MidAtlantic Biosolids Association
Biosolids NewsClips - March 23, 2023

NewsClips is filled with important articles from around the region and the world. This edition includes some positive articles, including articles about phosphorus, another pro-biosolids article from Lina Zeldovich, and an article about mine reclamation.

Unfortunately, there are many less-than-positive articles in this edition as well, including articles about issues at facilities and within local communities, as well as the developing situation in Maine. 

As you know, MABA has created a PFAS focus group, and will be launching an updated PFAS related section of the MABA website in the coming weeks.  If you are interested in participating on this focus group, please contact Mary Firestone at 845-901-7905 or [email protected]

Stay tuned for more information from MABA.  

*Please note: the article titled, "Your poop is useful. Meet the father-son team creating 'humanure'." contains inaccuracies related to the technology discussed within the article.  Epic CleanTec did not design the water reuse technology at 1550 Mission Street in San Francisco.  The system referred to in the article is Innovatreat’s miniMBR® aquaMINE™, which was developed by Innovative Treatment Products, Inc. (Innovatreat).  For additional information, please contact Robert Kershner at 410-581-0555.

Thurston Town Board votes 5-0 for landfill moratorium: Supervisor resigns
Thurston, NY (18 Feb 2023) - In step toward controlling or even preventing the spreading of municipal sewage sludge on up to 2,789 acres in Steuben County, the Town of Thurston’s board voted 5-0 last night to pass a one-year moratorium on permits for new or expanded landfills and solid waste operations. The action complicates Casella Waste Systems Inc.’s ongoing efforts to convince the state to transfer a sludge spreading permit for the Bonny Hill property from Leo Dickson & Sons to Casella Organics, which quietly bought or leased the farmland last July.

Sludge from sewage treatment plant in Nuremberg area tests positive for radiation
Hazleton, PA (17 Feb 2023) - Sewage sludge that a treatment plant for Nuremberg and Weston sent to an incinerator was rejected for radioactivity. Eddie Gregory said a truck took sludge from Twin County Joint Municipal Authority, which he manages, to the incinerator of the Greater Hazleton Joint Sewer Authority in West Hazleton, where it tripped a detector set for a very low level of radiation three weeks ago. The truck contained Iodine-131, which treats thyroid cancer and other disorders. Gregory surmises that a Twin County customer had received treatment.

Sludge provider for biochar plant has history of environmental violations
Moreau, NY (22 Feb 2023) - A waste company working with Saratoga Biochar Solutions, which plans to truck sewage sludge into Moreau to use in their fertilizer product, has a history of environmental violations from its operations across the Northeastern U.S. In the last 10 years, Casella Waste Systems and the businesses it owns have accrued at least $7.7 million in regulatory fines and lawsuit settlements from a slew of alleged environmental violations in New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, according to an analysis of reports from government watchdog organizations, civil lawsuits and multiple state agencies by The Post-Star and the Lee Enterprises Public Service Journalism Team. The violations range from air quality issues to water pollution.

Wheeling Sewage Treatment Plant Odors Raise a Stink
Wheeling, WV (3 Mar 2023) - City officials have taken note of the oftentimes pungent aromas lingering along the river banks on the lower end of Center Wheeling, but one thing that may stink worse than the problem itself is the projected costs to try to remedy the situation. The Wheeling Water Pollution Control Plant on Main Street is situated in a location that is somewhat tucked away from residential areas, with open air above the Ohio River to the west of the sewage treatment facility. However, visitors to businesses that are within nose-shot of the plant are occasionally hit with a sobering jolt from the neighboring property’s waft of fumes.

The wizard of phosphorus: One man’s quest to turn sewage into eco-gold
Washington, DC (11 Mar 2023) - Civil engineer Martin Lebek has a brilliant plan to redress the world’s phosphorus imbalance. Technologies already exist to refine the nutrients in human waste all the way down to their elemental form. A wastewater treatment plant in Chicago, for example, installed a nutrient recovery system several years back that was expected to cut the phosphorus load in its water discharges by about 30 percent. It turns captured phosphorus into commercial-​grade fertilizer pellets — ​a modest but valuable cache of crop nutrients that would otherwise be flowing toward — ​and feeding —​ the dead zone that plagues the Gulf of Mexico.

Your poop is useful. Meet the father-son team creating ‘humanure.’
New York, NY (14 Mar 2023) - I am standing in the basement of 1550 Mission Street in San Francisco—a new high-rise in the city’s prime real estate location—listening to the steady hum of human grime being filtered.. “We’re able to reuse about 95 percent of it,” says Aaron Tartakovsky, co-founder and CEO of Epic Cleantec. His father, Igor, the other co-founder and the chief engineer, chimes in with a twinkle in his eye and a proud smile. “It’s kinda cool how it works.”

Today’s explosion was a major setback for troubled Back River sewage plant
Baltimore, MD (15 Mar 2023) - The explosion and fire that struck the Back River Waste Water Treatment Plant today will have long-term ramifications for the problem-plagued, Baltimore-owned facility. The plant is responsible for processing fully 70% of Back River’s sludge, meaning the city will now have to scramble to find a way to dispose of mountains of human waste “biosolids.” At 11:30 this morning, an explosion ripped through the silo-shaped Pelletech Facility, punching a hole through one side of the structure.
No one injured in explosion and two-alarm fire at a building at Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant
Operations suspended at wastewater treatment plant building damaged in explosion
Advocates call sludge-clogged Back River sewage plant “a ticking time bomb”
Back River’s sewage sludge problems were well known for years

‘Just breaks my heart’: Slate Belt neighbors continue to fight sewage sludge plan
Lancaster, PA (20 Mar 2023) - Millie Beahn has lived in her home along Hower Road in Plainfield Township since 1960, her family having farmed the surrounding rolling hills prior to and since. These days, a plan progressing to use the 80-plus acres next door to dispose of sewage sludge — by applying it as agricultural fertilizer — has consumed much of her time. “That’s all I do, is live, breathe and eat this problem,” she said during Thursday night’s meeting of the Nazareth Borough Municipal Authority.

$167 million Norwich wastewater plant project expected to start construction this fall
Norwich, CT (16 Feb 2023) - One of the biggest construction projects in Norwich’s history will soon be underway. The Norwich Public Utilities wastewater treatment plant on Hollyhock Island will be replaced with a new upgraded building, with work beginning in the fall. The incinerators are switching from treating the cake sludge the wastewater treatment plant currently makes, to liquid sludge, as the latter is easier to heat and requires less energy, and "the MDC is the only game in town" for processing sludge, Sullivan told The Bulletin in Nov. 2021.

Crisis building at Kennebec County wastewater treatment plants
Gardiner, ME (28 Feb 2023) - Wastewater treatment plants across Maine are in a near-crisis condition as the impact of two different state laws has halted the removal of sludge, leaving it to accumulate at the plants. As plant operators and waste haulers scramble to find short-term and long-term fixes, the cost of handling the byproducts of wastewater treatment is rising dramatically, and sewer system ratepayers across the state will bear the cost. 
Maine sewage treatment plants scramble to dispose sludge after landfill reduces capacity
Gardiner officials consider consequences of sludge crisis
Quebec temporarily bans use of biosolid fertilizers from the U.S.
Lawmakers to hear about Maine sludge disposal crisis
State representatives say wastewater sludge backlog poses a problem for Maine's waterways
Maine has a surplus of human waste. It's being shipped to New Brunswick
Truck-loads of human waste are being shipped from Maine into New Brunswick
Maine lawmakers told that 'catastrophe' is averted, but sludge disposal challenges remain
Maine lawmakers question Casella about landfill and sludge management
Maine delegation wants the federal government to support farmers affected by PFAS 
Pursuit of “Environmental Justice” Brought Maine to Brink of Sludgepocalypse
N.B. company receiving Maine waste says it won't show up in provincial farms, gardens
Sludge landfill expansion plan delayed again - here's what the hold-up is now
Gardner, MA (2 Mar 2023) - Before the sludge landfill can expand, city officials are required to do an environmental impact report before a permit is approved by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. City officials submitted an environmental notice in December 2022 to the MassDEP. During the review the agency collected residents' comments which raised concerns on how the expansion project could affect water quality in the area and how odors could impact those living near the landfill.
Sewage discharged from treatment plant into Blackstone River — again. Why it happened.

Lorain County locals fight against proposed biosolids facility in Grafton Township
Lorain County, OH (5 Mar 2023) - In Southeast Lorain County, which is approximately 16 miles from campus, a large parcel of land lies unoccupied aside from a gravel driveway, where plans to build a biosolids handling facility have some members of the public expressing their unease. Others, like the Lorain County Health Commissioner, argue that public alarm may be unwarranted.   

CRD approves sending treated sewage to Nanaimo area as short-term measure
Victoria, British Columbia (15 Feb 2023) - Treated sewage will be shipped from Greater Victoria to Nanaimo in the near term as the region has decided to stray further from its own policies. The Capital Regional District board on Feb. 8 approved amending its short-term biosolids contingency plan to allow the pellet-like end-product of locally processed sewage to be spread on non-agricultural lands. The emergency alternative of sending the biosolids to land applying programs in the Nanaimo area is expected to cost $65,000, which is predicted to be lower than the cost of landfilling the product.
Greater Victoria's sewage biosolids to be shipped to Nanaimo as tree fertilizer
Where CRD sewage biosolids will go is not settled
Biosolids blunder? Nanaimo officials caught off-guard by CRD sewage waste vote
Odour advisories issued for CRD waste and treatment plants

City eyes sharing inflation risks in sewage contracts
Winnipeg, Manitoba (22 Feb 2023) - The City of Winnipeg could try to prevent the cost of a sewage mega project from soaring higher by sharing some of the financial risk to build it. Amid skyrocketing inflation and construction costs, city council will be asked to let public service staff negotiate “escalation clauses” within contracts for the biosolids facilities project, the second of three phases of north end sewage treatment plant upgrades. The proposal comes after city staff warned the biosolids work is at risk of an up-to-$360-million price hike, which officials previously promised to mitigate as much as possible.

Nauseating odors from chicken and sewer sludge make life unbearable for some landowners
Clay County, AL (27 Feb 2023) - Homeowners describe it as an awful smell, like sewer backing up in your home. It's the remnants of chicken and sewer treatment plants that are being sprayed over farmland across Alabama. The latest complaints coming from Clay County. 

Health Concerns Grow as Oklahoma Farmers Fertilize Cropland with Treated Sewage
Oklahoma (28 Feb 2023) - The flies and health problems that now plague Leslie Stewart materialized as soon as her neighbor started spreading sewage sludge as fertilizer across his 160-acre farm several years ago. Flies consistently swarm the 5-acre farm where she has raised goats for 18 years. Within weeks, the goats started getting sick, Stewart said. Soon after, 12 of the 36 died. She blames the flies crawling the goats’ feed, and the pests also began entering her home however they could—through tiny cracks in the building, through her stove vent.

Smith Mountain mine reclamation using biosolids
Cumberland County, TN (2 Mar 2023) - Large trucks began making their way up and down Smith Mountain in Cumberland County last fall, taking tons of material to a former coal mine. The trucks were a visible sign of the early stages of a mining reclamation project using biosolids from a wastewater treatment facility in Chattanooga to the rural site. Karen Styers, with the Moccassin Bend wastewater treatment facility, told the Chronicle about 7,000 tons of biosolids had been taken to the site ahead of a prescribed burn at the location.

Black & Veatch Awarded Water Research Foundation Grant to Study “Forever Chemicals”
Overland Park, KS (9 Mar 2023) - The Water Research Foundation (WRF) has awarded Black & Veatch a grant to investigate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in biosolids that pose a potential risk for the agricultural industry, food supply and ultimately, human health. The research project, Understanding the Value Proposition for Thermal Processes to Mitigate PFAS in Biosolids, will address the presence of these “forever chemicals.”

An unexpected source of methane? Your local sewage plant
San Francisco, CA (12 Mar 2023) - Wastewater treatment plants are typically overlooked when it comes to reducing greenhouse gasses, but new research from Princeton University reveals the plants emit twice as much methane as previously thought. Methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas and the treatment plants should be part of any plan to reduce emissions, according to the study released last week.  "Wastewater treatment plants are a major source of greenhouse gasses in cities and we need to start treating them like that," said Mark Zondlo, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton and one of the authors of the research.

Bill would require study of 'forever chemicals' in biosolids on Oregon farmland
Salem, OR (13 Mar 2023) - Oregon’s farmlands haven’t been spared from worries about so-called “forever chemicals,” prompting a legislative committee to recommend studying potential contamination from treated sewage used as fertilizer. State and federal regulators are increasingly scrutinizing the widespread and long-lasting toxicity of PFAS, the perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals used in non-stick and water-proof products.

'An exciting opportunity': Kansas City’s new bio-waste treatment facility nearing completion
Kansas City, MO (13 Mar 2023) - Kansas City’s new bio-waste treatment facility is one step closer to being operational. When completed, the center will take Kansas City’s solid waste and convert it into fertilizer. It will mean a greener facility and nearly no more odor drifting across the highway. “Our focus has been to have a sustainable solution,” said Brent Herring, the deputy director of operations for KC Water. “We have significantly reduced odors.”

Compost safe, says city, after alarming inspection report
Penticton, British Columbia (11 Mar 2023) - None of the sub-standard compost product found by inspectors at Campbell Mountain Landfill last year ever made it into local gardens, says a spokesman for the City of Penticton. “Regular testing is routine, and when a sample fails for any reason, that pile of compost is held back and not sent off site. If a material ‘fails,’ then it means that it needs to compost a bit longer – compost does not leave the site until it passes a test,” explained Shane Mills in an email.

County, state officials investigate complaint about overapplication of sludge
McDonald County, MO (14 Mar 2023) - McDonald County and state officials say they are investigating a report on March 1 of the excessive application of what proponents call “free fertilizer” but critics call sludge. “I was notified by my foreman, who was out checking fences, that there was a Denali truck out spreading sludge on my neighbor’s land,” Lloyd S. Helm Jr. said. “He sent me pictures of it running under my fence and into the spring-fed creek where our cattle have access to the water.” Helm’s property is in Newton County; he said the sludge was being spread on a slope adjacent to his property but in McDonald County.

Construction begins on wastewater plant upgrades
Summerville, SC (15 Mar 2023) - Construction kicked off on March 9 with the pouring of a football field’s worth of concrete for the Commissioners of Public Works (CPW) wastewater treatment plant upgrades….. Harper General Contractors out of Greenville began work on the three-part system with the pouring of the concrete foundation for the plant’s new solar dryers, initiating improvements that are expected to be up and running by May 2024.

From poop to poplars: How biosolids from wastewater help fertilize trees, grass
Eugene, OR (16 Mar 2023) - What you flush down your toilet today could help fertilize poplars or grass in four to five years. The Metropolitan Wastewater Management Commission uses biosolids as a supercharged fertilizer for the agency’s biocycle farm and local grass seed farms. The nearly 600-acre biocycle farm has hundreds of acres of poplar trees grown in three units as well as hayfields, grass fields and pasture for sheep.

Cemex, Manila Water pioneer use of biosolids as alternative fuels
Manila, Phillipines (17 Feb 2023) - Cemex Philippines and Manila Water Co. recently signed a partnership allowing the use of biosolids as alternative fuels, a first in the Philippines and a major accomplishment in helping address climate change in alignment with the Philippine government's priority thrust toward adaptation and resiliency…

USDA awards Ostara grant to increase fertilizer production in the US
Surrey, United Kingdom (16 Mar 2023) - The need for an alternative US produced high-efficiency phosphate fertilizer is critical for the future of agriculture. The USDA awarded Ostara US$7.6 million as part of a grant programme to increase US-based, innovative, sustainable, and farmer-focused fertilizer production. “Phosphate is a finite resource and conventional phosphate fertilizers can be highly inefficient and harmful to the environment,” says Kerry Cebul, Chief Executive Officer of Ostara. “Our team is honoured to receive the USDA grant and will use the funds to increase US based production of the most efficient phosphate fertilizer on the market, Crystal Green.”

Beyond the Circular Economy:  
Celebrating the Role of Biosolids in Climate Mitigation
Provided for consideration to MABA members by
Bill Toffey, Effluential Synergies, LLC

The consensus among scientists is that a planetary emergency threatens all present and future generations (Climate Endgame: Exploring catastrophic climate change scenarios). Ours is a species with a human-carbon nature out of context with Earth’s capacity to withstand GHG emissions and resource extraction.  Our future will inevitably be defined not by expansion but by contraction, and we must learn to reduce our “take” from Nature and increase our “give” in terms of energy and natural resources (An Inconvenient Apocalypse: Environmental Collapse, Climate Crisis, and the Fate of Humanity).  We can do all of this, if in a modest way, with biosolids.

Our global response to the climate challenge is to reduce depletion of resources by directing waste back  into production – a practice that is now called the Circular Economy. A circular economy reduces the amount of waste produced by creating valuable products out of traditional waste streams.  Water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs), at the confluence of carbon, nutrient and water flows, can directly contribute to a circular economy by producing clean water, nutrients, renewable energy, and other valuable bio-based materials from wastewater.  The reduction of resource extraction directly connects to steps needed to reduce emissions of climate changing gases (The role of the circular economy in climate mitigation). 

Our professional organizations are taking on the circular economy. WEF has announced: “We must expand water’s role in the circular economy,” and the US Water Alliance promotes “Net Zero” emissions.  We hold up examples in our very own region of public agencies recovering nutrients and energy. Hermitage Food Waste to Energy Facility in western Pennsylvania has deployed its robust two-phase thermophilic anaerobic digesters to become a central processor for commercial food wastes, selling substantial electricity back to the grid.  Rahway Valley Sewerage Authority in New Jersey is in partnership with Waste Management to accept an “engineered bioslurry” into its anaerobic digesters, powering large internal combustion engine generators, and deploying waste heat to make a dried biosolids soil product. Phosphorus extraction from centrate is underway at Hampton Roads Sanitation District in Virginia Beach and in York County, Pennsylvania, using the Ostara PEARL process to produce a granular struvite fertilizer.  Landis Sewerage Authority in Vineland, New Jersey, is the region’s “greenest” WRRF, with not only enhanced biogas and electricity generation from high strength organic waste acceptance, hosting wind generators and solar PV panels, engaged in aquifer injection of its effluent,  and biosolids use on agency-owned farm fields – a full recycling of nutrients, carbon and water. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its Working Group III 2021 report Mitigation of Climate Change. Among the many practices in this 3,000+ page report is the capture of carbon in soil and biomass. We practitioners know that biosolids is a meaningful ingredient for doing so. The newly released BEAM 2.0 (Biosolids Emission Assessment Model) is a tool available to WRRFs to plan for and to select treatment technologies and biosolids use projects that best respond to the urgent need to respond to the IPCC challenge.  

Ranking well as a technology for GHG mitigation in BEAM is composting. Composting has shown itself to be a robust and resilient technology for biosolids processing. It is available at all scales and has been proven over many decades to build soil, replace fossil fuel-based fertilizers, and support local agriculture.  WRRF compost plants and merchant plants in Virginia (McGill), Maryland (Veolia), Pennsylvania (JP Mascaro), New Jersey (Denali) and New York (Denali) have for nearly 40 years supplied biosolids-based soil products to mid-Atlantic customers, and new facilities are under development in eastern Pennsylvania (McGill) and southern New Jersey (Synagro).  Importantly, compost is an ingredient in engineered soils that are useful in the “green infrastructure,” helping cities manage increased stormwater and rising urban heat. That biosolids compost can be applied to a variety of soil and biomass improvement projects is a factor in its importance in the circular economy.

Biosolids is a potential ingredient in land restoration,  a major category of climate mitigation actions.  Researchers in soil health, land rehabilitation and ecosystem restoration have studied the field-scale results of biosolids use, thereby lending credibility to its use in climate mitigation projects.  A sound research basis is necessary for biosolids to be part of the vibrant, emerging international Voluntary Carbon Market to accomplish greenhouse gas reductions. This is through a system of protocols accepted by financial markets for Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) for Carbon Management.  Protocols have been issued in recent years as a foundation for NBS , such as the American Carbon Registry for carbon accounting, the Verra Soil Carbon Standard, and the Carbon Action Reserve Soil Enrichment Protocol.  

The precise role of biosolids in soil carbon is still a matter of scientific discussion. While soil scientists explore new avenues of inquiry into soil carbon biochemistry, and while the fate of the carbon fraction of biosolids may still not be fully understood, less subject to debate is the field results of biosolids used to support bioenergy crop production on disturbed landscapes. The work of Sylvis Environmental at its BIOSALIX project in Alberta, Canada, is seminal for its focus on soil carbon and biomass production.

In the heavily urbanized Mid-Atlantic region, thermal conversion processes seem to be drawing entrepreneurial talent and public agency champions. The element of the circular economy ethos at play here is the embrace of technology that optimizes for thorough elimination of waste hazards, capture of pure water and elements, and output of useful products. Thermal processes follow along a gradient of increasing temperatures and pressures, with or without water as a matrix, accomplishing destruction of organic micropollutants (perhaps even recalcitrant ones in the PFAS group), elimination of microorganisms (including pathogens), production of sterile water and salts, and, in some technologies, yield of a char or biochar that can be applied beneficially for soil health improvement. 

A wide array of first-of-a-kind thermal projects are close to home in the Mid-Atlantic.  Somax Circular Solutions (hydrothermal carbonization) is under construction in Pottstown, PA.  Bioforcetech (biodrying and pyrolysis) is under construction at Ephrata Borough.  Ecoremedy completed a gasifier demonstration in Morrisville, PA, and moved its equipment to the state of Washington.  Aries Clean Technologies remains hopeful it will soon complete its gasifier at the Linden-Roselle WRRF in New Jersey.  EarthCare is developing a merchant gasifier in Bethel, PA, fed by animal rendering wastes as well as WRRF solids.  Biowaste Pyrolysis Systems is in a shake out period for its Schenectady (NY) installation. On the West Coast U.S., 374Water is underway with a project in Orange County, CA, and Genifuel has a hydrothermal liquefaction demonstration facility at Metro Vancouver, BC.  Should any one or more of these ventures prove successful, a transformative circular economy technology will likely be embraced by WRRFs nationwide, and especially in the mid-Atlantic. 

The key to altering humanity’s course on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions is to win the broad collaboration of the public and business enterprises (A public information campaign on the climate crisis is urgently needed).  Jonathan Safran Foer, the author of We Are The Weather, quips that “the planetary crisis hasn’t proved a good story. It not only fails to convert us, it fails to interest us.”  We practitioners in biosolids management have the same dilemma: wastewater, like climate change, is an aspect of daily experience in which all humans participate, but about which no one really wants to be reminded.  Communication specialists have suggested that the problem needs to be discussed in small pieces, with a local angle, with an invitation to participate, and with a message connecting to the big picture (SUFFICIENCY ECONOMY Envisioning a prosperous descent).  In that regard, social media posts are very popular for #compost, #urbanfarming, and #cleanwater, but not for #biosolids. 

Biosolids goes beyond the circular economy when it connects to local projects that make a difference today for people where they live. Yes, biosolids are meaningful in the very large global view of climate change when they decrease fossil fuel use, mitigate greenhouse gases, and sequester carbon. Yet our role may be more immediate and imaginable.  Biosolids soil products can be offered to communities as a “circular economy” tool for planting tree-covered heat islands, installing rain gardens for managing extreme storms, upgrading urban soils to the effects of drought and building soils for sustainable local food production.  Biosolids is THE manifestation of the “circular economy” at work today in many communities.  We need to celebrate and tell this as our primary message of biosolids management. 

Bill Toffey has over 40 years’ experience in municipal wastewater, environmental and energy management. He is the principal of Effluential Synergies LLC, a sustainable residuals consultancy, and until the beginning of 2022 served as the Executive Director of the Mid Atlantic Biosolids Association, a trade group that covers seven states and supports an industry with 800 biosolids generators and 1,800 biosolids practitioners. 

To view the MABA September 2022 Webinar: Beyond the Circular Economy: Framing Biosolids Recycling at The Food-Energy-Water Nexus, with Bill Toffey presenting, visit https://youtu.be/Ol4-gyBWMpo 

Do you have information, articles, or research to share about or with MABA members?Are you or a colleague interested in sharing a guest article for MABA members?
Contact Mary Firestone at [email protected] or 845-901-7905.

March 2023 - Sally Brown Research Library & Commentary

Sally Brown

Provided for consideration to MABA members by
Sally Brown, PhD., University of Washington

PFAS Take 43

Another year and PFAS has not gone away. Quite the opposite in fact. To drive that point home, the first article in the library, Swimming with PFAS in public and private pools, assures us that we are literally swimming in it. The authors measured PFAS in swimming pools across the state of Florida. They all had PFAS. PFAs levels were distributed equally between public and private pools with the 2nd highest (633 ng L) and the lowest (2 ng L) found in the public pools. The authors conclude their abstract by sounding yet another alarm: Our findings highlight the potential exposure of PFAS in an underexplored and yet important exposure pathway in communities’. Now I swim in pools all of the time and while once we had to clear the pool because of a turd in the deep end, never have we been asked to get out because of PFAS. The point of including this article, of starting with it, is that more and more studies and news articles are showing that the PFAS problem is not limited to wastewater.  

swimming pools

A pool in Sydney, Australia where I got to swim while attending the Australia New Zealand  biosolids conference.
I did not ask about PFAS concentrations before diving in.

For the second article we go back to biosolids, more precisely to the impact on Class A stabilization technologies on the form of PFAS in the final material. In Underestimation of Per- and  Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in biosolids: Precursor transformation during conventional  treatment, the authors look at a range of different perfluorinated compounds both prior to and post biosolids stabilization. They are focused on different technologies to achieve Class A and all of the plants that they sampled are in Florida (same as the pools but that is just a coincidence). Technologies included composting, anaerobic, heat treatment and lime stabilization.  

Point of clarification here. With all of the different types of these compounds I get confused about what refers to what. Here is a quick guide. 
• diPAPs- means polyfluoroalkyl phosphoric acid diesters 
• PFAA means perfluoroalkyl acids 
• PFAS means per and polyfluoroalkyl substances 
• PFCA- perfluoroalkyl carboxylic acids 
• PFSA- perfluoroalkyl sulfonic acids 
o Both of these are the end products of the degradation of bigger and less stable  PFAAs 
• PFOS perfluorooctanesulfonic acid- a big banned one 
• PFOA perfluorooctanoic acid- the other big banned one  

What the authors found is that most of the PFAS in the biosolids, both prior to and post treatment to  reach Class A, were primarily precursor versions of PFAA. Most of them were diPAPs. The authors suggest that prior analysis may have erred and overestimated PFOS concentrations by grouping some PFAAs as PFOS. The range of PFOS that they found was 4 to 40 ppb, well below the 308-618 ppb found by Venkatesan and Halden in an earlier paper. Here is a picture of what they found  for two materials pre and post stabilization.

pfas chart

They also suggest that in the boiling brew that is biosolids and biosolids stabilization, these myriad short chain compounds can change forms. They can also change forms once the biosolids are applied to soil. If the chains get shorter, the authors argue that they are more susceptible to leaching. They warn that regulators everywhere should beware and take this higher potential for leaching into account.  

Why can’t these authors ever end an article without ringing alarm bells? 

alarm bell

The third article in the library gives us real data from a long-term effluent irrigation site - the Living Filter next to Penn State: Spatiotemporal patterns of PFAS in water and crop tissue at a  beneficial wastewater reuse site in central Pennsylvania. This is a great site - long term all year irrigation with treated effluent. The water is used to irrigate fields and forests and has been since the 1960s. Here the authors monitored PFAs concentrations in effluent and in 13 wells on the site for over 2 years. They also tested corn silage and tall fescue (both grass crops, known to have higher uptake than other crops) for PFAS.  

Here is what the effluent looked like followed by the species guide and what water from two of the wells look like: 

psu chart I

psu chart II

PFOS and PFOA are present in higher concentrations (albeit a minority of the PFAS detected) in the effluent than in the well samples. This makes sense as we know these big guys tend to bind to soil organic matter and not move. The PFAS in the animal feed, based on fraction of diet and plant concentrations amounted to a total of 2.5-7.7 mg per animal per year. Here you have to remember that cows are not light weight critters. This is much lower than reported in a previous study. All in all - there but no alarm bells.  

The 4th paper is a type of opinion piece by Ian Pepper and associates. Is PFAS from land  applied municipal biosolids a significant source of human exposure via groundwater? Talks about whether this exposure pathway, the one identified as being of primary concern for PFAS exposure through land application of biosolids, is actually a real concern. Don’t count on Ian here for a resounding ‘No’. Instead we get science speak and a plug for his upcoming study.

pepper paper

The data that he presented in this paper - from across the published literature- essentially says that unless you have industrially impacted biosolids, you have just above background soil concentrations of PFAS with long- term land application. I have no doubt that his upcoming study will be of great value and practical significance. I just wish that he’d gone out on more of a logical limb with this piece. 

The final paper in the library: PFAS in biosolids: A review of state efforts & opportunities for action, gives us a state of the art update as to where things are re: biosolids and PFAS and regulations in the US. Using responses to a survey the author gives us a sense of how different states are responding to monitoring, regulating, testing or ignoring PFAS in biosolids. Here is just one of the many response charts.

state legislation

Results from surveys from several states are available. Reported lab methods that have been used are also included here. If you want to get a sense of the state of chaos or how things are evolving, including questions on communication and research needs, this survey is just one click away.  

As I was writing this, I saw an article in the NYT that showed that PFAS compounds were in wildlife everywhere (https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/22/climate/pfas-forever-chemicals wildlife-animals.html). Here is the map.

NYT map


Biosolids are not the problem here. PFAS and the ubiquitous use of these chemicals are the problem. The sooner that we realize this, the sooner I can stop doing libraries on this topic and perhaps we can focus on the good that land application of biosolids does.


P.S. When Mr Whipple (I'm really dating myself here) told customers not to squeeze the Charmin, he likely wasn't thinking about PFAS.  But perhaps he should have been.  This paper notes the presence of PFAS in toilet paper and suggests that the TP is the primary source of PFAS into the plant.  All this fuss, all of this hysteria and the compound is in toilet paper.  Kind of takes the horror out of the whole thing.  Not to say that it should be in toilet paper....


Sally Brown is a Research Associate Professor at the University of Washington, and she is also a columnist and editorial board member for BioCycle magazine. 


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