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Virginia Cooperative Extension -
 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Biosolids Land Use Ordinances Gaining Favor

Crop and Soil Environmental News, January 1998

Greg Evanylo
Extension Soil Scientist and Associate Professor
Waste Management and Soil & Water Quality

A study prepared by the University of Virginia Institute for Environmental Negotiation (IEN) for the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) entitled "Land Application of Biosolids in Virginia" found that the public will be more accepting of biosolids (municipal wastewater treatment sewage sludge meeting treatment and compositional standards for land application) if they are properly regulated and managed. The IEN recommended that the VDH should develop a system to collect, maintain and track the amounts of biosolids and biosolids constituents (e.g., heavy metals) applied to fields. This information should be compiled and provided to localities on request.

Virginia produces about 400 dry tons of biosolids/day, or 150,000 tons/ year. In addition, 73,000 tons/year are imported from other states that is either land applied or landfilled. About 200,000 acres are permitted for land application, but most of this land receives biosolids once every three years or less. The normal land application rate, which supplies only the N required by the subsequently grown crop (agronomic rate), is 5-8 dry tons/acre. The total amount of biosolids that are land applied to agricultural and forest land, combining Virginia generated and imported sources, is about 150,000 dry tons/year.

Three cities and 28 counties in Virginia have land permitted for biosolids application. The Virginia biosolids program has had a fair degree of public acceptance, but problems due to odors and road spills and general public concern about the safety of land application have resulted in the passing of ordinances by individual counties.

New Kent County adopted an ordinance in June 1997 that addresses issues such as biosolids storage, incorporation, and testing. Some of the key points in the four page document include: 1) no biosolids storage is permitted for more than 48 hours prior to application, 2) biosolids must be incorporated into the soil within 24 hours of application, 3) county staff or Virginia Cooperative Extension agents will collect random samples on an unannounced basis during the months that application occurs, 4) parameters to be tested will be those routinely performed at publicly owned treatment works, 5) sampling costs are borne by the landowner or contractor, and 6) a cash escrow of $500 is usually required when applying for the permit.

Hanover County has imposed sampling requirements similar to those of New Kent County and also requires submission of a weekly application schedule. Orange County has hired a part time individual to monitor the land application program. Much of the individual's time is spent notifying adjoining landowners in advance of biosolids spreading to minimize potential conflicts between contractors and adjacent landowners.

Several other counties that either have an ordinance or are considering adopting one that addresses some aspect of the land application program include: Augusta, Fauquier, Franklin, Halifax, King George, Loudon, Louisa, and Prince William. Caroline and Rappahannock counties prohibit land application entirely. Local ordinances, while sometimes excessively restrictive, may actually expand the land application of biosolids because of increased confidence of the citizens in the program.

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