By Jerry Scholder
The recent public meeting by Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality to inform Warren County residents of their intention to increase land application of Class B biosolids resulted in a clear message sent by its residents: been there, done that, and it isn't happening again.
Having cleaned 20 tons of these biosolids through the use of redworms over the past two years, I have more knowledge of this material than most. The major issues of land application concern the odors it emits, the perceived health problems for those with compromised immune systems, and the lack of oversight by the DEQ of the land applicators adhering to prescribed practices and regulations in force.
Potential spreading of these pathogenic biosolids in areas where frequent flooding occurs and near areas where children attend school and play was also a primary concern to those attending.
A small, but vocal, audience was present due to the lack of adequate notice given to county residents and to landowners who were in close proximity to the proposed areas for biosolids application. While the DEQ has a 99 percent commitment to inspections of land application sites, only 3 people are available to monitor a dozen counties where spreading is permitted.
DEQ relies heavily on local monitoring and local feedback of potential problems when the biosolids are already dispersed, as in the case of noxious odors, boundary disputes, or spreading during inappropriate weather conditions. No inspections of the biosolids are done prior to their application on land.
The biggest problem appears to be the lack of the town or county's ability to stop the practice, or even regulate it, if they don't want it in their backyard. Only the state can do this through changes in current regulations.
In numerous previous public debates where these land application proposals have been submitted, no denial of permits has occurred. According to DEQ, even the Department of Health has no jurisdiction over these permits.
This meeting is only the beginning in the approval process and it will be important for all who are concerned to send in their comments and concerns during the 30-day open comment period, to be announced by this paper.
Another public hearing is likely to be held if enough requests for an additional hearing are received. The only sure way to have your voice heard is to call your legislator and tell them what is going on and how you feel about it, as most of the process is approved through legislation and can only be changed through legislation.
As no previous applications to spread Class B biosolids have been denied, a concerted effort by everyone will be needed if we intend to be the first to have this practice stopped.
To provide full disclosure, my company, W.O.R.M.S., uses vermistabilization - the use of redworms to clean biosolids of any pathogens, eliminate odors, and create a clean, nutrient-rich fertilizer for use by the public as a cost-effective, environmentally friendly and easy way to resolve the issues of Class B biosolids being applied to agricultural crops by converting them to a cleaner Class A biosolid.
Jerry Scholder is a resident of Front Royal.