2016 Biosolids Resolution

The New Year seems to impel me to both seek advice and offer advice for living an improved life.

My first bit of advice for you: resolve to join the Soil Science Society. 

If you join the SSS you will get CSA News and the Journal of Environmental Quality. I guarantee you this is worthy investment.

I was prompted to offer this advice by the edition of CSA News I received this week, with a feature describing the health value of “pulse,” that is dried edible legumes. The article, From Afterthought to Staple: Expanding use of pulses as food ingredient in U.S. diets, pointed to an important environmental issue: “this move from beans to beef is unsustainable. Increased demand for animal-derived proteins means a corresponding demand for the water and crops needed to grow those animals. The idea that billions of people on earth will be able to get their protein from pork chops and steak isn’t just unsustainable, Thompson says, ‘it’s ridiculous.’”

In my last Biosolids in the News (December 16) I had pointed to the non-sustainability of the world’s move toward vastly increased chicken production for increasing protein in human diets. Pulses may be the solution to the world demand for more protein.

But if new of pulses is not enough to get you to join the SSS, I would point you to the CSA News feature article on the fabulous work by our Chicago colleague Dr. Lakhawinder Hundal with uses of biosolids for urban soil preparation (Getting to the root of urban tree health).  This was an article in last month’s CSA News.

Getting back to pulses, one interesting aspect of the article was its discussion of pulse marketing, or lack thereof. The article pointed to the effectiveness of national promotions for other “staples” of the American diet.  Got Milk! and the “Other White Meat” were promotions by national associations of producers. There is no “national dry edible bean organization.” As a partial consequence, instead of pulses occupying 25% of the American diet, the proportion is a meager 5%.

Take my advice: resolve to eat more dried beans.

This brings me to the issue of biosolids communications, or lack thereof. We have no national organization dealing with organic residuals. In the December 16th Biosolids in the News I had made a similar observation that, in face of the acknowledged environmental and health risks posed by animal manure, no nationally focused organization is studying the issues of residuals and advocating for their proper management.  Is this not true, too, of the biosolids profession? We have opened a conversation in 2015 around a national communications program for biosolids, but…

I take from this: resolve to develop a national biosolids communications strategy.

Another item brought to my attention in the new year was in the Philadelphia Inquirer this past Saturday (1/9/2016) entitled )  “5 questions: The biggest infectious disease threat” It is not Ebola, rather it is antibiotic resistant pathogens, or “superbugs.”

I would not have been paying much attention to this issue, nor would I have connected it to our work in biosolids, but for last year’s start of the WERF High Quality Biosolids research project, of which I am a team member.  We have on our team a world expert on the mechanisms for spread of antibiotic resistance. This is Dr. Ludek Zurek, at Kansas State University. Dr. Zurek’s observation is that the housefly is a vector for spread of antibiotic resistance genes, and manure (and biosolids also, for that matter) is the source of superbugs for houseflies. Manure is a runway for superbug transmission, and the world has no strategy for erecting a barrier on this runway.

My Biosolids in the News of December 1, 2015 went through this a bit, but it deserves a 2016 repeat. Heavy use of antibiotics pushes the evolution of human pathogens toward genes that express antibiotic resistance. Our excreta carry these genes through the waste treatment process, and markers for antibiotic resistant genes are measured in biosolids. When houseflies are attracted to biosolids, they carry off the biosolids-borne microbes and their antibiotic resistant genes out into the world, regurgitating and hence inoculating these genes onto organic waste and tasty food on picnic tables. This is not good.

I take from this the advice: resolve to work toward complete vector attraction reduction.

As a consequence of having re-entered this week the complicated world of vector attraction reduction, which is at the heart of our High Quality Biosolids project, I found myself with inadequate time to throw myself into the other challenge of 2016 that arose unexpectedly.  A few key persons in the biosolids community organized by WEF are reviewing proposed changes to a 588 page document from the  Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), “DRAFT TOXICOLOGICAL PROFILE FOR POLYBROMINATED DIPHENYL ETHERS (PBDEs).” This compound, PBDEs,  is one that I provided a breezy review of in “Sounding the Alarm,” in Biosolids in the News back on March 20, 2015. An extraordinary aspect of the ATSDR draft is its pejorative language with respect to land application of biosolids, saying that PBDEs are disposed at treatment plants and biosolids are disposed on land.  While extraordinary, this bias was predictable, based on the authorship of the original journal articles on which it is based, and WEF hopes it is correctable.

I take from this the advice: resolve to be forever vigilant for opportunities to correct biosolids misinformation.

I received word from one of our allied environmental professionals of an interesting meeting coming up in Pennsylvania. This is “Spotlight on Organics Management,” a one-day session, February 26th, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Harrisburg, PA. It is organized by the Pennsylvania Recycling Markets Center. I recognize many of the speakers, persons active in soil management, composting and bioenergy in the Mid-Atlantic region. Where was MABA and the WEF member associations in the creation of a conference that has such potential for cross-fertilization of information?

I take from this the advice: resolve to be more engaged with other environmental professions.

I always seem to do this. I create a set of resolutions for the New Year that are nearly overwhelming.

 Let’s go back to something easy: resolve to fully recover the resource value of biosolids.