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July 07, 2012

Soundboard 7-6-2012 - Charlottesville's news straight from the source


Soundboard: Charlottesville's news straight from the source

A collaborative local news radio program by WTJU 91.1 FM, Charlottesville Tomorrow, and C-Ville Weekly.

Each Friday from 4-5 PM, tune in to hear area journalists and guests discuss local news, culture, and community issues in the Charlottesville area. Whether we're talking about city politics, scientific innovations, or the local music scene, you'll get to hear in-depth discussion about stories that matter.

Soundboard is co-hosted by WTJU's Lewis Reining and Charlottesville Tomorrow's Jennifer Marley.

Podcasts may be downloaded from this website, via RSS, and via Charlottesville Tomorrow on iTunes.

Listen using player above or download the podcast: Download 20120706-Soundboard

The July 6 show features contributors Giles Morris, Ryan McCrimmon & Laura Ingles (from C-Ville Weekly) and  Brian Wheeler & Ian Lamb (Charlottesville Tomorrow) discussing: 

Soundboard is produced by Robert Packard and Nathan Moore. We hope you enjoy it, and we look forward to your feedback!




July 02, 2012

As biosolids applications begin, practice still has champions and detractors

DailyProgressBy Ian Lamb
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, July 2, 2012

Driving down a country road in Albemarle County, one would hardly think twice seeing the small sign posted along a driveway. About the size of a “For Sale” sign and forest green, it often escapes the notice of passing motorists.

20120605-AdventureFarmThis sign on Earlysville Road gives public notice that a farm is going to be applying biosolids as fertilizer. The sludge comes from wastewater facilities after it has been treated to reduce pollutants and pathogens. Biosolids can be disposed of through incineration or buried in a landfill, but they can also be used as fertilizer on farms.

Since 2007, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has been in charge of issuing companies permits, and ensures that the companies applying the biosolids follow strict regulations, such as not allowing livestock to graze on biosolid-affected land for 30 days. Although the permits cost the companies around $5,000, the fertilizer is free for the farmer.

Currently, the only two companies permitted to deposit biosolids in Albemarle are Remington-based ReCyc Systems and Synagro, a national organization. As of May, 277 dry tons of biosolids have been dumped in the county this calendar year, all by ReCyc Systems.

ReCyc Systems receives most of its sludge from the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant, operated by the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority. Some is also received from the Maryland Correctional Institution Wastewater Plant, south of Hagerstown.

Continue reading "As biosolids applications begin, practice still has champions and detractors" »

December 21, 2011

Biosolids legislation not likely in coming General Assembly session

By Sean Tubbs & Kurt Walters
Charlottesville Tomorrow
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.

Continue reading "Biosolids legislation not likely in coming General Assembly session" »

July 07, 2011

Albemarle Supervisors briefed on state biosolids rules

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, July 7, 2011


<p><strong>Listen using player above or download the podcast: </strong>

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

Listen using player above or download the podcast:  Download 20110706-biosolids

A map generated by Albemarle County's GIS department depicting locations where biosolids can be applied

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.

Gary Flory and Tim Higgs of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality answer questions from Supervisors

“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

June 28, 2011

Mallek seeks increased scrutiny of biosolids; Recyc seeks to apply treated sewage on more acreage

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The chair of the Albemarle Board of Supervisors will ask her colleagues in July if they will support an effort to increase scrutiny of the use of treated human waste as fertilizer in Virginia.    

“Citizens have little substantive information about the contents and or safety of those contents, thus the uproar every time a permit is activated,” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek in an email to Charlottesville Tomorrow.

A tractor spreads biosolids on Jane Williamson's farm on May 31, 2011

Mallek’s request comes at a time when the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is considering whether to allow Culpeper-based Recyc Systems to extend the practice of spreading biosolids to more county land.

Susan Trumbo, Recyc’s technical manager, said she and many others have worked in direct contact with biosolids for years without ill effects.

“It's a very emotional topic, but if you look at the facts, the doctors and medical experts repeatedly say there's been no health issues in regards to properly applied biosolids,” Trumbo said in an interview.

The DEQ currently allows Recyc Systems to apply biosolids on 6,438 acres of county farmland, and the company has requested permission to add an additional 545.1 acres in the county. A decision will be made by the DEQ later this year.

The DEQ is also reviewing several changes to its regulations on biosolids, but these generally concern notification procedures and not whether more research is warranted into their safety.

Mallek has been reviewing the proposed changes, but feels they do not go far enough to address potential health concerns.


“The DEQ maintains that they are watching the research to make sure they are current, but that is a long way from a complete list of components or their individual toxicity, or the way they may interact [with the environment],” Mallek said.

Trumbo said she understood the purpose of the new regulations, even if she does not think they are based in science.

“The new regulations are going to add another layer of rules, whether or not there's a need for them, in order to respond to the emotions of the public,” Trumbo said. “I don’t know if they'll protect the environment any more than we do today.”

Biosolids in Albemarle County generally come from Washington’s Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant. The waste is treated by a series of processes to reduce pathogens, including using lime to raise the pH levels of the soil to destroy the cell membranes of any microbes.

Greg Evanylo, a professor of soil environmental quality at Virginia Tech, said he believes the practice is reasonably safe, but he does have his doubts.

“You have to assess risk versus reward, and there are plenty of situations in everyday life that we take for granted,” Evanylo said. “Nothing is 100 percent risk-free but I am comfortable that the regulations are protective.”

Evanylo said lime stabilization will not eliminate all of the pathogens that may be present in biosolids, but that their proper application greatly reduces the risk.

“I think it's much more difficult to get ill from these microbes than some people might want to believe,” Evanylo said.

However, Jordan Peccia, a professor of chemical and environmental engineering at Yale University, recently co-authored a paper that suggested current practices may not be enough to protect against norovirus, which can cause diarrhea.

Under the new regulations, companies permitted to spread biosolids will be compelled to provide more information on required signage

Peccia said when the Environmental Protection Agency studied biosolids before issuing standards in 1992, its scientists based their assessments on two potential pathogens — salmonella and enterovirus.

“We went back and did a risk analysis and added all these pathogens,” Peccia said. “We found that the risk for salmonella and enterovirus were really quite low. But when we included new pathogens such as norovirus and adenovirus we found that the risk was significantly higher.”

Peccia said his research illustrates why more study is necessary, but that doesn’t mean he advocates banning the practice.

“The next step is that we really need to have a better idea of what the pathogens are before we can say anything about the risk,” Peccia said. 

Evanylo said he believes an area that requires further study is that of emerging organic compounds, such as flame-retardants and detergents. However he said data collected to date have not indicated anything alarming to him.

Neil Williamson, president of the Free Enterprise Forum, which analyzes government policy on behalf of the local business community, said his organization has studied the issue and believes that current regulations are sufficient to monitor the practice.

“We generally believe that biosolids regulations as they exist today are rather stringent and protect the health, safety and welfare of citizens,” Williamson said in an interview.

He said they have been safely applied for twenty years and that the DEQ requires the biosolids to be tilled into the ground within 24 hours of application, as well as keeping cattle from grazing the lands for 30 days.

“Those [regulations] are designed to mitigate perceived concerns, not scientific concerns,” Williamson said. He added there is no public notification process required for the practice of using poultry waste as fertilizer.

Mallek has requested the Board of Supervisors discuss the matter at their meeting on July 6.

June 01, 2011

Sewage waste applied next to Carrsbrook neighborhood

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tractor-trailers from Washington’s Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant drove through the Carrsbrook neighborhood of Albemarle County Tuesday on their way to deposit several tons of treated human waste on a farm that borders the South Fork of the Rivanna River.

For hours, crews sprayed the material into the air to cover a large portion of the 88-acre property, which is owned by Jane C. Williamson. Steam rose from the material as it came into contact with the ground and the humid air.

At least one neighbor was angered by the application.

“This is not a 10,000 acre farm in the middle of Kansas,” said Ray Caddell, who lives next to the farm. “This piece of property is in the growth area, on the banks of the South Fork of the Rivanna River, and it’s in a flood plain.”

Caddell said he is not bothered by the smell from the human waste, but is concerned about the potential health effects. The last time the material was spread on the farm was in 2008. Afterwards, he said his wife developed a cough that lingered that entire summer.

“It went away soon after the first hard frost,” Caddell said.

The practice of applying Class B biosolids on farms is regulated by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. ReCyc Systems of Culpeper holds a permit allowing them to apply the material to 6,438 acres in Albemarle County. They are paid by wastewater treatment plants to remove sewage solids while depositing it for free on the lands of willing farmers and property owners.

SLUDGE map   Source: Daily Progress/Ross Bradley

One of the witnesses to Tuesday’s application was County Supervisor Rodney Thomas. He said he is a supporter of the practice, but has had concerns about it being applied within the county’s growth area and along the river.

“We all support farming and agriculture, and this is part of it,” Thomas said.

“They are obviously meeting all the criteria that they have to at this point,” he added.

Thomas said his concerns about potential effects on health were allayed when he spoke with an inspector from the DEQ and found out that the material had been treated with lime.

“What lime stabilization does is raise the material’s pH above 7, therefore killing any pathogens,” said Carl Tinder, a farmer who rents the land from Williamson. He will plant No. 2 yellow corn later this year, but added it will not be used directly for human consumption.

Tinder feels confident enough in biosolids to have applied them twice at his own house in Albemarle and plans to do so again next year. He said the practice is well-regulated and pointed out the DEQ only allows the fields to receive biosolids every three years.

“There’s not a study out there that shows a negative health risk associated with the spread of biosolids,” Tinder said.

Caddell said his only notification was this small green sign placed at the farm's entrance at the end of Dover Road

Nevertheless, Caddell is convinced the source of his family’s illness is the material’s application.

“You cannot draw a straight line between my wife’s six-month cough [and biosolids],” Caddell said. “But it started the day they put it down.”

Authority over biosolids was transferred from the Virginia Department of Health to the DEQ in 2007. Soon after, a panel of experts studied the issue and concluded that the practice was safe according to contemporary science. However, it did sound a cautionary note.

“While the current scientific evidence does not establish a specific chemical or biological agent cause-effect link between citizen health complaints and the land application of biosolids, the Panel does recognize that some individuals residing in close proximity to biosolids land application sites have reported varied adverse health impacts,” reads the report.

Still, two members of the panel issued a dissenting opinion that said the DEQ needed to prove that the use of biosolids was safe and to regulate it even further.


One of those dissenters was Henry Staudinger, an attorney from Shenandoah County. He became involved with the issue in 1995 when he took ill after biosolids were applied next to his home.

“Everybody says that there’s no scientific connection between illnesses and [biosolids] but what they don’t tell you is that they make it impossible to make the scientific connection because they don’t test what’s in it,” Staudinger said.

“They test for fecal coliform, they test for a few heavy metals and they test for nutrients,” Staudinger said. “They don’t test for anything else that’s in there. There could be 65,000 or more different things in there.”

In July 2010 , researchers at the University of Toledo studied the degree to which soybean plants drew in contaminants, like pharmaceuticals, which are found in wastewater and biosolids.  The study showed that chemicals did accumulate in plant tissues.  However, reviewers of the research said the study had limitations and further research is recommended to fully assess the risks of human exposure.

In January 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency released a study that found there were 145 known pollutants in biosolids, including steroids, hormones and heavy metals. That research is ongoing.


Jane C. Williamson wrote to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday saying she made the decision to allow biosolids on her land after careful consideration.

“Not one other person in my neighborhood of [more than] 150 households has made a similar complaint, even though many of them use our field on a regular basis to walk, jog, fish, pick blackberries, ride bicycles and exercise their dogs, their children and their houseguests,” Williamson wrote in an email obtained by Charlottesville Tomorrow.

Responding to concerns about being so close to the river, Williamson said the Rivanna is protected by previous land-management decisions.

“All the waterways that abut this property are buffered by wide strips of land that have either been left wild… or have been planted with 850 hardwood trees,” she added.

The Albemarle supervisors are expected to discuss the matter at their meeting today.


January 31, 2011

Landowners concerned about dumping of D.C. sewage in Albemarle

DailyProgressBy Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Monday, January 31, 2011

On Jan. 12, trucks carrying sewage from Washington’s main wastewater treatment plant arrived at Agnes Fotta’s farm on Reas Ford Road, less than half a mile from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir.

Sludge being applied on a field in Campbell County (Daily Progress file photo)

They began spraying treated human waste, also known as biosolids or sludge, as a way to both fertilize land and dispose of the waste.

Since 2001, Recyc Systems of Culpeper has held a permit to apply the material on land in Albemarle County. Last October, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality approved a permit modification allowing the firm to apply sludge to an additional 590 acres, bringing the total in Albemarle to 6,438 acres.

No money is exchanged between the landowner and Recyc Systems. Recyc is paid by the wastewater treatment plant to haul the material away, and the landowner benefits by getting free fertilizer.
Some county landowners are growing concerned about the use of biosolids and the growth of its application.

“Sewage sludge was previously dumped in the ocean but this practice was banned in 1988,” said Earlysville resident Vincent Lytle. “Now that same sludge is being dumped in our backyards.”

Lytle first learned about sludge when he received a notification from the DEQ about the permit modification that was sent to the Loftlands Glen Homeowners’ Association. He contends biosolids are filled with heavy metals, pathogens and pharmaceutical waste.

He is seeking a public forum to evaluate whether the practice is safe.

However, Lytle was told a public hearing was not needed because DEQ rules only require one if the permit holder seeks to double the amount of land.

At least one member of the Board of Supervisors is concerned about the issue.

“We’re starting to see more and more problems with biosolids being directly delivered onto the fields,” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek. “It’s starting to creep up against neighborhoods now and it’s something we’re going to have to deal with.”

An industry spokesman defends the practice as environmentally sound.

“We hear those concerns expressed and they are legitimate, but they have been addressed in research and in the regulatory process,” said Ned Beecher, executive director of the North East Biosolids and Residuals Association.

Beecher acknowledged that heavy metals are present in biosolids, but only in trace amounts that pose no threat if applications are controlled.

“Research continues but the risk is not considered to be significant,” Beecher said.

Officials with Recyc Systems declined a request for an interview, but the company’s website claims the practice is safe.

“The good news about biosolids is that they are totally recyclable,” states the website. “Because they are organic, they can (and should) be returned to the earth as fertilizer for plants. … Field research has shown that biosolid nutrients work better than chemical fertilizers for plants, and increase crop yields.”

In a section on safety, Recyc’s website points to a 1992 EPA study that claimed there had been no documentation of biosolids causing illness or disease.

But since then, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has conducted more research to better understand the chemical composition of treated human waste.

In January 2009, the EPA released a study that found there were 145 known pollutants, including steroids, hormones and heavy metals. Research is ongoing, but not fast enough, according to one critic of sludge.

“What has not been determined is what the safe limit is for the contaminants in the environment,” said Ed Kondis, a retired landowner from Fauquier County who became involved in the campaign to stop sludge after he learned a nearby farmer had agreed to accept it.

Kondis said the government’s approach has been to approve permits before demonstrating that the application of sludge is safe. Instead, he said they should have sought to do no harm.

“There have been no scientific studies done that prove it is safe for public health,” Kondis said.
In 2007, the General Assembly commissioned an expert panel to review the application of biosolids to see if they are safe and if they affect property values.

“The panel uncovered no evidence or literature verifying a causal link between biosolids and illness, recognizing current gaps in the science and knowledge surrounding this issue,” states the executive summary.

“While the current scientific evidence does not establish a specific chemical or biological agent cause-and-effect link between citizen health complaints and the land application of biosolids, the panel does recognize that some individuals residing in close proximity to biosolids land application sites have reported varied adverse health impacts.”

The Rivanna Water & Sewer Authority takes no position on the practice, according to Executive Director Thomas L. Frederick. He said the RWSA pays McGill Environmental Systems $43 per ton shipped to their facility in Waverly.

Until recently, biosolids were regulated by the Virginia Department of Health, but the General Assembly handed the approval process to the Department of Environmental Quality in 2007.

“I would say that biosolids are probably the most regulated organic material, tighter than fertilizer and animal residuals,” said Gary Flory, water compliance officer for the DEQ’s Shenandoah Valley office, and the man responsible for granting the permit.

Download Download DEQ's October 2010 permit modification for Recyc Systems in Albemarle County

The terms of the permit require Recyc to notify localities 100 days before application.

The firm must notify the DEQ 14 days before application, but Flory said it often happens that they are notified on the day of application.

The permit restricts what agricultural activities can occur on the land after application. For instance, livestock are not allowed to graze for 30 days after application to ensure that any pathogens that are present will have died.

To be granted a permit, operators must develop a plan to ensure nitrogen and phosphorous do not enter the watershed and buffer zones must be established.

Flory said Recyc Systems has never been cited for improperly discharging sludge in Albemarle.

“We have a field presence to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Flory said. “We do some inspections to make sure they’re flagging the buffers so you don’t have impact to groundwater.”

However, he said Recyc is currently being cited for two applications of sludge that occurred before the 100-day notification period to the county was up. Neither was on Fotta’s land.

Recyc’s permit has an expiration date of June 30, 2019, but Flory said it can be revoked “if there is a change in the science or current knowledge.”

It is unclear what, if anything, the county can do to regulate the practice.

“The county has limited authority related to the land application of sewage sludge under state law,” said Deputy County Attorney Greg Kamptner in an e-mail to Supervisor Dennis S. Rooker, who asked for the information in response to a request from Lytle.

In Blanton v. Amelia County, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that local zoning regulations banning the practice are pre-empted by state law, according to Kamptner.

“DEQ finds out about a planned application of sewage sludge the day before a land application will occur and if it can free up an inspector, it does so,” Kamptner said.

Sludge has not yet been applied to Lytle’s neighbor’s land, and he remains concerned about the possibility of his family’s health being affected after it is.

“Why should I be subjected to the risk that my neighbors are willing to take?” Lytle asked.
Mallek sounds the same note.

Daily Progress file photo showing sludge being applied in Albemarle County

“The unknowns in the biosolids are what alarms me,” Mallek said. “I predict that in another decade a decision will be made that these are not healthy behaviors and we should stop.”

However, Beecher said he does not think alternatives to using sludge as fertilizer are as attractive.

“The other options are to incinerate or put it in a landfill, both of which do not take advantage of the nutrients,” Beecher said. “However, it should be done with the understanding of the community.”

He said the benefits of returning organic material to soil outweighed the risks.

“Our soils have been depleted of organic matter,” Beecher said. “Nutrients provide additional support for better plant growth than can be attained with commercial fertilizer.”