For Immediate Release: July 12, 2021
65% Say 'No More Sewage Sludge on Farmland' in Comments to Department of Ecology
Tumtum, WA: Out of exactly 100 public comments received by the Washington State Department of Ecology on the morning of the comment deadline, 86% of people who submitted written comments don't want municipal sewage sludge to be used as fertilizer, or that its use be significantly more strictly regulated. 65% want an immediate ban. Widely recognized safety concerns about chemical contamination in sewage sludge which is then used as fertilizer were commonly mentioned by commenters. [July 13 Update: At the closing of the comment period there were 113 comments. 63% favor an immediate ban on land-application, 21% seek more stringent regulation. The remaining 16 comments (14%) were either pro or neutral.]
The Washington State Department of Ecology proposes to re-issue a five-year Statewide General Permit for Biosolids Management which expired in September, 2020. Biosolids is another word for treated sewage sludge. The Statewide General Permit sets the regulations for Washington facilities which are involved in the spreading of sewage sludge on farm and forest land.
Ecology is accepting public comments on a draft permit until 11:59 PM July 12, 2021.
Most of the commenters who supported stricter regulations supported tighter rules, such as testing for a wider variety of contaminants or taxing and regulating the sludge, which is often given away free to farmers, the same way other fertilizers are. While not seeking an immediate ban on land application, some of the stricter requirements suggested by commenters could themselves ultimately preclude land-application of sewage sludge. For example, if additional testing for chemicals (that does not occur now) indicated unacceptable levels of one or more pollutants in most batches of sludge, then the land-application program might be forced to close down.
Ecologically sound alternatives to land-application of sewage sludge exist and are in use in the U.S.A. and in other countries. Several commenters strongly suggested that the Department of Ecology embark on a quest to develop alternatives to land-application that can be implemented in towns and cities across the state.
Most commenters want the land-application to end now. That would mean Ecology would have to find another way to manage the disposal of the 86,000 dry tons of biosolids that the agency says are currently land-applied each year in Washington. In the mean time between an outright ban and deployment of replacement infrastructure, hazardous waste landfills exist accessible by truck and train from points in Washington and some existing incinerators in the state can be adapted to incinerate sewage sludge while the transition to a different disposal methodology takes place.
All the comments can be accessed HERE:
Sierra Club of Washington: Controlling Sewage Waste: Washington State Ecology’s Approach versus Science
Protect Mill Canyon Watershed is a grassroots committee based in Spokane and Davenport that organizes for a ban on land-application of sewage sludge.
Inland Foodwise Online: It’s Time to Stop Spreading Sewage Sludge on Washington Farms Say Environmental and Food Safety Advocates
IFO is a blog about the inland northwest food system.