In Brief / en bref....
- NEW report: Soil Pollution...
In May, the U.N. FAO raised concerns about soil pollution with a report and symposium. Biosolids use is discussed: “Considering that the positive effects of sewage sludge amendment – such as waste reduction, nutrient cycling, increase of soil fertility, improvement of soil structure and water holding capacity – are significantly more important than the negative effects, efforts should focus on reducing the content of pollutants in sewage sludge and wastewaters used for irrigation.”
– Rodríguez-Eugenio, N., McLaughlin, M. and Pennock, D. 2018. Soil Pollution: A Hidden Reality. Rome, FAO., p. 54
- Research: Water treatment residuals (WTR) reduce phosphorus runoff in Vermont studies.
According to the project final report, "With funding through the Vermont NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program (CIG), Northern Tilth and RMI completed agricultural field trials and a soil incubation study investigating the effectiveness of a Vermont-generated water treatment residual in reducing labile phosphorus concentrations in high phosphorus soils. The field trials included applying the alum-based water treatment residual (Al-WTR) to replicated plots on fields planted to silage corn on two Vermont farm fields (one in Essex and one in Williston), monitoring several labile forms of phosphorus, basic soil fertility, soil health parameters and crop yield and tissue analysis over the course of two field seasons.
"Both the field trials and the incubation study demonstrated that Al-WTRs can be effectively used to significantly reduce water soluble and modified Morgan phosphorus and, to a lesser extent, Mehlich III phosphorus and phosphorus saturation indices.... The Al-WTRs had no negative impacts on soil health or soil quality. In general, this research project indicates that Al-WTRs can be practically applied to soils in targeted, phosphorus sensitive agricultural areas (setback areas, buffer strips, and vegetated treatment areas) to reduce potential negative impacts from phosphorus on water quality, while improving soil health. Work completed for this study included a survey of Vermont water treatment plants to determine the amount of WTRs potentially available for use in agricultural projects. Results indicate that the amount available could be limiting.... Also included in this report are Best Management Practices using WTRs as a conservation practice to reduce phosphorus run-off from agricultural production." Contact NEBRA for more information.
Meanwhile, research on removing P from tile drainage systems using WTR and other materials was completed by Stone Environmental. Before she became Commissioner of VT DNR, Julie Moore provided an overview of the project in 2016, and the recently-released final report is here.
- Research: Nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions happen in agricultural settings, including from biosolids.
N2O is a greenhouse gas 300+ times more powerful than carbon dioxide (CO2), and whenever nitrogen fertilizer of any sort is added to soil, there is a chance for release of N2O to the atmosphere. As efforts continue to further improve the sustainability of biosolids applications to soils, researchers are trying to identify best practices for limiting N2O emissions from biosolids-amended sites. Researchers from Washington State University and University of Washington recently reported on experiments on plots in western Washington, an area with a damp, temperate climate, comparing emissions from fertilizer, compost, and biosolids applications. "This study showed highly variable and relatively low N2O emissions from the different types of biosolids products tested. Emissions were well below default values for all products except for the incorporated [heat-dried biosolids] pellets. Surface application versus incorporation resulted in similar emissions for all biosolids products except for the pellets. Variability in the emissions from the incorporated pellets was also very high. Our estimates for annual emissions are based on a limited sampling, soon after application, and so are likely well above what annual emissions would be. There was no clear relationship between soil nitrate and ammonium and emissions. Incorporating the biosolids generally increased soil nitrate compared with surface application. These results suggest that there may be low potential for N2O emissions from biosolids applied to soils west of the Cascades."
NEBRA members can contact the NEBRA office for more information and a copy of the research summary.
- In June, 2018, Granby, MA residents raised concerns about biosolids and residuals reclamation activity, even though it was not planned and no permit was applied for. Casella Organics had to clarify that, although they had had discussions last year with the Granby Bow & Gun Club about a possible reclamation project, they had dropped the plan back then. The Bow & Gun Club was not clear on this, and mentioned "Biomix" - the biosolids and residuals product - in a letter to the town, explaining the Club's plans for improving the soil on part of their land. Local concerned citizens are still considering local restrictions on biosolids use, despite there being no proposed use at this time.
- Politics & biosolids - New York
"We've never seen something like this in the state before," says the newscaster about a proposed biosolids facility as he interviewed a New York Assemblyman who played politics with biosolids this spring. Of course, the fact is, NY has many biosolids facilities. The legislation mentioned is not going anywhere. But we need to keep publicizing biosolids management activities proactively to avoid such misunderstandings.
Keep communicating with neighbors to avoid upsets!
TV news covers concerned citizen opposition in Pennsylvania. Another example of the ongoing need to communicate biosolids management activities proactively.
- The Global GAP standard - an international guidance for farmers that currently precludes biosolids use...
Biosolids groups having been trying to communicate with food producing and marketing organizations about the benefits of biosolids use, to advance acceptance of properly treated biosolids as a "normal agricultural practice" (as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court described it). For example, in 2014, NEBRA and others reached out - unsuccessfully – to Whole Foods Market when they announced an anti-biosolids policy.
Currently, the Global GAP does not allow biosolids use in its international crop production standards. Greg Kester, California Association of Sanitation Agencies (CASA), has been leading a national working group to re-introduce biosolids for consideration under the Global GAP's Harmonized Produce Safety Standard (HPSS). On June 28th, he met with a US technical working group for Global GAP, providing a proposal that Global GAP adopt a similar standard as what the U. S. Food and Drug Administration did under the Food Safety Modernization Act: accepting biosolids when compliant with US federal regulations at 40 CFR Part 503. These US standards can provide a safe and efficient baseline of testing, treatment, and management practices for use of biosolids anywhere in the world. By adopting this kind of standard for the farmers who ascribe to the Global GAP system, this updated policy would advance the export/import of agricultural products, including those grown with the aid of biosolids. Greg's proposal met with some resistance from the technical working group, because, they said, food companies - marketers and distributers - are concerned about the perception related to biosolids. They did not have any technical arguments against biosolids use. NEBRA is on the national working group for this discussion with Global GAP.
Organic v. conventionally-grown food: "no meaningful differences"
A recent article in Bon Appetit notes that, in a 2012 review of the literature, "researchers at Stanford University conducted a systematic review of all the research published in the medical literature between 1996 and 2009 that compared organic and conventionally grown foods.... A total of 223 studies compared the nutritional content and contaminants (such as bacteria, pesticides, fungi, and heavy metals) in foods grown organically and foods grown conventionally. One hundred fifty-three of these studies looked at fruits, vegetables, and grains; seventy-one looked at meat, poultry, and eggs; some overlapped. On both of these metrics—nutritional content and contaminants—the Stanford researchers found no meaningful differences between organic and non-organic foods." Read the Bon Appetit article.