Biosolids SPOTLIGHT: A focus on the people of biosolids who work in our region

SPOTLIGHT on Biosolids Users

Our commitment to RESOURCE RECOVERY is only as genuine as we have people out in the field using our biosolids products for soil improvement and plant growth. The May SPOTLIGHT is on these "customers" of biosolids who every day are working on projects to put biosolids to good use. Four profiles are offered below, but we hope to have many more in the future.


Strong client relations and premium compost are two key ingredients to Rodney Hopkins’s success with Innovative Turf Application and Consulting (ITAC), a company he founded outside of Richmond, Virginia. ITAC is a premiere turf company, with a highly trained staff, offering services tailored to turf demands of athletic fields.  ITAC has had success with its use of McGill SoilBuilder Premium Compost in sports field management.  According to Hopkins, the biosolids-based compost positively impacts soil structure which in turn improves moisture retention, producing a result that both ITAC and its customers quickly realized as a major benefit and positive alternative to synthetic products. ITAC counts some of the best athletic fields in Virginia as its clients, with a strong focus on building and maintaining the best athletic fields, utilizing biosolids based product as a key part of that success.


Peter Price, raised on a beef and veal farm in rural Bradford County, Pennsylvania, is the ultimate biosolids guy. He is a big biosolids user, with his father and siblings moving the family farm operation from that of hay purchaser to that of hay seller, through the great yields afforded by biosolids pellets.  He is also a biosolids expert, serving as Technical Services Manager for Synagro in Maryland and Pennsylvania, where he and his team (Corinne Darragh, Daniel Rohe, Amy Welker and Kevin Smeltz) are responsible for land base management, permit and registration processing, regulatory compliance, and community relations.  In his spare time, Peter keeps bees, scuba dives, and works toward his private pilot license. He resides in East Coventry, Chester County, with his wife Natasha and their three sons – Rowan, Peyton and Braeden.   



Leroy Zimmerman is owner of Custom Ag Service, LLC, a company out of Marietta, PA, that applies lime and manure for farmers in Pennsylvania.  Importantly for the biosolids profession, Leroy has applied biosolids to farms in eastern Pennsylvania for well over 30 years. He has recently been spreading heat-dried biosolids pellets, using equipment of his own design that reduces dust release.  He has been a key part of the distribution program for the Clean & Green Recycling Corporation, a merchant dryer operation in Lindenhurst, Long Island, NY. Leroy has been providing pellets to farmers in the northeastern quadrant of Pennsylvania, which is not as over-supplied with manure as is the southcentral region. He works with biosolids specialist, Diane Garvey, Garvey Resources, Inc, under a distribution program authorized by PADEP General Permit 7 for Exceptional Quality Biosolids. Diane provides Leroy support with compliance with nutrient management, notification, recordkeeping and reporting requirements.


Mark Younkins connects the anaerobically digested cake produced by Capital Region Water AWTF in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with farmers such as Mahlon Lapp, in Lancaster County. Although the son of health care professionals in State College, Mark was instead inspired to seek a career that offered time in the outdoors and in agriculture, and thereby completed a soil science option in the Environmental Resource Management program at Penn State. Mark found a great match with the biosolids services offered by his employer, Material Matters, Inc. Mark’s role is to provide the logistics of matching the farmer’s windows of  landspreading opportunity with truck deliveries, WRRF cake production with field staging or on‐farm storage. He also oversees biosolids spreading at the farm sites under Pennsylvania’s General Permit, flagging of field setback boundaries, setting biosolids application rates, and complying with recordkeeping and regulatory requirements. In a real sense, Mark makes the connection between biosolids and soil.



Spotlight July 2020 - Heroes in Biosolids Sales

Ron Alexander in his July 16th MABA webinar presentation ("Biosolids End-Use – Intersection of Carbon Recycling, Soil Health and Nutrient Addition") assailed our industry for its failure to "sell" biosolids. Yet, we do have a few heroes in our midst who are out there every day doing the hard work of selling biosolids.  Here are a few of them.

April Thompson -

April Thompson is the Director of Marketing for Blue Drop which is distributing DC Water's Bloom Soil product.  She states, "I have worn many hats and worked for many causes throughout my career; the common thread is a focus on harnessing market forces for the greater good. After a  successful stint as a freelance journalist in my early life, 15 years ago I switched gears to focus on international issues, working in food security and poverty reduction in Africa, building on my master's in international development and MBA in sustainable business.  But a year ago, I decided to apply my background to issues literally in my backyard - helping build the market for DC Water's line of branded biosolids fertilizer products, Bloom as Director of Marketing and Sales. It's a multifaceted role that changes every day - on any given day I might be cold calling prospects, developing advertising campaigns, improving workflows in our CRM system, or forging new partnerships with the various industries we target with our product lines. I’m also proud of some of the high profile customers that we’ve converted to Bloom, including George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, the American Horticultural Society, the National Zoo, and Catholic University." 



 John Kelly - 

John Kelly is the Director of Product Development and Sales for Casella Organics.  He tells us, "My 30 years’ experience in sales, marketing, and product development of compost and soil amendment products reached a milestone this past June.  At the Hawk Ridge Compost Facility, in Unity, Maine, we celebrated the sale of our 2 millionth cubic yard of compost. With Casella, I have enjoyed developing over 20 products, including innovative blends of compost-enhanced soil products for the marketplace. One of my career highlights is the Product Specifications Book for architects and engineers to use Casella Organics products, particularly for turf topdressing, specialty bio-retention mixes, biofilter media, and erosion control. I have found creative uses for ingredients that are regionally available, such as wood ash, seaweed, and short paper fibers. I have been able to do this in a location that I love, the coast of Maine, where I am an avid cyclist, tennis player, surfer and windsurfer and where I explore the coast for the best wind and perfect wave."

 Ryan Cerrato -

Ryan Cerrato serves as the Director of Product Marketing for WeCare Denali and has been responsible for the sale of hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of WeCare Compost®.  He states, "I graduated in 2006 with a B.S. from East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.  I spent a brief amount of time in the Environmental sector, but quickly found myself working in Financial Sales.  After 5 years of fast-paced Financial Sales Management, I decided to get back into the Environmental sector, but use my sales skills to do so.  I began my career with WeCare in 2013 selling biosolids compost in the North-East.  My career with WeCare thus far has been challenging and exciting.  WeCare merged with Denali Water Solutions in 2016, and we have seen exponential growth.  I currently serve as the Vice President of Product Marketing and oversee all the sales, branding, and marketing of our products, many of which include the use of biosolids compost.  My claim to fame is being featured in a Vice Report titled ‘You Don’t Know Shit’, which focuses on the beneficial use of NYC biosolids, and the many markets we make for the product.  The video has over 2.5 million views on YouTube.  I currently reside in Garnet Valley, PA with my wife of 10 years, and my son who will be 5 in January."

Tim Chronister - 

Tim Chronister is the Land Application Coordinator for Jesse Baro, Inc., located in Douglassville, PA.  Tim tells us, "My entire career, spanning over 40 years, has been with biosolids, and I have seen it all. Those years have been divided among employment with a municipal treatment plant, with a biosolids consultant and, for the last 12 years, with Jesse Baro, a central Pennsylvania biosolids service company. Over those four decades I have been responsible for finding customers involving all major final outlets -- agricultural, land reclamation, composting, and landfill disposal – and I have engaged in all types of customer, community, and regulatory “communications.” In thinking back among the many challenges, one stands out. Upon a one-day notice (!), Jesse Baro took on an out-of-state land application project for up to 1,000 tons weekly of anaerobically digested cake. This involved all trucking arrangements and multiple application sites; I helped manage this for 18 months.  I was grateful once we got the project set up, so I could return my attention to my growing next generation (the grandkids), to riding dirt bikes and hunting at our central PA cabin and to spending time at the shore in Manasquan, NJ. 


Steve McMahon -

Steve McMahon, a resident of the Tappahannock, VA, area since 1996, says this about himself: I have been employed in the biosolids business since 1989.  During my first 27-years with Synagro, I gained experience and knowledge of biosolids management as a Technical Services Manager, covering the region from Virginia to Florida.  I worked with many agricultural and forest producers in utilizing biosolids products to fertilize crops.  This experience over many years made it an easy transition into Product Marketing Specialist, a position I have held with Synagro since 2016.  I manage to sell approximately 32,000 tons of Granulite fertilizer for Synagro, from 5 heat drying facilities, to customers in the Mid-Atlantic region.  A large majority of this customer market is rooted in agriculture; however, sales continue to increase in the turf and fertilizer markets.  In my spare time away from Synagro, I enjoy the outdoors with the family, boating, fishing, and hunting, as this picture shows.”  






SPOTLIGHT on Sustainable Environment Research Laboratory

Had the coronavirus pandemic not torpedoed the WEF Residuals and Biosolids Conference early April, many of us would have witnessed the outpouring of great research of the Sustainable Environment Research Laboratory (SERL), Virginia Tech’s northern campus. SERL is closely working with utilities and consulting firms to develop innovative environmental technologies and prepare a quality workforce capable of solving real world problems. With some luck, WEF will offered again these SERL papers:

  • “Anaerobic digestion process intensification using temperature-phased anaerobic digestion and thermal hydrolysis”
  • “Effect of thermal hydrolysis pretreatment on recalcitrant dissolved organic nitrogen contents quantified after anaerobic and aerobic treatment”
  • “A comprehensive examination of the dewaterability of aerobic granular sludge cultivated in continuous flow bioreactors fed with real domestic wastewater”
  • “Identification of Source and Cause of the Biosolids Odor Emission in Western Branch Water Resource Recovery Facility of Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission”
  • “A comprehensive examination of the dewaterability of aerobic granular sludge cultivated in continuous flow bioreactors fed with real domestic wastewater”
  • “Effect of THP and Anaerobic Digestion on the Dewatering Behavior of WAS and Primary Biosolids”

Leading the amazing work at SERL is Dr. Zhiwu (Drew) Wang, Ph.D., P.E., Assistant Professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 9408 Prince William St. Manassas, VA 20110-5670, Phone: (703) 361-5606 Ext. 119,: [email protected].  Dr. Wang’s research portfolio focuses on the development of advanced municipal sludge management technologies for intensifying anaerobic digester capacity1,2, mitigating biosolids odors3,4, enhancing cake dewaterability3,5-7, recovering nutrients5,6, mitigating emerging contaminants8,9, etc. His studies provide insight into engineered processes specifically designed for wastewater treatment10,11 and value-added bioproducts recovery12,13. Most importantly, Dr. Wang is seeding our profession with many new scientists. 

Here are the several new biosolids researchers:

Dr. Dian Zhang ([email protected]) joined Dr. Wang’s team back in 2017. He just successfully defended his Ph.D. dissertation titled “Effects of process intensification techniques on biosolids management“ in March and will join Stantec’s Fairfax office as a civil engineer in June. During his Ph.D. study, Dr. Zhang worked with Arlington Water Pollution Control Plant, Alexandria Renew Enterprises, and Upper Occoquan Service Authority (UOSA) to investigate: Effect of solids retention time, shear force, and storage time on the polymer consumption, odor emission, and sludge dewaterability3; Recalcitrant dissolved organic nitrogen formation in thermal hydrolysis pretreatment8; Using cerium chloride to control soluble orthophosphate concentration and improve the dewaterability of sludge5,6and Kinetic modeling of the anaerobic digestion4

Dr. Yewei Sun ([email protected]) joined Dr. Wang’s team back in 2016.  He just successfully defended his Ph.D. dissertation titled “Advanced Biofilm and Aerobic Granulation Technologies for Water and Wastewater Treatment” in March and will join Hazen & Sawyer’s Fairfax office as Scientist in June. Dr. Sun performed his Ph.D. research in Upper Occoquan Service Authority (UOSA) on the topic of aerobic granular sludge which holds promise to revolutionize the wastewater and biosolids industry for its advantageous settleability10 and dewaterability7 over the traditional activated sludge.


Mr. Jeffrey Nicholson ([email protected]) joined Dr. Wang's team as a PhD student in 2019. He received his B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Virginia Tech. Jeff is working with both the Hampton Roads Sanitation District (HRSD) and Matt Higgins at Bucknell University. His research is focused on identifying the parameters and fundamental mechanisms that control the dewatering and polymer demand of biosolids with respect to the effects of biological phosphorus removal, thermal hydrolysis pretreatment and anaerobic digestion.

Mr. Hao Luo ([email protected]) joined Dr. Wang’s team as a Ph.D. student in Spring 2019.  He received his B.S. in Environmental Science from Kunming University of Science & Technology in 2014 and his M.S. in Science & Technology from Southeastern Louisiana University in 2017. Hao has been working with Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) on the research to identify the source and cause of the biosolids odor emission in the Western Branch Water Resource Recovery Facility. He is also working on a project funded by Virginia Tech Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science on the topic of biomass phosphorus recovery and immobilization to be used as slow-releasing fertilizer.

 Mr. Jiefu Wang ([email protected]) joined Dr. Wang’s team as a Ph.D. student in Fall 2019. He received his B.E. in Environmental Engineering from Beijing University of Chemical Technology in 2017 and M.E. in Water, Waste & Environmental Engineering from University College Dublin in 2018.  He is continuing Dr. Dian Zhang’s effort on the topics of process intensification of anaerobic digestion through temperature phased anaerobic digestion and/or thermal hydrolysis pretreatment in collaboration with Arlington Water Pollution Control Plant and Alexandria Renew Enterprises. Meanwhile, Jiefu is also making effort to understand the effect of cationic polymer on the performance of microbial communities in anaerobic digesters as a result of thermal hydrolysis pretreatment. 

Mr. Zhaohui An ([email protected]) joined Dr. Wang’s team as a Ph.D. student in Fall 2018. He received his B.E. in Environmental Engineering from Tongji University in 2017 and M.S. in Civil Engineering from University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign in 2018. Zhaohui is working with Loudoun Water to understand the potential impact of the recalcitrant dissolved organic nitrogen formation as a result of the thermal hydrolysis on the Loudoun Water reclamation plant operation.



1. Xu, F., Wang, Z.-W., Tang, L., and Li, Y., 2014. A mass diffusion-based interpretation of the effect of total solids content on solid-state anaerobic digestion of cellulosic biomass. Bioresource technology, 167: 178-185

2. Xu, F.Q., Li, Y.B., and Wang, Z.W., 2015. Mathematical modeling of solid-state anaerobic digestion. Progress in Energy and Combustion Science, 51: 49-66

3. Zhang, D., Strawn, M., Broderick, T., Novak, J., and Wang, Z.D., 2020. Effects of anaerobic digester solids retention time on odor emission and dewaterability of biosolids subjected to various shear intensity, polymer doses, and storage duration. Environmental Science: Water Research & Technology:

4. Zhang, D., Strawn, M., Novak, J.T., and Wang, Z.W., 2018. Kinetic modeling of the effect of solids retention time on methanethiol dynamics in anaerobic digestion. Water Research, 138: 301-311

5. Zhang, D., Angelotti, B., Schlosser, E., Novak, J.T., and Wang, Z.W., 2019. Using cerium chloride to control soluble orthophosphate concentration and improve the dewaterability of sludge: Part II. A case study. Water Environment Research: 92 (3): 331-337

6. Zhang, D., Angelotti, B., Schlosser, E., Novak, J.T., and Wang, Z.W., 2019. Using cerium chloride to control soluble orthophosphate concentration and improve the dewaterability of sludge: Part I. Mechanistic understanding. water Environment Research: 92 (3): 320-330

7. Zhang D., Sun Y.W., Angelotti B., and Z.W., W., 2020. Understanding the dewaterability of aerobic granular sludge formed in continuous flow bioreactors treating real domestic wastewater: is it really better than that of the activated sludge? . Journal of Water Process Engineering (Accepted)

8. Zhang, D., Feng, Y., Huang, H., Khunjar, W., and Wang, Z.-W., 2020. Recalcitrant dissolved organic nitrogen formation in thermal hydrolysis pretreatment of municipal sludge. Environment International, 138: 105629

9. Sun, Y., Angelotti, B., Brooks, M., Dowbiggin, B., Evans, P.J., Devins, B., and Wang, Z.W., 2018. A pilot-scale investigation of disinfection by-product precursors and trace organic removal mechanisms in ozone-biologically activated carbon treatment for potable reuse. Chemosphere, 210: 539-549

10. Sun, Y., Angelotti, B., and Wang, Z., 2019. Continuous-flow aerobic granulation in plug-flow bioreactors fed with real domestic wastewater. The Science of the total environment, 688: 762-770

11. Sun, Y., Vaidya, R., Khunjar, W.O., Rosenfeldt, E.J., Selbes, M., Wilson, C., Bott, C.B., Titcomb, M., and Wang, Z.-W., 2019. Mathematical modeling of biologically active filtration (BAF) for potable water production applications. Water research, 167: 115128

12. Yu, D., Sun, Y., Wang, W., O’Keefe, S.F., Neilson, A.P., Feng, H., Wang, Z., and Huang, H., 2020. Recovery of protein hydrolysates from brewer’s spent grain using enzyme and ultrasonication. International Journal of Food Science & Technology:

13. Wang, Z.-W., Hamilton-Brehm, S.D., Lochner, A., Elkins, J.G., and Morrell-Falvey, J.L., 2011. Mathematical modeling of hydrolysate diffusion and utilization in cellulolytic biofilms of the extreme thermophile Caldicellulosiruptor obsidiansis. Bioresource technology, 102(3): 3155-3162

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