PFAS in sewage sludge as fertilizer 2023-03-30

Human sewage sludge used as fertilizer is a huge problem in Florida, causing algae blooms when it runs off into waterways. In Georgia, distributing sewage sludge as fertilizer may not be as common, but some Land Application Sites (LAS) rent their spray fields for growing hay or other crops. Plus such waste may also carry cancer-causing forever chemicals: PFAS.

[Sewage sludge in Florida --WLRN 2023-06-02]
Sewage sludge in Florida –WLRN 2023-06-02

Jenny Staletovich, WLRN 91.3 FM, June 2, 2021, State Tightens Rules For Sewage Sludge Used As Fertilizer But Leaves A Loophole In Place,

As damaging algae blooms continue to afflict Florida, the state is taking steps to crack down on and track pollution from biosolids, the waste from sewage plants loaded with nutrients that can fuel blooms.

But the new rules, conservationists warn, continue to ignore a loophole for about 40% of the state’s waste.

At a final hearing last week, state environmental regulators said the new rules address two classes of sludge largely used in agriculture. Class AA, a third class, gets more highly treated to remove pathogens and heavy metals and is classified as a fertilizer not covered by the rules.

But environmentalists warn Class AA still contains phosphorus and nitrogen that feed blooms. Not including the class, they say, creates a gap in tackling worsening blooms that have increasingly fouled Florida waters and fueled saltwater blooms moving inshore.

“Class AA should no longer be exempt,” the Everglades Coalition wrote on behalf of more than 60 environmental groups statewide, when the rules were first proposed.

The state began developing the new rules in 2018 but tabled the effort in 2020 after Gov. Ron DeSantis convened a blue green algae task force to come up with ways to address the state’s worsening water quality. Among the recommendations was better monitoring to detect the source of damaging nutrients.

About 130 sites statewide use the less treated biosolids, Class A and B, mostly on pasture and hay crops, said Maurice Barker, chief of the state’s wastewater management program. The new rules would expand limits on where and when those biosolids can be applied to protect lakes, rivers, springs, well fields and other water supplies. The rules also increase monitoring to get a better handle on the supply of nutrients driving blooms….

Barbara Moran, WBUR, March 30, 2023, Our sewage often becomes fertilizer. Problem is, it’s tainted with PFAS,

…That’s because wastewater treatment plants like Deer Island were not built to handle the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.

The treatment process concentrates PFAS chemicals in the sludge, and therefore in the fertilizer, leading environmentalists and public health advocates to call for an immediate end to its use. Others are not sure that a full ban on sludge-based fertilizer, or “biosolids,” is the answer. But there is widespread agreement that we have only begun to grasp the extent of the problem.

“I think we’re only starting to discover how important biosolids are as a source of PFAS contamination,” said Heidi Pickard, a Harvard doctoral student who is analyzing soil and corn from farms contaminated by sludge-based fertilizer.

“Most states have not even begun to test to see if biosolids that have been applied to land are contaminated, that soil is contaminated,” Pickard said. “I think if they go and look, they’re going to discover that this is a huge contamination issue everywhere.”

Thanks to WWALS Science Committee Chair Dr. Tom Potter for finding the WBUR story.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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