Biosolids Training and Certification Courses

This is a HUGE opportunity, posted just days ago, so act now!

Teach Yourself Deep Learning with TensorFlow and Udacity.   Deep learning has become one of the hottest topics in machine learning in recent years. With TensorFlow, the deep learning platform that we recently released as an open-source project, our goal was to bring the capabilities of deep learning to everyone.”

Why wouldn’t everyone want “deep learning?” But what the heck is it?  It is what has Google rolling out driverless cars. It is what has medical imagining equipment more successfully identifying skin cancers than board certified dermatologists. It is what has operator-less wastewater plants working so well. Just joking about this last one. Google is providing inexpensive, often free training to the entire world. This is how exciting innovation is fostered globally!

I was on a search for great examples for on-line course work on the basics of biosolids land application, particularly videos. I found pitches for new centrifuges, and I found happy stories about biosolids use, particularly wonderful ones for Loop.

But I did not find many detailed on-line instructions on best practices for production of good quality biosolids and for its application to land.  I did not find courses on biosolids use that were verified by course exams and documented with certificates of completion.

I did, however, find many interesting, vaguely related stuff.

You can become a certified master gardener.  State universities throughout the MABA region offer coursework. Virginia Tech offers its Master Gardener Program, as do Extension Services for Penn StateRutgersCornell andUniversity of Maryland. But, if you want to learn to be a master gardener on-line, you need to go to the Pacific Northwest, of course, as in Oregon’s on-line Master Gardener Online.

You can become a certified master composter.  The Master Composter/Soil Builder Program in an on-line program offered by Seattle Tilth, also from the computer savvy Pacific Northwest. Like gardening, each state and some municipalities offer compost certification.

Google is very distracting.  I found a slew of other fascinating on-line training programs.

You can become a certified master marijuana grower. Check out the Online Certification Course at CTU, that is the Cannabis Training University, and you can even work toward your Medical Marijuana Certificate, offered by the TMCIGlobal (The Medical Cannabis Institute).

How about a being a certified master beer drinker?  You can join the exclusive club of 2,500 Certified Cicerones; start your program by taking a free, 8 session online course on the chemistry of beer, and, can you believe it, you can work toward a certificate in beer and food pairing!

Wow! Mastering gardens, composting, marijuana and beer, from the comfort of your home and with a certificate to prove your accomplishment!

But what if you want to be a certified master biosolids manager?  This will take some digging.

A number of years ago a team of us worked with the Association of Boards of Certification to create the Land Appliers Certification Exam and a companion WEF/ABC Biosolids Land Appliers Guide to Preparing for the Certification Examination. But these tools and exams are not on-line and their use has languished.

The Water Environment Federation (WEF) is an important source of biosolids training, but mostly for managers and engineers.  WEF offers engineering type education, including a large number of “distance learning” modules, one which is Solids Handling, and for which engineers can obtain professional development hours, or PDHs. WEF also sells, for a rather steep $600 ($400 for members), its Biosolids Management Bundle, based on the Biosolids Environmental Management System (BEMS). This is a high-level, management type cut at biosolids practices, not qualifying for PDHs or CEUs.   The National Biosolids Partnership, now a program of WEF, produced a webcast in October 2012 called “BIOSOLIDS 101” -- Fundamentals of Practice. This is available for free view on WEF’s YouTube channel, the playlist of “Webcasts of the Month,” number 16 of 19, and offering 1.75 hours of PDH credits. You need to hunt for it by name to find it.

Several states do biosolids land application training.  Of the seven states in the MABA region, biosolids courses are provided by the environmental agencies in two. Pennsylvania DEP has its “Land Application of Biosolids Training Course,” generally offered in classroom settings twice annually, and Virginia DEQ offers classes in “Biosolids Land Applicator Certification Training and Exam,“  both for initial certification and continuing education.  Field operators and supervisors in these states are required to undergo training, and state coursework provides drilling on actions necessary for compliance with regulations. These courses are necessarily well attended by local operators, but they even attract practitioners from outside states.

State requirements to maintain professional engineer licenses create demand for courses and training, biosolids one among many topics. These requirements may be met by attendance at professional conferences, including MABA’s, but a second avenue is online training.  One such avenue is provided by PDHOnline, an education firm that offers two biosolids courses. Both are presented by talented senior operator, Jim Newton, at the Kent (DE) County Public Works. These are: C267 Land Application of Biosolids/Septage and C402 Operations of Municipal WWTPs:Solids Processes, and each will set you back $200. Jim has been a prodigious course instructor, with a hundred or so in his quiver, most not in wastewater, ranging in length from one hour to eight, including one on co-digestion.

State universities provide limited biosolids training.  Most state extension services limit their outreach to issuing technical bulletins on field application practices (e.g., Pennsylvania’s on Biosolids Quality was pretty good, for its day, some 20 years ago).  Virginia has put some energy into a more modern, webinar-type instruction. Still available on a link through WebEx is Land Application of Biosolids, three one-hour episodes hosted and led by Dr. Greg Evanylo, covering the character of biosolids, aspects of potential environmental effects, and its use and management. I recommend the series, though it is rather simple, designed more for local officials than for practitioners.

I still have this underlying unanswered question: how are treatment plant operators and field application technicians getting their training? This important group, the very employees directly responsible for careful, compliant biosolids generation and utilization, are not served, at least not consistently, by convenient training opportunities. The Eastern PA Water Pollution Control Operators Association has two biosolids courses approved by the Pennsylvania DEP to meet continuing education unit requirements for operator licensing. But the courses are seldom held, and some of the volunteer instructors have retired.  Similarly, the Maryland Center for Environmental Training offers one course on “Solids Handling,” at its Harford County location, most likely handling in-plant topics.

With the rapid growth of new, convenient training tools, we as an environmental practice ought to be doing better.  If we commit to a high level of performance in biosolids generation and utilization. with attractive, odor-free product, with landowners happy with productive soils, and supportive neighbors, we need a highly-trained and diligent workforce. Smart phones, webinars, on-line courses, customized feedback…  these are available widely in much of today’s world. How can we apply these tools to providing training for our workforce?

Why are we so late to the on-line training and certification? I have been told the most important missing element is the lack of state-level mandate for such training and certification. In today’s anti-government climate, it’s a far stretch to expect that to change any time soon. What we are left with is a need for inspired leadership for training coming from within our profession.

Marijuana growers and beer drinkers can muster this “professional” self-training, and I believe we can, too. Perhaps we need a clever marketing twist. Let’s call this program, for instance, the Certified Residual Application Professional.  C.R.A.P. could give us a reason to be proud.