MidAtlantic Biosolids Association
Biosolids NewsClips - November 17, 2022

NewsClips is filled with important articles from around the world. This edition includes some positive articles, including an article from the WSU Insider, about a Washington State University research team that developed a new method in waste treatment to efficiently converts sewage to biogas.  

Unfortunately, there are less-than-positive articles as well, including several articles covering plant issues and community concerns about wastewater treatment plants and biosolids facilities, as well as articles related to the developing outcome of the biosolids ban in Maine related to PFAS concerns.

Stay tuned for more information from MABA.  If you have any news to share, please contact Mary Firestone at 845-901-7905 or [email protected]

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Tackles Dairy, Labor, Forever Chemicals
Hershey, PA (15 Nov 2022) - Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s top lobbying priorities for the new year include improving dairy regulations, expanding the pool of farm workers, and ensuring science-based regulation of chemicals. Rick Ebert, the Farm Bureau president, discussed the issues with reporters Tuesday during Farm Bureau’s annual meeting at the Hershey Lodge. On the environmental side, Farm Bureau is monitoring the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to label PFAS, also known as forever chemicals, as hazardous materials. The rule could bring new mandates for farms. PFAS have been transported to some farms through water sources, and through biosolids and paper mill byproducts.

Stony Brook Regional Sewerage Authority chair addresses recent state violations, consent decree
Princeton, NJ (19 Oct 2022) - Stony Brook Regional Sewerage Authority (SBRSA) has entered into a Consent Decree with the United States Department of Environmental Protection (EPA) and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The Consent Decree addresses notices of violation brought by the EPA and DEP alleging that SBRSA violated the Clean Air Act and associated laws and regulations with respect to SBRSA’s operation of two sewage sludge incinerators at its facility located on River Road in Princeton.
N.J. sewer authority agrees to $335K fine in settlement over federal, state clean air act violations

Casella poised to spread sewage sludge over hundreds of acres in Steuben County
Steuben County, NY (10 Nov 2022) - A unit of Casella Waste Systems Inc. has acquired or leased 2,789 acres from a Steuben County farming family that has spread sewage sludge on the properties for decades, a practice Casella plans to continue. County land records show Casella Organics acquired 126 acres and obtained 10-year leases on 34 additional tracts totaling 2,663.7 acres from Leo Dickson & Sons Inc. or its affiliates in July. The Dickson firm, based in Thurston about 10 miles northwest of Corning, spread sludge on 2,061 acres in 2018, according to its 2019 annual report filed with the state. It grows a variety of crops on the land, including corn, alfalfa and soybeans.

Seeking to protect groundwater, N.H. looks to regulate PFAS contamination in soil
Concord, NH (17 Oct 2022) - On a normal morning for Anthony Drouin, he’s knee-deep in soft, thick muck, reaching a long metal pole into a pile of sludge and shoveling it into a bucket. He stuffs the inky black material, the consistency of cake batter, into little bottles he’ll send to a lab to test for a particular set of chemicals: PFAS. Testing for these man-made chemicals in sludge is a regular part of Drouin’s job with the state’s Department of Environmental Services. He’s the residuals management supervisor, a nicer way of saying he deals with the afterlives of things most would rather forget: sewage, septage, sludge.

Something stinks: Grafton Twp. residents fume over possible biogas energy and fertilizer facility
Grafton Twp, OH (2 Nov 2022) - Approximately 100 township residents converged on the township Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday night seeking answers, transparency and action from their elected officials over a possible biogas and biosolids manufacturing facility being built in the township. Residents concerned with the chance that offensive smells and pollutants could escape the nearly 150-acre property at the northwest corner of state Route 83 and Law Road went in front of their trustees, angry and curious about what plans a company called Grow Now has for the future.

A Spreading Problem: How PFAS got into soils and food systems
Hallowell, ME (23 Oct 2022) - To many bureaucrats and wastewater managers in the 1970s and ’80s, spreading municipal and industrial sludge onto Maine’s farms and forests seemed like an inspired solution to a vexing problem. Recycling held strong appeal to many people, and returning nitrogen-rich waste to the soil could boost agricultural productivity without the need for expensive fertilizers. Care had to be taken to test for heavy metals, proponents noted, but they believed spreading human waste on farm fields, an age-old practice in many cultures, was safe and sustainable.  

Maine’s congressional delegation seeks federal support for farmers grappling with PFAS
Lewiston, ME (24 Oct 2022) - Maine's congressional delegation is proposing legislation that would authorize federal grants to states where farms have been contaminated with the "forever chemicals" known as PFAS.
All four members of the delegation — Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden — are co-sponsoring legislation that was inspired by the growing number of Maine farmers dealing with PFAS pollution on their lands.
Maine lawmakers push for PFAS funding for states
News from Augusta: The Next Steps in Our Fight Against PFAS Contamination

$3.6M allocated for sludge dewatering project at Greenfield plant
Greenfield, MA (26 Oct 2022) - A nearly $3.6 million allocation that was approved by City Council will support a sludge dewatering project at the Water Pollution Control Facility on Deerfield Street that aims to save the city money in the long-term. No discussion preceded councilors’ vote last week, which ultimately repurposed money that was previously authorized for an anaerobic digester. Finance Director Liz Gilman explained to councilors at the Ways and Means Committee meeting held the evening prior that when the city went out to bid for the anaerobic digester, bids came back at more than $7 million. As a result of the high cost, the city opted against further pursuing an anaerobic digester.

Too many questions for City Council to approve sewage sludge removal contract
Mount Vernon, OH (5 Nov 2022) - City Council was not ready to give staff authority to enter into a multi-year sewage sludge removal contract when they weren’t sure about the costs or which method the city may ultimately use. Councilmember Tammy Woods said during a committee meeting before Tuesday’s special Mount Vernon City Council meeting that she thought everyone knew her aversion to giving authority to go out for bid and enter a contract without knowing the true cost of a project.

Beleaguered Baton Rouge wastewater plant getting $4.75 million upgrade
Baton Rouge, LA (21 Oct 2022) - A Plaquemine company has signed a $4.75 million contract with East Baton Rouge Parish for mechanical and structural upgrades at the troubled South Wastewater Treatment Plant off Gardere Lane. Tullier Services LLC, a municipal utility contractor, will replace the plant’s sludge conveyors along with other “mechanical, structural and electrical upgrades,” according to the firm’s contract, which was filed Tuesday in East Baton Rouge Parish. The company will also rebuild the systems that feed polymers into wastewater for treatment and sludge separation.

County Approves Purchase of Land for Septage Facility
Flathead County, MT (1 Nov 2022) - The Flathead County Commissioners at their Oct. 21 meeting approved the purchase of a 36.9-acre property that could serve as a new regional septage facility in the county. The purchase agreement for the property, located at 305 Wiley Dike Road in the lower valley, is for $1.5 million with a closing date of the sale in January. The sale price is nearly three times what the commissioners initially approved of earlier in October.
County eyes land purchase for septage facility

Novel waste treatment efficiently converts sewage to biogas
Richland, WA (3 Nov 2022) - A new method to treat sewage can efficiently convert leftover sludge to biogas, an advance that could help communities lower their waste treatment costs while helping the environment. 
Reporting in the journal, Waste Management, a Washington State University research team tested a pretreatment technology, adding an extra step to typical treatments and using oxygen-containing high pressure steam to break down sewage sludge. They found that they were able to convert more than 85% of the organic material to biogas, which can be used to produce electricity or upgraded to renewable natural gas (RNG) for the natural gas grid or for local use.

Welsh Researchers Produce Biohydrogen from Wastewater
Cardiff, Wales (25 Oct 2022) - Researchers at the University of South Wales (USW) are part of a new project that will engineer the world’s first full-scale two-stage anaerobic digestion system producing biohydrogen from wastewater biosolids – which will help to cut the production of millions of tonnes of carbon by-products a year. USW is working with Dwr Cymru Welsh Water, Marches Biogas, AD Ingenuity and the University of Bath to demonstrate this process with sewage biosolids. 

Use of wastewater sludge in fertiliser production proposed
Dublin, Ireland (26 Oct 2022) - EU member states could see the introduction of rules that would require them to re-use wastewater sludge in fertiliser and biogas production. Under the commission’s proposal, EU countries would be required to track industrial pollution at its source, to increase the possibilities of re-using wastewater sludge in biogas production. Rules would also be introduced on recovering phosphorus from the substance, which would support the manufacture of fertiliser and in turn, food production.

New research reveals wastewater treatment plants can catch a cold
Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden (27 Oct 2022) - Just like humans, wastewater treatment plants can get sick, due to viral attacks. Now, new research from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, reveals the implications for the surrounding environment in case the plant catches a cold. The efficient running of wastewater treatment plants is an essential part of modern society. In the sewage industry, the ‘work’ of wastewater plants is often executed by microscopic bacteria. Biological processes carried out by these bacteria turn the wastewater into cleaned water that is safe to discharge into the environment. Essentially the bacteria break down the pollutants and purify the water, keeping the plant running efficiently. 

FDA-banned Chemical is Contributing to Antibiotic Resistance in Canada
University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada (2 Nov 2022) - In 2016, the U.S. FDA banned the common chemical triclosan from being used in antibacterial liquid soaps, and then a year later from being used in topical antiseptics found in healthcare settings. In Canada, there is no such ban, and researchers at the University of Toronto are seeing the effects of that in a recent study. The study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, has demonstrated that triclosan—a chemical often included in household items like hand soaps, toothpastes, and cleaning products to fight off bacteria—is the predominant antibiotic in Ontario sewage sludge.

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.

November 2022 - Sally Brown Research Library & Commentary

Sally Brown

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

A real purpose for biochar?

We are making a shift this month- instead of talking about making char from biosolids we are focusing on using char to enhance the WWTP process. I have a very selfish reason for going deep into this topic. I have always been a big skeptic of biochar. I particularly get my hackles up when people talk about turning perfectly good biosolids into biochar- even if this may eliminate those 5 ppb of PFAS. However, I recently did a balance on nutrient flows in WWTPs and realized that most of the nitrogen going into a plant goes straight out with the effluent. Not good for circular economics or maintaining good relationships with Departments of Ecology. I knew that chars have caused N deficiency in agriculture- and started wondering if they could be used to absorb N from effluent. This library takes a dive into potential uses for char in the WWTP process. Hopefully someday in the not too distant future - we may have actual local research on this very topic.

The first article Biochar technology in wastewater treatment: A critical review is a good place to start. The authors provide a well referenced review. The first part goes into types of char and how you can make designer chars. From there it goes into previous studies showing the potential for biochar removal of metals, nutrients and organics from different wastewaters. It ends with types of wastewaters that have been treated with chars. Almost all of this work has been done in lab settings but there may be something here. Here is a summary of the paper in a figure from the paper:

Next paper takes the focus specifically to nitrogen and wastewater: Adsorption of ammonium in aqueous solutions by pine sawdust and wheat straw biochars. This paper is basic science, proof of concept type work. The authors made biochar from two different substrates, one of which was cooked at two different temperatures. For those of you who watch the cooking channel we are talking quick sear or slow braise. The authors measured characteristics of the different chars. They incubated them (mix and shake) with different concentrations of ammonia. They added other ions to test for potential competition. Here is the stuff they found out:

The slow braise worked better than the fast sauté and better at high pH. For all cases, adsorption happened in the first few hours.

The third paper is another example of proof of concept: Potential to use municipal waste biochar in wastewater treatment for nutrients recovery. This one is from S. Africa where wastewater treatment is pretty advanced. The Bardenpho process for biological P removal came from a S. African engineer. This is a short paper meaning easy to read and missing details. My take on it is that they added char early in the process as they measure COD (chemical oxygen demand) and TSS (total suspended solids) in addition to N and P removal. Talk about a magic elixir- the char was effective for all variables tested. Time here was days, not hours. The char was produced from municipal solid waste that had been cooked at 300 C and ground with a surface area of 600-1000 m2 g. Details on methods including char to influent ratio are missing but it does suggest that the water was passed through the char. At any rate - it seemed to show more than potential:

The last two papers focus on removal of organics (yes, including PFAS) from wastewater using char. I realize that not everyone is as fascinated and focus on N removal as I am. The first is a general review of the topic: Adsorption of emerging contaminants from water and wastewater by modified biochar: A review. It goes through a range of organic contaminants including antibiotics, hormones and bisphenol a that have been removed with biochar. It talks about ways to make biochar to potentially enhance adsorption. It also addresses the nature of the bonding mechanisms that allow for this adsorption. The authors point that that in the general realm of adsorption – biochar is pretty cheap and pretty effective. This paper is not easy to read and is very detailed. The final paper focuses on the contaminant du jour: PFAS.

Batch and fixed bed sorption of low to moderate concentrations of aqueous per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) on Douglas fir biochar and its Fe3O4 hybrids is hot off the press. Here the authors have tested a biochar produced using Douglas Fir with or without added iron. The biochar was cooked hot- 900-1000 C with a surface area of about 700 m2 g. It was then treated with the iron to enhance adsorption. With a rapid equilibrium (< 1 hour) the stuff absorbed 14.5 mg g PFOS and 652 mg g of PFOA.

Maybe this stuff is magic!

My goal here is to get a fast and easy way to remove N from effluent. Take the spent materials and add them to the biosolids to make an even better product. Granted this ability to absorb even more contaminants doesn’t make me too happy but not everyone has the same vision that I do. Point is - this may actually be a way to experience the biochar magic that was promised for soils but has so far remained elusive. It may provide a relatively cheap and easy option to meet regulatory standards and truly live the circular life.

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


Do you have information or research to share with MABA members? Looking for other research focus or ideas?

Contact Mary Firestone at [email protected] or 845-901-7905.

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