Dr. Sally Brown, University of Washington

Dr. Sally Brown with George & Donna O'Connor

Dr. Sally Brown doesn’t need much of an introduction. You probably already read her Biocycle column like a dedicated fan, and check out her monthly Northwest Biosolids library write ups to see what the hot new research is. Many of you have worked with her for decades, and many more of you entered the biosolids world as her graduate student. Dr. Brown is something of a biosolids celebrity, and it is hard to describe the breadth of her impact. But, we will try!

(Pictured above: Sally Brown with George O'Connor, retired Univ. of Florida and his wife Donna)

sally & rufus
Sally Brown as a post-doc under Rufus Chaney

Sally Brown got her BA from Williams College in Williamstown MA in Political Science.  She went on to the University of Maryland and received her MS and PhD under Dr. Rufus Chaney and Dr. Scott Angle in 1996. Her dissertation was titled, not surprisingly, the Long-term effects of biosolids application on agricultural soils. She began her biosolids journey in her previous career, as a chef and caterer. Anyone who’s eaten at her table can attest to her skills in this area. Working for the caterer she decided that it should be easier to get locally grown produce when it was in season- so she started a local produce company delivering fruits and vegetables from farms on Long Island to stores and restaurants in NY and CT.  From that, she wanted to figure out a way to make the ties between local farms and cities tighter- and poop was her answer.

sally & maile
Sally Brown & Maile Lono-Batura

Sally Brown realized that if people can understand the power and benefits of poop- then that is a huge step to a sustainable society. She says “It is very gratifying to see my work be appreciated and directly applied.” There are great people in the biosolids world, and it is a great community. Throughout her career in biosolids management, she says the thing that has changed the most is that “People are no longer afraid and in many cases are proud of their programs - the desire to slide under the radar is being replaced by say it loud and say it proud.”

There are many leaders in the biosolid world that taught Sally Brown over the years. She began her work with Rufus Chaney, Chuck Henry taught her the power of partnerships, and George O’Connor has always kept her grounded and solid on science. But Sally Brown hasn’t just learned a lot, she’s also taught countless students at the University of Washington, led hundreds of research projects, and advised enough graduate students that she has her own biosolids family tree. 

Many of Sally Brown’s former students work in the biosolids industry, and are leaders themselves. We couldn’t round up bios or track down all of Sally’s amazing students, so here is a snapshot of her family tree. 

sally students
Sally Brown’s former students, Kristen McIvor, Kate Kurtz, Dana Devin-Clarke, Diane Nelson and Andrew Trlica
  • Amber Corfman is the Washington State Department of Ecology biosolids coordinator for the Northwest Region. 
  • Dana Devin-Clarke studied reclaimed water and fate of the antimicrobial triclosan on biosolids amended soils. She now works for Kennedy/Jenks Consultants. 
  • Julia Jay is working as a consultant on green stormwater infrastructure at Natural Systems Design.
  • Kate Kurtz and Andrew Trlica focused on quantifying carbon sequestration associated with land application of biosolids and compost. Kate Kurt’s paper which summarized her thesis, Quantifying the benefits associated with land application of Organic Residuals in Washington State, is the paper King County cites and forwards most. The data formed the foundation for King County’s carbon sequestration calculations of its Loop biosolids. Kate Kurtz spent many years as a soil scientist and project manager for King County, and now works for SRT consultants - many Northwest Biosolids members have hired her for their top projects. 
  • Kristen McIvor came to Sally wanting to teach people to grow their own food. She had no idea what biosolids were and she was terrified of them. Fast forward to today – she runs one of the most successful urban agriculture programs in the entire county – Harvest Pierce County in Tacoma, WA which uses Tacoma’s TAGRO product in all community gardens. 
  • Norah Kates focused on green stormwater infrastructure. Her work focused on disproving existing guidelines, which prohibit the use of biosolids in Washington state, and developing alternative quantitative standards. She now works for King County Water and Land Division on water quality projects related to stormwater, as a Water Quality Planner.
  • Peter Severtson  studied use of phospho-gypsum and biosolids for reclaiming mine tailings.  He is the Washington State Department of Ecology biosolids coordinator for the Central region.  
  • Rebecca Singer studied the use of recycled water on farm and forest land. She started out as the state biosolids coordinator at the Washington State Department of Ecology, and is now the Resource Recovery Section Manager for King County. 
  • Ryan Batjiaka looked at Compost use by state department of transportation and also optimized potential soil mixes for the City of San Francisco. He now works for San Francisco’s biosolids program. 

Not every student will end up working with biosolids. But they will all end up with a practical, problem solving approach, and those that do work with biosolids become part of a wonderful community. Thank you Sally for all you’ve taught us, and for making the biosolids community a better place.