Vermont Biosolids Forum

November 5, 2013 Vermont Forum on Biosolids Land Application  (video of full forum, below)

On November 5th, Vermont DEC held a Biosolids Forum to explore concerns raised by a few local citizens about the recycling of biosolids to soils.  St. Leo’s Hall in Waterbury, VT, was packed with representatives from DEC, biosolids generators and consultants, farmers, concerned citizens, several interest groups, and NEBRA representatives.  The atmosphere was both positive and collaborative regarding the benefits of biosolids.  Farmers from Essex and Stowe explained the benefits they receive from using biosolids: slow-release nutrients, reduced chemical fertilizer needs, and significant cost savings; Lorenzo Whitcomb saves $100/acre on fertilizer costs by using Essex Junction biosolids.  

A video (3 hrs, 15 mins) of the forum is available for online viewing; click to the NEBRA "Home" page to access the Vermont Access Network recording of the Vermont DEC Biosolids Forum.

Charley Hanson of Resource Management Inc. (Holderness, NH) pointed out that synthetic fertilizer costs have risen 619% since 1990, and biosolids, rich in phosphorous and nitrogen, is a long-proven alternative that recycles local nutrients.  Josh Tyler of Chittenden Solid Waste District (CSWD) indicated that the city of Burlington could save $51,000 to $68,000 if they changed from landfill disposal and, instead, shipped their biosolids to the new Casella Organics lime-stabilization facility in Chateaugay, NY for treatment and land application (CSWD is likely to enter into a contract for such services this winter).  Jeff McBurnie (Casella Organics) stressed that, as population increases, our sustainability depends on wise recycling of resources. Land application of well-managed and treated biosolids reduces the burden to limited capacity landfills.  Ned Beecher of NEBRA addressed the most significant concern being raised by a few local citizens: microconstituents in biosolids.   He stressed that toxicity is determined by dose, transport, and fate of biosolids constituents, and research to date does not indicate any likely significant harm to human heath or environmental organisms from these biosolids-borne trace contaminants.  Abe Noe-Hays of the Rich Earth Institute gave testimony regarding the value of source-separated urine as fertilizer, which they are demonstrating in a pilot project in Brattleboro.

During most of 2013, there have been one or two vocal biosolids opponents writing letters to editors, legislators, and biosolids managers.  Despite being included on the agenda of the forum, the two most prominent objectors did not show up.  So, in the end, only two of the more than 80 forum attendees spoke against biosolids recycling.  Naomi Leary, representing Toxics Action Center and Vermonters Against Toxic Sludge, suggested urine diverting dehydration private toilets with door-to-door collection as a solution to replace the current wastewater infrastructure that these organizations consider toxic.  Ross Saxton (Lake Champlain International, Burlington, VT) urged caution, saying that there is not enough research regarding the safety of biosolids use.

The November forum also served to introduce the beginning of a process to revise the state’s biosolids rules.   Those rules mostly predate the 20-year-old US EPA 40 CFR Part 503 regulations and include more restrictive standards for molybdenum, chromium, and arsenic (the latter standard was applied recently).  Vermont also has more frequent and stringent monitoring requirements.  The state will soon announce the start of the pre-rule-making process, which could lead to new rules late in 2014.  Those in attendance at the November forum spoke out in favor of revising the rules to current standards and best practices that ensure continued support of land application.  As Beecher noted, the state’s biosolids recycling rate is at 29%; there is much room for improvement, and new biosolids rules will either help or hinder the state in reaching its goal of keeping more organic residuals out of landfills.

Two weeks after the DEC biosolids forum, the CSWD Commissioners held their own biosolids education session, with some of the same speakers presenting.  Again, the most vocal opponent to biosolids use was on the agenda, but did not appear.  CSWD General Manager Tom Moreau and Project Manager Josh Tyler added a summary of their extensive review of the research literature, especially regarding microconstituents in biosolids. The Commissioners will vote at their December meeting regarding whether or not to proceed with a 5-year contract with Casella Organics to have Burlington and some other area community biosolids treated at a new lime-stabilization facility in Chateugay, NY and used in farm land application programs in that region.