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Regulations Corner - November 2018

EPA Biosolids Program Audit Report Released

On November 15, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Inspector General (OIG) released their audit report of the Part 503 Biosolids Program.  The performance audit was conducted from June 2017 – July 2018 that included interviews with internal EPA staff as well as representatives outside the agency from various organizations, academic institutions and biosolids programs. 

The report, “Cleaning up and Revitalizing Land: EPA Unable to Assess the Impact of Hundreds of Unregulated Pollutants in Land-Applied Biosolids on Human Health and the Environment,” has received wide-spread attention across the biosolids field. As the title implies, the report is critical of the program’s ability to protect human health and the environment noting numerous pollutants that haven’t had proper risk assessment and highlighting the Agency’s disinvestment in the biosolids program. 

The OIG made 13 recommendations; EPA has accepted 8, but is disputing 5. They have 30 days to come to resolution on the remaining five. There is a list of recommendations at the end of the report that shows which are accepted, and which are disputed. The five recommendations are generally about public information (EPA website) and product labeling to advise the public to be more cautious about biosolids use. 

As part of the review, the EPA Office of Water (OW) and Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), responded to the draft report in August (Appendix D). EPA expressed ‘disappointment in the process the OIG used to develop the recommendations and report.  The Office of Water (OW), in particular, had numerous discussions with the OIG yet almost none of our input has been taken regarding conclusions drawn from the OIG investigation.” The response goes on to state that they are “particularly concerned about how the science is presented in the OIG report. It is biased and raises alarm due to the use of narrowly selected studies and examples, and information that is taken out of context or that is not relevant to the Clean Water Act (CWA) statutory requirements. Also, the subject is presented in a scientifically debatable manner. There is no attempt to make it clear to the reader that the occurrence of pollutants in biosolids does not necessarily mean that those pollutants pose a risk to public health and the environment.”

In addition to the regular Targeted National Sewage Sludge Surveys (TNSSS) and the Biennial Reviews, the Part 503 Biosolids Rule has been reviewed twice by the National Academy of Sciences with the overarching finding that, “there is no documented scientific evidence that the Part 503 rule has failed to protect public health.”

Biosolids Risk Analysis
Northwest Biosolids released a cooperative research report done in partnership with the University of Washington and Kennedy Jenks Consultants that evaluated four exposure scenarios. The report findings demonstrate that it would take years of exposure to reach the equivalent of everyday exposure of pharmaceuticals and personal care products like triclosan or ibuprofen.  A summary of the report is captured in here - Biosolids: Understanding the Risk.

Next Steps
The Association of Biosolids & Byproducts Associations (ABBA) will be drafting an FAQ document that will be made available soon.  Northwest Biosolids will continue to monitor this as it continues to unfold and keep you posted on new developments.

Alaska Proposed PFAS Regulation

The State of Alaska recently released proposed cleanup levels for PFAS. The proposed standards would easily exceed concentrations in every biosolids and most compost - even some certified organic composts. The comment letter also cites concerns that these standards were set without an EPA approved method available for PFAS and designed using the standard Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation calculator with default values. Because the impact would impact all organic amendments, Northwest Biosolids and North East Biosolids & Residuals Assoc. invited the U.S. Composting Council and Washington State Organic Recycling Council as supporting organizations on the comment letter. Access the Alaska PFAS comment letter sent from the above coalition of organizations. 

BC Organic Matter Recycling Regulation 

Northwest Biosolids submitted a letter to the British Columbia Ministry of Environment regarding the second Intentions Paper released for the Organic Matter Recycling Regulation (OMRR). Access the OMRR comment letter sent on behalf of Northwest Biosolids here.