Albemarle Supervisors briefed on state biosolids rules
The Albemarle Board of Supervisors has been briefed by Virginia Department of Environmental Quality officials on steps the county can take to monitor the use of treated human waste as fertilizer.
“Localities are pre-empted [by state law] from regulating biosolids, including its quality and when, where and how it may be applied,” said Albemarle County Executive Thomas Foley.
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A work session was held to Wednesday to provide information on state law and to find out whether the county should create its own inspection program to act as a second set of eyes.
Recyc Systems of Remington is permitted to spread biosolids on 6,438 acres of county farmland, and the company has requested permission to add an additional 545.1 acres. A decision on that request will be made by the DEQ later this year.
A second company, Synagro Cental LLC, has a permit from the Virginia Department of Health to apply biosolids on one Albemarle farm. The DEQ assumed control of regulating biosolids in January 2008.
Mark Graham, the county’s director of community development, said over 12,000 dry tons were spread in Albemarle during 2008-2010.
Through the end of May of this year, 309 dry tons have been applied. A report for June will be made available later this month.
Supervisors wanted to know whether the DEQ had sufficient personnel to inspect the use of biosolids to make sure human waste was not entering surface water or ground water.
“We go out on every farm, we do an inspection and we do follow-up inspections in many cases,” said Gary Flory, water compliance manager for the DEQ. “We’re out there in the field virtually every day because there are significant concerns, and because of those concerns, the General Assembly established a fee structure that allows [us] to be fully-staffed,” Flory said.
Under the existing regulations, companies pay $5,000 to the DEQ to have a permit issued, as well as a $1,231 yearly maintenance fee. Companies also pay the state $7.50 per dry ton applied each year.
“All of those fees are deposited into the sludge management fund [which] is used to fund all of the DEQ inspection and compliance programs as well as any local monitoring done throughout the state,” said Tim Higgs, with the DEQ’s Shenandoah Valley office.
Some of that funding can be used to pay for a local monitoring program.
“The county’s inspection role would be limited to determining if the land application is done consistently with the conditions established by DEQ,” Foley said.
Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker said most people are more concerned with the long-term effects of chemicals in biosolids rather than whether the DEQ is doing its job.
“The Food and Drug Administration [has] extensive testing that has to go on to prove that something is safe,” Rooker said. “Here it almost seems like there’s a presumption that its safe and someone has to prove that it’s not… We’re putting them down on the ground before we know whether they pose significant concerns.”
Several supervisors expressed concerns that state law does not provide sufficient notification.
Adjacent landowners are only notified when a property has been requested to be added to the DEQ permit. The only notice to adjacent landowners before human waste is applied is a small sign placed at the entrance to the property.
Rooker said he did not think it was a good use of county funds to hire an inspector. Instead, he would like to be able to use the money from DEQ to boost the notification process.
“If we got notice, at a minimum we could put it on our website and let people know,” Rooker said.
Higgs said he is working with county staff to develop a Geographical Information Systems layer to track where and when biosolids can be applied.
“They’re asking for ways to better notify the public and be better informed of what’s going on,” Higgs said. “There is an effort being made by the staff here in Albemarle to provide more accurate data to the constituents here.”
Supervisors will continue to discuss the matter and will weigh the possibility of sending a letter to legislators asking for changes to state law. A discussion of whether to create a county-based monitoring program could take place during the cre
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