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

Spotlight August 2020 - Biosolids Agency Producers

This month’s SPOTLIGHT is on public agencies that have built and maintained their own biosolids utilization program, in which the lead public employee arranges biosolids deliveries directly with the users. The programs are imaginative, flexible, and responsive to the “customer,” providing a tangible connection between town and farm. While no cost comparisons have been made, a reasonable inference is that these programs are cost-effective. Here are the public employees who make this happen.

Dan Reed -

Dan Reed Biosolids ProducerDan Reed, Site Manager at Landis Sewerage Authority ([email protected]).  The Landis Sewerage Authority (LSA), a uniquely “zero-discharge” WRRF in Vineland, New Jersey, developed in 1987 its publicly owned, 387-acre Agricultural Facility for biosolids recycling, and Dan Reed has been for the entire time. Dan studied chemistry at Stockton University in the mid-’80s, and while working as a student under Mike Wardell (formerly a biosolids consultant to LSA and for a time MABA’s executive director) was present for the birth of the LSA farm.  Dan typically manages a single-year rotation each of corn and small grains, followed by a 3- to 5- year sequence of cool and warm-season grasses. Dan also operates an Agroforestry Facility, with 108 acres of pine trees interspersed with strips of sorghum-sudan and teff, and a 26-acre Atlantic City Electric easement planted to small grain and teff – all biosolids fertilized. Within the pine grove, a Bobwhite Quail Habitat has been installed in collaboration with public and private organizations, to which biosolids will be applied in the future.  Dan enjoys saltwater fishing and golfing, and he has two adult children: his son is an engineering student at Arizona State University and his daughter is a registered nurse coordinating services to the disabled. 


Jeff Heimbaugh -

Jeff Heimbaugh Biosolids ProducerJeff Heimbaugh, Biosolids / Pretreatment Program Supervisor at Carlisle Borough Sewer System Authority - [email protected]. Jeff Heimbaugh has been the Biosolids Supervisor at the Carlisle Region Water Pollution Control Facility for the Borough of Carlisle, PA since 1999.  He writes: “I started at the Borough as a laboratory technician in 1991 before moving to my current position.  Little did I know that my background as a dairy farmer’s son would be such a blessing in my municipal government's professional career.  Over the past 21 years, I’ve worked with many farmers to help supplement their fertilizer needs with our Class B lime-stabilized biosolids.  Working with a staff of three full-time biosolids operators, Carlisle Region WPCF produces and land applies approximately 7,000,000 gallons of liquid biosolids and 700 tons of dewatered biosolids a year.  Our staff is responsible for hauling and applying all biosolids produced at our plant.  It can be quite challenging to meet the requests for biosolids applications from ten farmers before the spring planting each year.  Our biosolids program has 28 farms, with 2,730 acres approved by PA DEP for biosolids applications.  It has been gratifying to see the benefits of increased crop production in fields receiving our biosolids and knowing we have helped many farmers reduce their fertilizer costs each year.” Jeff explains that he spends the little spare time he has coaching high school football, running, biking, assisting his elementary art-teaching wife, and supplying Penn State funds for his two sons’ continuing education.


Jay Snyder -

Jay Snyder Biosolids Producer

Jay Snyder, Environmental Resource Manager at Borough of Ephrata - [email protected]. Jay Snyder has a balance of commitments to environmental stewardship, community, and collaboration that make a biosolids program work. Jay studied in the late 1970s under esteemed Penn State professor Charles Cole, gaining skills in principles of stewardship with a Water Resources Engineering Technology bachelor’s degree which he applied to the new and upgraded WRRFs in Ephrata Borough. Farmers in the community surrounding the borough became familiar with biosolids through the local high school’s Young Farmers Program. As a stable of good customers was built, the Annual Thank You Dinner honored the collaboration of borough and farmers, which on occasion attracted news media. Farmers were a partner in the complete sense, participating in the application, proactively dealing with concerns such as wet soils, designing equipment improvements, spreading the good word to neighbors, spacing out applications to deal with phosphorus, and providing feedback on the benefits of organic matter and nutrients on crop yields. Ephrata is a forward-looking community and has its eyes on a thermal technology for one of its plants that will produce biochar. Jay is particularly proud of having passed on to the next generation his passion for clean water and productive soil: “As my son Justin, an organic farmer for 20 over years says ‘Dad, healthier soil means healthier plants producing healthier nutrient-dense foods.’” 

Philip Grayson -  

Philip Grayson Biosolids Producer

Philip Grayson, Chief Operator, Wastewater at Village of Endicott (NY)  -[email protected].  Philip Grayson writes: “Seldom mentioned in a classroom about environmental science is that almost every community has a facility that every day protects public health and the environment, and is recycling water and potentially biosolids. When I began working at the Village of Endicott’s Water Pollution Control Plant as a Sanitary Laboratory Technician in 2001, I quickly saw that our facility, and all the other facilities across the world, did just that.”  The Endicott facility, which serves 50,000 people, is designed for 10 MGD and has anaerobic digesters, producing 100 dry metric tons annually. It began operations in 1966, but it was not until 1985 that the Village began composting biosolids with a Taulman-Weiss in-vessel system.  For the next 20 years, the Village used that system to create a Class A Biosolids Compost, and, when operational challenges arose, the Village added on the windrow method to ensure complete stabilization. The Village is now looking to replace the windrow method with a Gryphon biosolids dryer designed to achieve a Class A Biosolid Product, which would reduce costs and continue to produce a recyclable biosolids. Grayson concludes: “The Village’s commitment to biosolids recycling and all of the employees who have worked to ensure that we produce a safe and beneficial material for reuse is something that I am proud to say I have been and will continue to be a part of.” 

Shawn O'Toole -

Shawn O'Toole Biosolids ProducerShawn O’Toole, Land Application Supervisor,  Kent County Regional Wastewater Facility - [email protected].  Shawn has been at it a long time. Thirty-seven years ago when Shawn joined the Kent County Department of Public Utilities, he took on the “land option,” and became the employee in charge of the spreading of biosolids. In a program with some 100 farmers, Shawn worked with the farmers throughout the year on corn, soybean, hay, pastures, and winter wheat, doing what he could to meter out the facilities 3,000 dry tons to satisfy his customers.  Back in the day, that was liquid biosolids dredged from sludge lagoons, which involved small loads and time-consuming liquid injection.  Today, the product is partially dried and lime-amended, creating a Class A EQ product of about 50 percent moisture content that can be moved in the agency’s truck and applied with its spreader.  Kent County has plans for upgrading solids handling to increase dryness to 90 percent, which will eliminate the lime, and Shawn expects it to be in a granular form. But he rather doubts he will be the one working out the issues with handling and dust control. “After 33 years of working two jobs, I am ready to retire,” he says. As one of the MABA region’s longest-standing land appliers, Kent County and all of the MABA region owe Shawn a hearty “Thank you.”


SPOTLIGHT October 2020 - Biosolids Innovators

This month’s SPOTLIGHT is on those individuals and, interestingly, families that emerged in our industry with ideas that have brought innovative technologies and programs to the biosolids industry globally. Importantly, they are continuing to do so, and we are all the better for it.

Chris Komline and Family -

Komline and Family picture

Chris Komline, a MABA Board member ([email protected](908) 234-1000, x321), explains, when asked how long he has been in the dewatering and drying industry, that he has been at work since 18 months old. This is confirmed by this photo of Chris in the arms of his father and company founder, Tom, who had the vision and talent to be a step ahead from the start.  “Komline-Sanderson was founded with a vision decades ahead of its time: Our first design was a resource recovery facility generating energy for the community. In 1946!”  The Komline-Sanderson Coilfilter was the patented dewatering device that led the industry for 30 years and which gave birth, too, to the K-S Plunger Pump, with a global deployment. In 1989, Komline-Sanderson installed its first dryer for biological sludges.  With continual improvements for automation and ease of operation, the company has installed over 65 systems around the globe. Komline-Sanderson is a privately owned business, and continues as a family affair, with brother Russell at the helm, and Brian, the next generation, directing sales.  

Ted Merrell and Family - 

Ted Merrell and Family

Ted Merrell, Vice President and Co-Owner ([email protected], 800-663-8830) writes that ”Biosolids for the Merrell Bros. company really is a family affair.  Our roots run deep in livestock production so dealing with nutrient-rich by-products has been, in a way, a necessary fact of life.”  Founded by brothers Ted and Terry Merrell, the company now employs over 130 people dedicated to the biosolids management business throughout the United States.  In addition to the two founding brothers, three sons, one daughter, and two sons-in-law are also on the company team.  The newest technology, the Solar Drying/Pasteurization system called FloridaGreen, was launched in 2018 in Pasco County, Florida, and is now producing a marketable Class A biosolids. The family sees the applicability of Ted’s design to many other parts of the country.   


Mike Nicholson and Family - 

Mike Nicholson and Family

Mike Nicholson, Senior Vice President of Technology for Denali Water Solutions. LLC, ([email protected], 419-636-6374) has been in the biosolids business since his teen years, when his father Pat carted him around the country, before the dawn of Part 503 standards, to introduce to the wastewater industry the possibility of advanced alkaline soil products made from biosolids. Pat had a huge influence on the course of national regulations and on the paths of his sons, Mike and Tim. Pat's idea was to deploy a variety of low or no-cost, high-pH dust residuals in place of conventional lime, mostly from the cement industry, to stabilize biosolids with heat of reaction, ammonia release, drying, and high pH. He was able to show that he could confer to soils a variety of benefits from the targeted use of ash, such attributes as potassium, sulfur, and magnesium, as well as soil-like consistency. In Pat's mission to shape a new industry, he touched many people, companies, scientists, and regulators. And today, his sons carry that legacy, with Tim working with service companies and residuals suppliers in the mid-West and Mike working with technology companies and utilities mostly, but not exclusively, in the East. 

The Bonkoskis - 

The BonkoskisNick Bonkoski, MABA Board Member ([email protected], 484-459-3762), is an Environmental Engineer from Penn State and lives in West Chester, PA.  Nick is a Domain Leader with SUEZ Water Technologies and Solutions, developing anaerobic solutions for municipal biosolids, food waste, and industrial projects across North and Latin America.  Nick had his start in the industry as a college intern with Zenon Environmental in 2002, when his dad Bill Bonkoski was managing Zenon’s Industrial Water Division, and 3 years later Nick went full time. During his 48-year career, Bill has worked for EPA, Dorr-Oliver, Paques, Zenon Environmental, GE Water, and others, always with an eye to innovative technologies. Bill is currently developing the anaerobic digestion market in the US for SUEZ, working side by side with Nick for the past 6 years. Bill is planning retirement after 48 years in the water industry, heading to the sandy beaches of Lewes, DE, and to nearby golf courses.  There he will enjoy visits with 9 grandkids, (3 supplied by Nick,) and will continue to prod Nick toward advancing new water technologies. 

Valentino Villa -  

Valentino Villa

Valentino Villa, Co-Founder and COO of Bioforcetech Corporation ([email protected], 650-906-0193), can be correctly labeled a "young professional," but that does not alter the big impact his dogged pursuit of his thermal technologies has had. He earned the status of “Perito Industriale Capotecnico per l’Elettronica e le Telecomunicazioni,” an Italian professional designation for an industry expert in the field of engineering that is recognized as an industrial engineer outside of Italy. Since co-founding Bioforcetech, he and his team have been rethinking every step of biosolids management to prepare for a carbon-free future. Bioforcetech's patented BioDryer leverages the microbial activity of biosolids to dry the material with little to no external energy sources. Once dried, the material is put through Bioforcetech's pyrolysis machine. There, the volume is reduced by 90% of the original wet volume, PFAS and PFOA are eliminated completely, and the carbon content is fixed as a biochar.  Valentino says “our biochar is a resource, which is why we are investing in research and development to expand the applications for biochar far beyond soil amendment.”  The result is a “deeply carbon negative” system. He is now living in California with his wife, Rebecca, and their three-year-old son, Leonardo. In his off time, you can find Valentino cooking, practicing martial arts, and adding new vintages to his wine collection. We are also expecting that Valentino will be showing his son, Leonardo, the ropes with pyrolysis, so that he will one day join his dad in the business. 


SPOTLIGHT November 2020 - Biosolids Scientists

This issue of MABA SPOTLIGHT features some of our region's scientists. Those of us who were at work at the birth of the nation's national regulatory system recall vividly the key role of the scientific community in shaping the Part 503 standards and parallel state regulations.  But many of these scientists are retired. We are welcoming a new generation of scientists on the scene, filling slots from our retiring science colleagues and addressing new categories of concern. This SPOTLIGHT includes the array of scientific disciplines and place on their career arc.

Elliott Portrait


Herschel (Chip) Elliott, Pennsylvania State University, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, 814-863-2062, [email protected]  For over 40 years, Chip has been involved in teaching, researching, and consulting in the areas of fate and transport of pollutants in aquatic and soil systems, and the evaluation and design of land-based waste disposal systems.  He has been actively engaged in the national debate on land-based recycling of biosolids and he assisted regulatory agencies nationally and internationally in developing regulatory policies for land application of biosolids and water treatment residuals.  Chip is a registered professional engineer in Pennsylvania and Delaware.  Although he is formally retiring after this academic year, he hopes to stay partially engaged as an emeritus faculty member. In retirement he plans to spend more time, along with his wife Marcia, focused on his family, sensing an urgency to be a countercultural influence in the lives of his 4 children, their spouses, and his 12 grandchildren. 

Matthew Higgins


Matthew (Matt) Higgins, Bucknell University, Department of Civil and Engineering, 570-577-1972, [email protected]  His university bio is here.   Matt Higgins is a Professor and Claire W. Carlson Chair in Environmental Engineering at Bucknell University.  Dr. Higgins’ work has focused on both water and wastewater treatment. His main research interests are in the area of solids management and he has focused on processes upstream and downstream of anaerobic digestion including solids pretreatment with Thermal Hydrolysis, anaerobic digestion optimization, co-digestion, and conditioning and dewatering.  He has worked in many of the challenge areas, such as rapid rise foaming in anaerobic digesters, dewaterability of BioP sludges, pathogen reactivation and regrowth in dewatered cake, odorant production, and optimization of thermal hydrolysis. Matt also works on stream restoration and water quality issues with a focus on using wetlands to mitigate agricultural runoff to improve stream water quality.  He's addicted to fly fishing and has recently started a new course at Bucknell entitled "Stream Ecology and Restoration and the Science of Fly Fishing" as a way to further integrate his teaching, research, and personal interests.  When not working or out on the stream doing 'class preparation and research', you can often find him puttering around his homestead, splitting firewood, tending his fruit trees, making maple syrup, and hanging out with his wife and his younger son who is a senior in high school.  Their older son graduated from college last spring with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and is working for GM doing research and development for their EV program just outside of Detroit.

Joshua Cheng


Zhongqi (Joshua) Cheng, Brooklyn College of CUNY, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, (718)951-5416, [email protected]. His bio is here.   Dr. Cheng is a professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Director of Environmental Sciences Analytical Center (including the Urban Soils Lab) at Brooklyn College. He is an associate editor for the Journal of Environmental Quality. Dr. Cheng is co-founder of the NYC Urban Soils Institute, a member of the W4170 group, Research Advisory Committee for WRF, Healthy Soils Healthy Communities Project, and the Legacy Lead Coalition. His research uses ecological and sustainable approaches to solve environmental problems. He is a fan of both biosolids and The Ohio State Buckeyes football.  At the MABA Annual Meeting, Dr. Cheng was elected to serve on the Board of Trustees.



Alba Torrents, University of Maryland, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, (301) 405-1979,  [email protected].  Dr.Torrents is a professor at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, at the University of Maryland, with an expertise in Applied Environmental Organic Chemistry.  She has more than 30 years of research assessing the fate and transport of pollutants in the environment and the use of soil amendments to mitigate risks.  For the past ten years, Professor Torrents's group has focused their research on assessing the fate of endocrine disruptor chemicals and looking at wastewater effluents as nutrient, water, and energy resources.   On biosolids, she has assessed the long-term fate of different organic pollutants upon the land application of biosolids at commercial farms and has evaluated the use of biosolids and compost for in-situ remediation at two Superfund sites.  In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, hiking, gardening, and cooking, and can occasionally combine her interests, as when she explored sustainable agricultural and water management practices by the Incan civilization of Peru.

 Pruden PhotoAmy Pruden, Virginia Tech, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, (540) 231-6635, [email protected].  Dr Pruden established the Pruden Laboratory.  This is Dr. Pruden’s bio. She says of her research on wastewater: “my lab’s work has focused on better understanding the effects of conventional wastewater treatment on the dissemination and mitigation of antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs), microbial contaminants, and other contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) on a local, national, and international scale.” When there is not a pandemic in effect, Dr. Pruden enjoys having her husband, 13-year old son, and 11-year old daughter tag along with her for scientific conferences.  Instead of a family vacation in South Africa, where she would have been attending the International Society for Microbial Ecology conference in August 2020, she and her children stayed at home devoting attention to their vegetable garden and to their cats.  Unfortunately, cats apparently don't like vegetables much, so they ventured out to the grocery store occasionally as well to make sure that everyone was taken care of.  If all goes well, they'll have another shot at South Africa in 2022.  Dr. Pruden's uncle served for decades in the Monroe County drain commissioner's office in Michigan, and she credits her interest in environmental engineering to him. 

Sharp Photo


Robert Sharp, Manhattan College, School of Engineering, (718) 862-7169, [email protected].  Robert Sharp is the Donald J. O'Connor Chair of Environmental Engineering at Manhattan College and a process consultant for Hazen & Sawyer Engineers.   Robert has over 25 years of experience teaching and running an active environmental engineering research lab.   In Dr. Sharp’s laboratory, both graduate and undergraduate research assistants carry out fundamental and applied research in the areas of biological nutrient removal and recovery, anaerobic digestion, bioenergy production, resource recovery, and pathogen disinfection and regrowth in water systems. His research results are detailed in more than 40 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, and he has presented over 75 papers at national and international environmental engineering conferences. He is a Licensed Professional Engineer in New York State and is an active member of the Water Research Foundation, the Water Environment Federation, and the Met Chapter of the New York Water Environment Association. In 2019, Robert was named a Fellow of the Water Environment Federation. Weekends invariably find Robert in a pack of cyclists exploring long-distance routes in northern New Jersey, cycling has become his “go-to” sport after decades of knee-banging basketball. With COVID-19 interrupting his normal diet of live music attendance, Robert spends his evenings reading, or better yet with his two night-owl, college-aged children watching the best of online streaming.

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