It’s Always Best To Ask
Recyc Systems has been asked many questions about our biosolids land application program over the years. In general, most of them fall into one of three categories -- general questions from the public, questions about safety, and inquiries from farmers. Here is a list of the ones that have come up more than once!
Questions the Public Asks
Q: Do biosolids have an objectionable smell? How long does the odor last?
A: Biosolids have a musty, earthy odor, but very little trace of ammonia. Depending on the weather, the odor will last a couple days to a couple weeks. The odor is greater on damp, foggy or humid days. There will be little odor during dry weather or cold weather.
Q: We are planning an outdoor event and prefer not to be disturbed by the biosolids application. What should I do?
A: Several localities have a County Monitor that is responsible for local oversight of land application of biosolids. Contact your local County Monitor to determine what contractors are working in your area and get their contact information. Then contact the contractor to request they avoid your local area the week prior to your event.
Q: Why are some people so opposed to biosolids?
A: There is a stigma attached to the use of human waste as fertilizer. This is because our society has been taught that cleanliness is important to our health. And our senses naturally tell us to avoid this odorous and ugly material. But once people learn the facts, some of them are better able to consider the value of biosolids logically rather than emotionally.
Q: Okay, I’ve heard all the positives for biosolids. What are the negatives?
A: After a long time in the biosolids industry, we know of only two true negatives -- odor and truck traffic. Both of these are short term effects of the field operations. The long term benefits far exceed the short term inconveniences.
Q: I have an area in my yard where I just can’t get grass to grow. Can you give me some biosolids to put on my yard?
A: Recyc Systems handles a class of biosolids that is not approved for yards and gardens. Many landscapers or nursery suppliers have biosolids, manures and compost that can be applied to your yard.
Q: There are special environmental features in our area that are taken into consideration in the regulations. Doesn’t that mean you should not be allowed to apply biosolids here?
A: No regulation can address every local feature. For that reason the permitting process has two components to address local environmental and health concerns. Comments are solicited from the County and a site review is conducted.
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General Questions on Safety
Q: I’ve heard about land application of biosolids, but is it really safe?
A: Yes. In fact, it is safer for our environment than the use of chemical fertilizers, and there has never been any documented evidence of any pathogenic or toxic danger to humans.
Q: So you say... but how do you know that biosolids are safe?
A: You don’t have to take our word for it! There are scores of research studies and reviews by health experts conducted over many years that have shown biosolids to be safe. Recyc Systems also has practical experience. Many of the employees of Recyc Systems have direct exposure to biosolids. Several of our employees have worked for Recyc Systems for a long time. None of our employees or their families have ever experienced any ill effects.
Q: If the use of biosolids is safe, why is a permit required and all those buffers and setbacks?
A: The Contractors who apply biosolids are required to have a permit to do so. This is so the public will know that the biosolids are being handled and applied correctly. Proper management of biosolids ensures that protecting public health and the environment is paramount. The buffers and setbacks establish where the biosolids can be safely applied. But you might be interested in knowing that setbacks and buffers are recommend for the application of manures, litters and chemical fertilizer, too.
Q: My dog was out in the field and rolled in the biosolids. What should I do?
A: This should cause no danger to your pet. Simply give your dog a bath in soap and warm water.
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Questions Farmers Ask
Q: What size farm or field can you use?
A: Generally, it’s best to have a farm size of twenty acres or more. But this by no means excludes smaller tracts. The map of your land will tell the story. There are numerous setbacks and buffers which must be observed. Sometime on a small field, the setbacks and buffer often result in little usable land for biosolids application.
Q: What crops can I grow with biosolids?
A: Growth and harvest of vegetables is restricted. With proper management any of the typical field crops such as corn, soybeans, fescue and orchard grass will be productive.
Q: Can I apply manure or litter on the same field?
A: Soil samples should be taken before manure or litter is applied to the field subsequent to the application of biosolids. Biosolids, manure and litter have high amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus which need to be properly managed.
Q: How do you determine the amount of biosolids to apply to a field?
A: An agronomic application rate is calculated using the crop, soil type, and soil analysis. It is all quite scientific, and is based on quantifiable data.
Q: What about tilling? Don’t the biosolids have to be tilled into the soil?
A: No. As long as your field has a ground cover (existing crop or significant crop residue), there is no need to till at all.
Q: As the landowner or farmer, what are my responsibilities in a biosolid land application program?
A: Most of what is required of you falls under what is agricultural best management practices. You are responsible for proper management of the soil nutrients, planting and maintaining the crop, application of supplemental fertilizer (as recommended) and no over-application of fertilizer. You are also required to maintain fences to restrict grazing of cattle and public access for thirty days after application.
Q: I’ve heard that it takes a long time to get a permit. Why is that? Is this something I can do myself as the landowner or farmer?
A: Land application of biosolids is highly regulated, requiring permit procurement by an experienced party. The permitting process includes preparation of a site specific booklet, site review by state and local agencies and in some cases a public meeting. It does take a little time, but Recyc Systems understands the process and how to move it along. It will be worth the wait.
Q: What if something goes wrong? Will I be held liable?
A: Recyc Systems is responsible for the proper transport and application of the biosolids. We maintain a general liability insurance policy with pollution endorsement. The municipality that generates the biosolids is responsible for providing biosolids which meet the criteria for land application. As long as everyone adheres to the rules for biosolids management, there should be no liability to you.
Q: Who is responsible for repairing my road or fence if they get damaged? The last thing I need is another task!
A: Recyc Systems will use its best efforts to repair any damage caused by our operations. However, it is the responsibly of the landowner/farmer to provide sufficient access for the volume of trucks and field spreading equipment. Normal wear from the truck traffic and field equipment must be expected. Our field equipment is very wide. There will be a lot of truck traffic, approximately one load per acre. Field entrances may need to be extended and culverts installed to meet the needs of the trucks and equipment. We will work with you on this, advising you of anything we see as a problem.
Q: It is my property, why can’t I spread biosolids wherever I want just like I do regular fertilizer?
A: Unlike the application of regular fertilizer, the application of biosolids is heavily regulated. This is to protect your health, public health, and the environment. So Recyc Systems actually is the permit holder and is responsible for abiding by the regulations. We must carefully adhere to the setbacks and buffers.
Q: Why are there lots of weeds in my hay or pasture field after the biosolids application?
A: Sometimes the high nutrient level of biosolids causes fast growth in the hay field. Too much growth can cause it to choke or smoother itself out, leaving bare spots where weeds take over. Mowing the hay early or clipping the pastures are recommended.
Q: What is my County’s role in the biosolids program?
A: There is an important County Monitor program that many localities have enrolled in. All costs of the program are reimbursed. The locality has the opportunity to participate in the site review and provide comment on environmental and health concerns. Your County Monitor can test and inspect field operations to ensure compliance.
Q: My granddaddy and daddy farmed without ever using biosolids. Why are the farmers using it now?
A: Today we have more biosolids than we did when your ancestors were farming, so more farmers are using it. It is hard to believe, but chemical fertilizers were not affordable and readily available until after World War II. Prior to that, farmers were reliant on manures and litter for crop production. Your grandfather probably used manure or litter, too. Biosolids are not that much different. It provides the same organic benefits to the soil. In truth, in the past some farmers who lived near cities and had access to sewage sludge did use it. It’s much more available now.
Q: I wasn’t interested in biosolids application before, but now that I know more about it, I’ve changed my mind. What should I do now?
A: Contact us and follow up with written instructions indicating your interest. Recyc Systems will develop a site booklet and obtain a permit at no cost to you. If you have any reservations or questions, we’ll address them for you before we proceed.
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