More Than Serendipity Needed - Biosolids Advocacy

I didn’t expect any remarkable coincidence when wolfing down morning cereal, facing a late departure for the NJWEA biosolids session last Thursday.  It was too early for the Philadelphia Inquirer, so I opened Chemical & Engineering News from the stack of yesterday’s mail.  In a matter of moments I had found three articles that were total apropos of the topic I was speaking on in Atlantic City, i.e., the important role of industrial pretreatment for biosolids quality in the past, but with a sermon at the end about the importance of working for even further contaminant reductions.

I rather suspect few of your readers of Biosolids in the News are also readers of C&E News. But, really, the American Chemical Society has a membership group that is totaly aligned with the kind of topics in which we are engaged. In fact, Ned Beecher and I were very, very close to submitting a proposal for the August 2015 National Meeting of the ACS, for a session titled Reclamation, Remediation, Restoration: Novel Approaches to Environmental Challenges.”  We were too late; next year we will do it.  With “environmental chemistry” as one significant division, C&E News magazines often has articles of interest. But three in one issue, that is special. And serendipitous.

First, the article, “To Flush or Not to Flush,” covered the lawsuit by the wastewater agency of the city of Wyoming, Minnesota, against Proctor & Gamble and Kimberly Clark for damages from sewers and pumps clogged with “flushable” wipes. The second, “Skin Antiseptics Under Scrutiny,” had a similar theme, in that the FDA is requesting that manufacturers of antiseptics test their safety to health care workers who are subject to high exposure. The third was a note under “Government Roundup” in which a “coalition of scientists and environmentalists” called for restrictions on use of perfluoroalkyl substances used for stain resistance and waterproofing. This last was just a note, but C&EN has covered this topic recently in “EPA To Regulate Some Perfluorinated Chemicals.” These are not new issues to us, I don’t think. These are products that, once used, end up down the drain. But the novelty was not in the aspect of potential harm from these consumer products but from a different angle. In the articles, each product was being defended by a trade association.  For the baby wipes, there is the Association of Nonwoven Fabrics Industry.  For the perfluoroalkyls, there is the FluoroCouncil.  For the sanitizers, there is the American Cleaning Institute.

I found the “wipes” industry particularly engaging:

“INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, serves hundreds of member companies in the nonwovens / engineered fabrics industry doing business globally.  Since 1968, INDA networking events have helped members connect, innovate and develop their businesses.”

It’s International conference is next month, and is called WOW, World of Wipes.  “Flushability” is a major issue. INDA has a “flushability webpage,” where INDA has describes its test methods for flushability and advises its members on proper labeling and instructions for users. This is what it says:

“It is important that even products which are likely to be flushed (even though not designed to be), and products which do not meet our Guidelines are labeled “Do Not Flush”.  This is why we developed a voluntary Code of Practice which includes a “Do Not Flush” logo for companies to use on product packaging. Clear communication on packaging will help to educate consumers on the proper disposal route for products and prevent costly problems at home and at wastewater treatment facilities.”

If you squint, metaphorically, you can almost hear the kind of language we use around biosolids, particularly aspects of odor nuisances.  Yet, when Wyoming began its lawsuit, INDA stepped up to the defense of its membership, even when, at first blush (or wipe) its members may not be conforming to its recommendations.

The quick point I would like to make is that every “product” has its national industry standard-setting and advocacy organization. This is true for baby wipes, and, as we are learning, new adult wipes product market. But it is not yet true for biosolids. Like for wipes, we have some national industry standards. They are mostly 22 years old, and they consist of minimum performance standards to protect health and the environment.  They are specifically not established to reflect the “tastes” of the consumer marketplace.

And our profession has shied away from advocacy.  Our trade associations focus on supporting their members with professional training and networking. But their focus is distinctly not on defending biosolids in the media and stepping up with active messages for the positive benefits of recovering resources from our used water. Let’s turn this situation around and develop an advocacy program for biosolids.  A good venue to start this will be at the WEF/IWA Residuals and Biosolids Conference 2015.  Look for Ned Beecher, Greg Kester, Maile Lono-Batura or me to have a discussion with you on a proposal for a national communications director. Also, listen for information about an upcoming study sponsored by the Water Environment Research Foundation on High Quality Biosolids. I am a part of the team recently selected for this project, and among my roles in the study is to create an audience from among the nation’s biosolids managers for the study results we will be producing over the next two years. What is more, we will be looking for advice as to lessons learned in meeting customer needs and establishing positive public support.

What we need is more than serendipitous support for biosolids. We need biosolids advocacy.