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

September 2022 - MABA Member Spotlight featuring Denali

Biosolids compost: clean, green and in high demand

High-quality product from Denali’s Burlington County facility routinely sells out

Agitators keep materials well mixed at the composting facility. (courtesy of Denali)

Past a mountainous landfill and down a tree-lined road, Burlington County’s co-composting facility is largely quiet. But, for a first-time visitor, stepping inside the warehouse-size building is sensory overload: the air is steamy and rich with ammonia, there are few lights except on the massive machines churning a mix of woodchips and biosolids, and the backup sirens blare as front-end loaders add material to concrete bays.

The result of this interplay between man, machine and decomposing microbes stands in a tall pile at an adjacent building: compost. Each year, the Burlington County facility creates 50,000 cubic yards of the stuff. That’s enough compost to cover a football field with a heap 20 feet high.

Despite the massive amount, Ryan Cerrato has no trouble selling it. Cerrato is the Vice President of Product Marketing at Denali, an organic waste management company. Denali’s motto is “waste should not be wasted.”

“We sell to large and small construction projects, specialty soil blenders, school and institutional grounds departments, and landscaping contractors anywhere a soil amendment is needed,” Cerrato said. “The list is endless.”

The county has a reliable outlet for its biosolids a term for material recovered in the treatment of wastewater and the local government sees the resource beneficially used in its region. It’s a win-win for Burlington County.



A trommel screen sifts composted material at the Burlington County facility. (Courtesy of Denali)


The consistent, high-quality material made by Denali is a Class A product, under federal environmental regulations, meaning it meets stringent federal guidelines for safety. High temperatures in the composting process destroy whatever pathogens may have been in the biosolids And, because compost is a stable form of organic material, it locks up carbon and plant nutrients that slowly break down when compost is mixed with soil. 

Compost processes like this one are one way in which cities and counties in New Jersey and the Mid-Atlantic region recycle their communities’ nutrients. Regulations in the 1970s and 80s brought an end to ocean dumping, which had been the primary means of biosolids disposal for the region. New Jersey went further and banned the placement of biosolids in landfills in 1985.

Meanwhile, people continued to flush their toilets, and local governments needed to find new outlets for their waste. Fortunately, science began to show composting was an effective way to turn biosolids into a safe, useful product. Governments began building enclosed composting facilities like Burlington County’s, where the compost is closely monitored.

“Because it contains biosolids, it is one of the most tested compost products in the world,” Cerrato said.

An added benefit to making compost indoors is a cleaner, more consistent material. There’s no debris blowing around to contaminate the product, and there are no rainy days or dry spells inside the building, Cerrato said. The product, therefore, is uncontaminated and is the same from year to year. Customers know they are purchasing the same quality compost every time, he said.

“It’s become a homerun with our customer base,” Cerrato said.

For additional information, contact Stefan Weaver, Senior Environmental Manager, Denali, at 717-990-9496 or [email protected].



August 2022 - MABA Member Spotlight featuring Denali

Farmers welcome biosolids amid high input prices

Recycled wastewater residuals help ag producers stay in business in Eastern Pennsylvania.


Tim Chronister, a land manager with Denali, said he is glad to be part of the solution to farmer’s supply chain problems. (courtesy of Denali)

Having grown up on a 100-acre dairy farm, Tim Chronister knows what it takes to care for animals and the food they eat. Tim has lived in York County, Pennsylvania, for most of his life. It’s a gently rolling country divided into hay fields, row crops and stands of hardwoods.


Chronister, a land manager with the organic waste management company Denali, knows more than most what keeps this part of the state fertile and agriculturally productive: hardworking farmers, fertilizer and, increasingly, biosolids.


Biosolids – the processed residuals from water resource recovery facilities – contain many nutrients needed by plants. Since biosolids are an organic source of nutrients, they release more slowly into the soil, building soil structure and sequestering carbon. Some biosolids are treated with lime, helping to maintain proper soil pH. Additionally, because water resource recovery facilities are eager to dispose of the material, farmers often receive biosolids for free or at low costs. That’s a good deal for farmers.


This good deal has gotten even better as the costs of conventional fertilizers, like synthetic nitrogen and limestone, have skyrocketed. Fertilizer price indexes hit an all-time high this spring as farmers prepared to plant. One form of nitrogen fertilizer – urea – has doubled in price since the start of the COVID pandemic. The shortage means some farmers had difficulty securing all the fertilizer they needed, forcing them to make do with less. High diesel prices and scarce equipment parts have made things worse.


Chronister said he’s glad to have a solution to farmers’ mounting woes.


“Never in all my years of working in biosolids have I seen anything like this,” Chronister said of the demand from farmers for biosolids.



A tractor hauls a spreader loaded with biosolids to a farm field in Eastern Pennsylvania. (Courtesy of Denali)


Chronister got his start in biosolids while still in high school. As a senior, he began working part-time at his town’s water resource recovery facility. He stayed on after graduation, becoming a certified operator and spreading the plant’s biosolids on neighboring farms. Eventually, Chronister went to work for the biosolids management company Jesse Baro LLC, which Denali acquired in 2021.


Chronister now spends his days working with an extensive network of farmers who take biosolids that have undergone different levels of treatment. Some of the biosolids have been lime stabilized, adding to their agronomic value.


Amid these strange economic times, Chronister has seen some unusual requests from farmers. Fertilizer prices are projected to rise even higher in 2023. To make sure they have sufficient soil amendments on hand, some farmers have begun asking Chronister to deliver biosolids to their farms well in advance of the next planting.


Water resource recovery facilities never stop producing biosolids. Yet in the summer months farm fields cannot accept the material because crops are growing. Summer is typically the most difficult time for Chronister to find land for biosolids application.


But this summer, Chronister has had farmers ask him to deliver biosolids anytime he can, reserving space on their land to store the material. For them, the recycled organic residuals are a form of insurance for next year’s crop.


“Really, farmers are looking for a way they can just survive this situation,” Chronister said. “A valuable resource like biosolids should be put to good use, not put in a landfill.”


For additional information, contact Stefan Weaver, Senior Environmental Manager, Denali, at 717-990-9496 or [email protected].


On the Road: MABA executive director tours more plants in the region
WSSC Water Piscataway & New Bioenergy Facility and Lancaster Area Sewer Authority Facility

As you might recall, MABA’s recently appointed executive director, Mary Firestone, joined MABA Board members earlier this year for her first tours of facilities in the region including Capital Region Water of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Derry Township of Hershey, Pennsylvania. The first tours aided Mary in beginning to understand the world of wastewater treatment and biosolids, and she was eager to begin planning future tours to afford an even better grasp of the biosolids sector.

“It’s one thing to speak about the ideas and treatment processes, but I’ve always found myself to be much more of a hands-on learner,” she said, “Being able to see the facilities and watch it as it happens really brought it all together.”

And that understanding grew more still, as Mary and MABA Board members Anne Marek and John Uzupis, toured the WSSC Water Piscataway and construction for the new Bioenergy Facilities, as well as the Lancaster Area Sewer Authority in April. Malcolm Taylor, Principal Environmental Engineer for WSSC Water provided Mary with a complete tour of the current Piscataway facility as well as the construction process on the Bioenergy Facility, and Ed Lyle, Operations Chief, and Brian Wilcox, Plant Operations Director provided Mary, John, and Anne with a tour of the Lancaster Area Sewer Authority.

The Lancaster Area Sewer Authority (or LASA) currently owns, operates, and maintains a sanitary sewer system that serves approximately 40,000 customers representing about 125,000 citizens and 1,400 businesses located in nine Lancaster County municipalities.

“I read with interest about Mary’s recent tours, and reached out to offer a tour of our facility in Lancaster County,” said Mike Kyle, Executive Director of LASA. “We have a 15 MGD treatment plant with newly installed sludge handling that includes anaerobic digesters, an indirect sludge dryer, and covered storage.”

WSSC Water is transforming the way the Piscataway Water Resource Recovery Facility will handle waste from five existing water resource recovery facilities. The Piscataway Bioenergy Project - the largest and most technically advanced project ever constructed by WSSC Water - will use innovative technology to recover resources and produce green energy.

“Since the Piscataway WRRF is at the same location of the site of our Bioenergy Plant construction, I thought it would be a good opportunity for Mary to see what we are doing now and give her an idea of what we will be transitioning to,” said Malcolm Taylor, “The Piscataway Bioenergy Project will transform how WSSC Water handles biosolids, and is expected to lower operating costs by $3 million per year while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 15%.”

The MABA Board and the executive director are eager to continue the plant tours in the coming months. If you are interested in sharing your facility with Mary and the MABA Board, please contact her at [email protected], or 845-901-7905.

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