Reader Commentary: Taxpayers ripped off in disposal of biosolids

By Jerry Scholder

This time it’s municipal waste water treatment plant regulations enacted by the state government, allowing local governments to fleece taxpayers for optional “technological advances” for the disposal of biosolids. The worst abuse — where else but Washington, D.C. — where they have spent $400 million to introduce thermal hydrolysis at the Blue Plains Waste Water Treatment Plant.

The initial costs were related to nitrogen and phosphorous reductions, but this expense is being added on as an option that is not required by the new regulations. As part of this bargain, they get 10 megawats of energy, allegedly saving $11 million/year.

The additional benefits of this technology is to cut production of Class B biosolids by almost half and convert them to a cleaner, less odorous Class A biosolid that can be sold or given away instead of having to pay to have their Class B biosolids trucked away to be spread on someone’s land.

A market does not currently exist for these Class A biosolids. Land application of Class B biosolids is a very controversial practice, not properly monitored for adhering to EPA regulations and considered harmful to human health, according to some experts. The EPA disagrees that more study is needed in this area.

The reason the taxpayer is being ripped off is that they are not being informed of the alternative option: vermistabilization — utilizing redworms to vermicompost the biosolids and create a safe, healthier and more beneficial organic fertilizer at a fraction of the more costly thermophillic (heat) process. Worms decompose the organic fraction in the sewage sludge, mineralize the nutrients, ingest the heavy metals and devour the pathogens (bacteria, fungi, nematodes and protozoa). Essentially, they work as a “sludge digester.” An odorless, clean, Class A “vermicompost” (not biosolid) is generated as a result.

Many other countries that can’t afford expensive waste water treatment plant costs have adopted this vermibiotechnology and have successfully used it for years to dispose of various types of organic wastes, including human and animal wastes, food wastes, and any decomposing matter.

In Avon, N.Y., they use cow manure to avoid EPA’S strict regulations on biosolids. A thousand cows produce 10 tons of manure daily and 60 million redworms convert this manure to 2.5 million pounds of vermicompost yearly — and they sell all of it, at up to $3 or more a pound as an organic fertilizer.

They also use a composting process to heat up the material, and it takes 70 days to complete the conversion. With vermistabilization, 60 million worms could convert 30 tons of biosolids daily on 1.5 acres of land.

The Town of Front Royal is raising its sewer and water rates, largely due to the $40 to $60 million price tag of upgrading their waste water treatment plant. Hidden in this cost is $4 million to enable the purchase of equipment necessary to convert their biosolids to Class A. The alternative vermistabilization process would require the purchase of some worms, the space needed, and equipment to move the biosolids. The vermistabilization alternative provides a 50-75 percent savings, but is not yet EPA approved. Funds — $100,000 or more — to run a study to prove the viability of this method will need to be obtained prior to applying for certification.

Jerry Scholder is a Front Royal resident.