Biosolids Corner For Keystone Water Quality Manager October, November, December 2022 Issue By Diane Garvey
Questions Farmers are Asking about the Safety of Biosolids
There was an article on PFAS in the May 28th edition of Lancaster Farming which was informative, but left out some important points. It leaves farmers questioning the safety of biosolids and whether it might be contaminated with PFAS. I’d like to address those questions.
PFAS come from businesses and homes like yours and mine. PFAS are contained in many household products and materials including carpets, clothing, cosmetics, paper products, food packaging, and cookware. It's even found in household dust. Studies have shown that household dust contains higher concentrations of PFAS than today’s typical biosolids. When asked how to reduce exposure to PFAS, one researcher said to get rid of carpets. Typical biosolids contain small amounts of PFAS.
The May 28 Lancaster Farming article mentioned a contaminated Maine dairy farm. Years ago, certain industrial manufacturers used large quantities of PFAS. Tanneries and paper mills were big users of PFAS chemicals. In the case of the Maine dairy farm, 30 years ago a WRRF received a high percentage of its wastewater from a pulp and paper mill that made coated paper plates. The wastewater residuals from that plant contained high levels of PFAS.
Today’s WRRFs are very different from the WRRFs of 30 years ago. Regulations and modern processes have improved considerably, and awareness is high. Sadly, Maine has chosen to discontinue the use of biosolids recycling. Many nurserymen, farmers, and even the Maine Farm Bureau have opposed the move. In an article in the Portland Press Herald newspaper they pointed out “… making knee-jerk and blanket generalizations in a panic never leads to good policy. It only creates bigger problems than the ones we currently face.”
The article goes on to say; “Today, the use of biosolids is regulated far more closely – and is far safer – than 30 years ago. Research and investigations indicate that typical biosolids with no direct large industrial inputs (of PFAS) are unlikely to impact ground and surface waters at levels above U. S. EPA’s health advisory level for drinking water, even with repeated applications. Today, the PFAS conveyed in wastewater, biosolids and other residuals is similar to numerous other incidental, minor releases of PFAS to the environment.”
There is good news. The manufacture of PFOA and PFOS was phased out between 2011 and 2015 and that has resulted in significantly declining levels of PFAS concentrations in the environment, including levels in wastewater and biosolids. Likewise, human blood samples have shown decreased levels.
Biosolids serve an important purpose. They allow WRRFs to recycle a source of nutrients that would otherwise go to waste. WRRFs must adhere to strict regulations on the processing of biosolids and are tested on a regular basis. It returns valuable nutrients to the soil and enhances conditions for vegetative growth..Furthermore, the use of biosolids on farmland reduces the amount of wastewater solids disposed of in landfills. That in turn reduces the costs to the community, reduces the production of greenhouse gases, and affords space in landfills for other types of waste.
For more information on PFAS and biosolids, farmers can visit the websites of the Mid Atlantic Biosolids Association; MAbiosolids.org/biosolids-faqs-and-facts, and the North East Biosolids and Residuals Association; nebiosolids.org/pfas-biosolids
 water resource recovery facility (WRRF), or wastewater treatment plant (WWTP)
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News & Events
Diane Garvey was recently awarded the David A. Long Memorial Educational Service Award by the Pennsylvania Water Environment Association!
This award was established in honor of Dr. David A. Long in recognition of his lifelong service and dedication toward the education and training of wastewater and water treatment plant operators and environmental professionals.
This award is presented to individuals who distinguish themselves through their efforts and contributions to the education of water quality professionals.
DC Water has launched its new branded biosolids product: BLOOM. And you can learn about this project at the new website:
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