Biosolids legislation not likely in coming General Assembly session
By Sean Tubbs & Kurt Walters
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Albemarle County staff have told the Board of Supervisors that legislation to further restrict land application of treated human waste, known as biosolids, is not likely to be passed in the near future.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is in the process of adopting new regulations to govern biosolids. They were approved by the State Water Control Board in late summer but have not yet taken effect.
“Our suspicion is that the General Assembly will probably be reluctant to address [biosolids] until the new regulations play out to see whether or not they are sufficient protections for the concerns that have been raised,” said county attorney Larry Davis.
Albemarle County, as with all Virginia localities, cannot pass ordinances to prevent the use of biosolids. The county does have authority to perform inspections of treated land to verify compliance with state regulations.
Nearly 1,900 dry tons of treated waste were spread on Albemarle County fields this year through the end of November, according to DEQ records. The material comes from wastewater treatment plants in Washington D.C. and other large cities.
The county applications were all conducted by one company — ReCyc Systems of Remington.
This year, ReCyc was approved to add another 545 acres of Albemarle land to its permit, bringing the total to 6,907 acres.
The updated DEQ regulations give added protections to those who are concerned about the potential health effects of biosolids. For instance, a provision will be available to allow concerned citizens to ask for increased setbacks if a doctor certifies their health may be affected by exposure.
Carrsbrook resident Ray Caddell lives next to an 88-acre farm where ReCyc applied biosolids in late May.
“Immediately after the spreading, I developed a hoarse cough that continued, even after repeated doctor visits, well into the fall,” Caddell said. He said symptoms only stopped after the first frost.
He said his daughter experienced a similar condition after biosolids were applied on the farm in 2008. State regulations only allow fields to be treated every three years.
“I do not believe they should be able to apply in growth areas, next to existing neighborhoods, and especially on land in flood plain or adjacent to rivers and streams,” Caddell said.
Albemarle County supervisors have asked for more authority to address citizen concerns.
“If legislation is introduced on this area, Albemarle County is interested in being able to control where spreading of biosolids could occur,” Davis said.
However, none of the area legislators present at a roundtable discussion with supervisors last week expressed interest in submitting a bill to allow counties to exclude urban areas from biosolids application.
Other changes to the DEQ’s biosolids regulations include increasing the minimum setbacks for hospitals and schools to 400 feet, requiring notification signs to remain at treatment sites for 30 days after application, and increasing the setback from surface waters to 100 feet.