A Simple Thanks to Biosolids Composting is in Order…
The rebirth of the US composting industry, in many ways, can be attributed to the development of biosolids composting as a waste management method. Of course, in the late 1970’s and through the 1980s, ‘biosolids’ was called ‘sewage sludge’. Back then, the US EPA was moving towards the banning of ocean dumping of biosolids, and was tasked to create safe land-based uses for it.
Before Biosolids Recycling—Sewage flowing into the ocean near Los Angeles
After Biosolids Recycling—Turf at a Maryland park with biosolids compost incorporated
What are the best ways biosolids composters can take advantage of the evolution of regulations and technology to ensure their customers that they make safe, saleable biosolids? With the help of Clean Water Act funding, pretreatment programs were implemented – which identified and lowered industrial sources of heavy metals – so cleaner sludges could be generated. The US EPA and USDA worked together to develop the concept of ‘PFRP’ – the Process to Further Reduce Pathogens – which identified the time and temperature relationship necessary to kill human pathogens. Of course, today, the PFRP research is used to regulate pathogen destruction in all feedstocks of compost.
The US EPA and USDA collaboration also led to in-depth heavy metal (and pollutant) research and the related risk assessment completed in large part by Dr. Rufus Chaney. This research is also used today to govern the pollutant limits allowable in most feedstocks of compost marketed in the US.
The pathogen and heavy metal research were key elements in the US EPA’s CFR, Part 503 regulations, better known by some as the Clean Sludge regulations. The US EPA funding and collaboration with the USDA, brought together an incredible group of researchers (e.g., Drs. Chaney, Millner, Epstein, Gouin and others) and it funded excellent product quality and large volumes of end use research.
Finally, the implementation of large-scale biosolids composting programs, which had to deal with feedstock related stigma, forced the early adopters to take market development seriously, as well as encourage a technical understanding of compost and its interaction with soil and plant systems. Those of us old enough to remember, know that the early advent of biosolids composting helped to jump start the US composting industry.
Ron Alexander, R. Alexander Associates, Inc. (www.alexassoc.net) a compost product and market development consulting company (and early biosolids compost marketer).