"Iím sure that many of you, along with me, have contemplated the question, "What happens to it after I flush?" Hopefully, after reading this article, you will have a better understanding of what the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) affectionately calls "biosolids".
Biosolids are nutrient-rich organic material produced from sewage sludge and residential septage. This material is processed to eliminate odor, disease-causing organisms, and vector attraction (flies, rodents, mosquitoes, etc.). The end result is a product high in nitrogen and phosphorus and suitable for plant growth. It can be applied to agricultural fields to help reduce the need for fertilizers or to abandoned mine reclamation sites to help plants become established. Biosolids can even be used in landscaping applications, if they meet certain criteria.
Before biosolids can be applied, they must meet stringent DEP and EPA standards for nutrient pathogens, PCBs (organic compounds that have been shown to cause cancer) and metals. Landscape-grade biosolids must meet even more stringent standards. In order to eliminate any potential human health problems, DEP established regulations concerning how and where biosolids may be applied.
During the past 20 years, DEP issued permits to more than 1500 sites for the application of biosolids. This number, representing both active and closed sites, has not resulted in any water quality impacts on surface or ground water. This shows that biosolids, if properly managed, not only do not pose a threat to human health and the environment, but also can be a valuable resource. Normally, this resource is placed in a landfill; reducing space needed for other items that cannot be recycled or incinerated, and causing the nutrient value to be lost. Both these disposal methods cost municipalities dollars that could be spent in other ways.
We are all responsible for the generation of biosolids. Pennsylvanians produce approximately 2.2 million tons of biosolids per year. That amounts to approximately 500 pounds per household. Currently there are no biosolid sites in Warren County, meaning that a potentially valuable resource is being wasted. Landowners interested in having biosolids applied to their land, or municipalities with sewage treatment plants interested in ways to utilize the Biosolids Program should contact the Dept. of Environmental Protection.
Here are a few more sites with good information on biosolids:
DEP-Biosolids Home Page.
Government of Ontario, Canada. Type in Biosolids in the Search box.