Appeal filed against sewage sludge regulations

By Ryan Cornell

Shenandoah Riverkeeper Jeff Kelble filed an appeal in Richmond Circuit Court on Wednesday to overturn Virginia’s sewage sludge regulations.

The regulations, formed by the Department of Environmental Quality and approved by the State Water Control Board, govern the application, staging and storage of sewage sludge.

These regulations don’t meet the requirements of state law and can cause pollution in rivers, including the Shenandoah, asserts the appeal.

Sewage sludge is a byproduct of industrial and municipal sewage treatment and can contain heavy metals, pathogens, nitrogen and phosphorous.

“They treat the waste in the treatment centers, both biologically and chemically,” Kelble said. “They take the stuff that settles at the bottom of the treatment tanks and squeeze the water out of it.”

Used as a fertilizer, sewage sludge can help crops grow, but companies and landowners first need to get approval of where and how much sludge can be applied.

“The reason I decided to get involved in this is that there are properties that were getting approval that never should’ve had sludge applied to them,” Kelble said.

He said the appliers are paid by sewage plants to take away sludge.

“They’re allowed to make the decision about how much to apply,” he said. “They’re allowed to make decisions that can pollute the river.”

He said sludge was being applied to areas that flooded frequently as well as other areas with soil already high in phosphorous.

“Landowners didn’t realize that it’s a problem,” he said. “They were told that it’s green, it’s a form of recycling, but that’s untrue.”

Too much phosphorous can leak into the water and lead to pollution. Kelble said an overapplication of phosphorous is a key ingredient in algae blooms, one problem that has plagued the waterways in the valley.

He said sludge, under the new regulations, is allowed to be applied on areas with karst bedrock, which underlies much of Shenandoah, Frederick and Warren counties. He said sludge that is applied to these areas can easily leak into the groundwater.

Kelble said Shenandoah County had tried to prohibit the importation of sludge from outside the county in an ordinance several years ago, but were informed they were not allowed to enforce it.

Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or