Biosolids Corner, April May June 2022 Issue                      By Diane Garvey

Status on Pre Draft Permit Changes and How to Prepare for Them


Information about these changes have been written in the last 3 issues of Biosolids Corner. The second quarter 2021 Biosolids Corner article on potential changes to general permits for land application of biosolids and septage requires an update. Land appliers will not be required to do a Nutrient Management Plan but they will be required to conduct the evaluation of the Phosphorus Index. This applies to exceptional and non-exceptional quality biosolids when the spreading is within the control of the permittee. It has not been decided if the biosolids that is simply delivered to the farm for free is considered within the control of the permittee. If used in reclamation, sold, given away in bulk, in a bag or other container the P Index is not required.


PADEP is meeting with various groups to discuss the Pre Draft changes and solicit input. The following is a list of groups from which DEP has requested feedback.


  • PADEP Biosolids Stakeholders Workgroup - This includes municipalities, WRRFs, biosolids specialists, and representatives of PSMA, PMAA, PWEA, PWEA Sections, and MABA.

~MABA Commented on PFAS only with plans to provide complete comments by April 15.

~EPWPCOA commented on PFAS, covered storage, trucked in wastes, and Phosphorus Index on January 10. These comments will be available on their web site. You may have to become a member to access them. Membership dues are $45 per year, what a great value!

~Other individuals and organizations on the stakeholder’s workgroup are expected to comment by April 15, 2022.

  • PADEP Agricultural Advisory Board (AAB) has just started discussing the P Index. There is no information regarding when they will submit comments.
  • PADEP Water Resources Advisory Committee (WRAC) has not provided DEP any feedback as of this writing (mid January’22).

Other activities that may affect the outcome of the proposed changes include;


PA House Resolution HR149 A Resolution directing the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) to study the costs and methods for permit holders to comply with the proposed revisions to General Permit PAG-07, General Permit PAG-08 and General Permit PAG-09 called for under Pennsylvania's Phase 3 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan and to strongly urge DEP for a moratorium on revisions to General Permit PAG-07, General Permit PAG-08 and General Permit PAG-09 until the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee reports its findings and conclusions to the House of Representatives. The resolution was passed by the Committee on Environmental Resources and Energy in December’21. It asks the LBFCto complete the evaluation in one year. At this writing, it is not yet on the agenda of the LBFC’s next meeting.


WIP 3 -Pennsylvania's Phase 3 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan was published in the PA Bulletin on December 31st. And guess what? It throws Biosolids under the bus! It says that Biosolids will be required to do the P Index Version 2 or current version. This means we don’t even have wiggle room to revise the P Index for biosolids. PSU’s Jen Weld (who is in charge of developing the P Index) was willing to consider a higher background P concentration but no, we are stuck with it. What is really ironic is that PA has already met their goals for P reduction in the Chesapeake Bay. PA is only not achieving goals for nitrogen and sediment to the Chesapeake.


What Is a Biosolids Manager to Do?


After attending four meetings with DEP Biosolids Stakeholders Workgroup and one meeting with the Agricultural Advisory Board, I do not see any willingness on DEPs part to make significant changes.


Plan on the cost of land application/ landfill disposal to double or triple. This is what happened in New England when land appliers were forced to discontinue land application. Many had to go to Canada! The smaller  plants will see the greatest % increase.

If you think it is the land application contractor’s problem because you have a multiple year contract think again. The contractors will be legally justified to claim force majeure and either walk away from the contract or negotiate a higher cost.

Try to lock in an agreement with a landfill or merchant biosolids processer to take all of your biosolids if necessary. Good luck with that!

Consider out-of-state disposal or recycling- NJ, MD and DE have even more strict land application regulations. New York has very little excess capacity in existing landfills or merchant processing facilities, so plan to truck to Ohio. It is a 400 to 500 mile trip one way from eastern PA and trucking costs are estimated at $2600 per truckload.

Hire an engineer to evaluate alternatives and estimate costs if land application is no longer feasible and local landfills do not have capacity. These costs could be shared with the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee if your engineer’s evaluation of alternatives is done soon enough.


Consider additional processing to produce a product that can be sold or given away. This product would have to be very low odor, dryer than sludge cake, stackable and safely stored without generating leachate, flammable or poisonous gas.

Consider buying a farm with low P soils and low soil loss. You would have to build covered storage and after biosolids is spread 5 to 6 times the soil phosphorus concentration will probably exceed 250 ppm. In my estimation, unless the farm is as flat as a pancake and has very low erosion, 250 or higher will result in a high P Index number and it would not be feasible to spread biosolids under the revised permits. You could then sell it and buy another farm. I know that’s a little ridiculous but at this stage we are just brainstorming.

Evaluate the possibility of storing the biosolids at the WRRF for 6 months. This could alleviate the requirement for covered storage at the farm. Considering the current shortage of trucks and drivers, I guess you would also have to own a fleet of trucks and hire drivers to get the biosolids to the farm during the short time frame when fields can be spread. This would be after harvest, before the ground freezes, and in the spring after the fields are dry enough to allow spreading equipment on the fields.

Budget for monitoring PFAS in your biosolids, the collection system and discharges from PFAS generating sewer users. Estimate $700 per sample plus $1000 dollars per sampling event to collect the samples.

Warn your customers that you will have to raise rates significantly due to potential changes to DEP Permits. I have heard that drinking water customers and electricity customers can be convinced that a rate hike is necessary but when you tell sewer users that rates will go up, they get really angry.

Let PADEP and your legislators know the impacts of the proposed permit changes.


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