WOOSTER, Ohio — The lagoon being planned by Quasar Energy Group and a local farmer has drawn a lot of attention. While there are many lagoons across Wayne County and in the agricultural community in general, this one is different because it will contain processed municipal, human and animal waste. The biggest concern appears to be over biosolids, or processed sewage sludge.
According to Quasar, the lagoon will contain less than 20 percent biosolids, which are first processed at wastewater treatment plants, and secondly, inside the company’s anaerobic digester in Wooster.
The use of biosolids by agriculture is regulated by the U.S. EPA and the Ohio EPA. Here are some answers to the most common questions regarding biosolids.
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What are biosolids?
Biosolids are nutrient-rich organic material resulting from the treatment of sewage sludge. When treated and processed, biosolids can be recycled and applied as fertilizer to improve and maintain productive soils and stimulate plant growth.
Why do we have biosolids?
We have biosolids as a result of the wastewater treatment process. Water treatment technology has made our water safer for recreation and fish harvesting. Just 30 years ago, thousands of American cities dumped their raw sewage directly into the nation’s rivers, lakes, and bays. Through regulation of this dumping, local governments are now required to treat wastewater and to make the decision whether to recycle biosolids as fertilizer, incinerate them, or bury them in a landfill.
Where do they come from?
Once the wastewater reaches the treatment plant, the sewage goes through physical, chemical and biological processes which clean the wastewater and remove water from the solids. If necessary, the solids are then treated with lime to raise the pH level to eliminate objectionable odors. The wastewater treatment process sanitizes wastewater solids to control pathogens (disease-causing organisms, such as certain bacteria, viruses and parasites) and other organisms capable of transporting disease.
Where are biosolids used?
Farmers and gardeners have been recycling biosolids for ages. Biosolids recycling is the process of beneficially using treated the treated residuals from wastewater treatment to promote the growth of agricultural crops, fertilize gardens and parks and reclaim mining sites. Land application of biosolids takes place in all 50 states.
The application of biosolids reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. About 50 percent of all biosolids are being recycled to land. These biosolids are used on less than one percent of the nation’s agricultural land.
Do biosolids smell?
Biosolids may have their own distinctive odor depending on the type of treatment it has been through. Some biosolids may have only a slight, musty-ammonia odor. Others have a stronger odor that may be offensive to some people. Much of the odor is caused by compounds containing sulfur and ammonia, both of which are plant nutrients.
Are biosolids safe?
The National Academy of Sciences has reviewed current practices, public health concerns and regulator standards, and has concluded that the use of these materials in the production of crops for human consumption, when practiced in accordance with existing federal guidelines and regulations, “presents negligible risk to the consumer, to crop production and to the environment.”
To determine whether biosolids can be applied to a particular farm, an evaluation of the site’s suitability is generally performed by the land applicator. The evaluation examines water supplies, soil characteristics, slopes, vegetation, crop needs and the distances to surface and groundwater.
There are different rules for different classes of biosolids. Class A biosolids contain no detectable levels of pathogens. Class A biosolids only have to apply for permits to ensure that the basic standards have been met.
Class B biosolids are treated but still contain detectable levels of pathogens. There are buffer requirements, public access and crop harvesting restrictions for virtually all forms of Class B biosolids.
Nutrient management planning ensures that the appropriate quantity and quality of biosolids are land applied to the farmland.
The biosolids application is specifically calculated to match the nutrient uptake requirements of the particular crop. Nutrient management technicians work with the farm community to assure proper land application and nutrient control.
Are there buffer requirements or restrictions on public access?
In general, exceptional quality (Class A) biosolids used in small quantities by general public have no buffer requirements, crop type, crop harvesting or site access restrictions. When used in bulk, Class A biosolids are subject to buffer requirements, but not to crop harvesting restrictions.
In general, there are buffer requirements, public access, and crop harvesting restrictions for virtually all forms of Class B biosolids (treated but still containing detectable levels of pathogens).
Biosolids have been used successfully at mine sites to establish sustainable vegetation. Not only does the organic matter, inorganic matrix and nutrients present in the biosolids reduce the bioavailability of toxic substances often found in highly disturbed mine soils, but also regenerate the soil layer.
In forested areas, biosolids have also been found to promote rapid timber growth, allowing quicker and more efficient harvest of an important natural resource.
Biosolids can also be composted and sold or distributed for use on lawns and home gardens. Most biosolids composts, are highly desirable products that are easy to store, transport and use.
Can anyone apply biosolids to land?
Anyone who wants to use biosolids for land application must comply with all relevant federal and state regulations. In some cases a permit may be required.
Where can I find out more about regulations?
The biosolids rule is described in the EPA publication, A Plain English Guide to the EPA Part 503 Biosolids Rule. The EPA has also prepared A Guide to the Biosolids Risk Assessments for the EPA Part 503 Rule, which shows the many steps followed to develop a scientifically defensible, safe set of rules.
And you can learn more online at www.epa.gov/biosolids.
Related coverage: Wayne County residents oppose waste lagoon (March 15, 2018).
• Wiles lagoon stirs debate in Wayne County (March 1, 2018).