives on biosolids.  The report found Virginia’s regulatory oversight, with numerous inspections, to be robust, and it detailed the benefits that biosolids recycling provides.  It noted, however, that there has been little epidemiological research and recommends that such a study be funded.  Additional evaluation of the risk of aerosol transmission of pathogens from Class B biosolids was also recommended. A response to the JLARC report's overemphasis on aerosol transmission and the challenge of conducting meaningful epidemiological research is being developed.  The report is available at http://jlarc.virginia.gov/landing-biosolids-2017.asp