National Biosolids Overview


Courtesy of BioCycle Magazine

In all, the 1990s have been good for the biosolids recycling community. Greater quantities of biosolids are being beneficially used than ever before, there are national biosolids regulations that are widely accepted as a good baseline, and there is an extensive, accessible network of researchers, practitioners, advisers and public officials who when combined, provide thousands of years worth of valuable knowledge and experience.

We end this decade, however, with perhaps a greater challenge than we started with — due in large part to the accomplishments just cited. The increased beneficial use of biosolids, the promulgation of the federal Part 503 rule and other factors have led to an organized base of opposition. Biosolids managers are faced with the reality of local bans and ordinances, contentious public hearings and a fair amount of misconstrued facts.

The biosolids community is addressing the situation by working aggressively to improve its data base on biosolids quality, implement Environmental Management Systems designed to “institutionalize” top notch program performance, fine-tune regulations and guidelines and conduct additional research. These initiatives, combined with well run programs, seem to be keeping biosolids recycling on track. The data in BioCycle’s 1999 “National Biosolids Overview” are a good indicator that the trend is still going in the direction of beneficial use.

To conduct this annual survey, BioCycle editors contacted every state to gather data on biosolids management. All but one state (West Virginia) responded to the 1999 survey. We appreciate the time and assistance provided by state officials.


Out of 49 states reporting, 29 are experiencing an increase in the beneficial use of biosolids (see “Biosolids Management Trends” table on page 49). Seventeen states are not seeing an increase. Three of those states — Maine (92 percent), Nebraska (100 percent) and Wyoming (95 percent) — already divert all or almost all of the biosolids to beneficial use. Maryland (82 percent) and Washington (85 percent) have high rates. Three states did not have data.

Conversely, only seven states see an increase in the landfilling of biosolids, while 39 do not. Three did not have data available. In 1998, six states reported that landfilling was on the rise, while 36 did not. So far, lower landfill tip fees (and plentiful capacity) in many areas do not seem to be leading to increases in biosolids disposal. The average cost to landfill ranges dramatically from zero to $275/dry ton. Twenty-one states provided landfill tip fees for biosolids. Of those, 14 were $50/dry ton or less and seven were greater than $50/dry ton.

Local ordinances restricting biosolids utilization or outright bans have been adopted by communities or counties in 21 states. Wisconsin cites the greatest number (about 50), but notes they vary greatly in wording and intent. Maine reports 45 ordinances or bans, followed closely by New Hampshire with 43. (Interestingly, only 11 percent of the biosolids generated in the state are land applied.) In 1998, local restrictions or outright bans were adopted in 18 states.


The 1999 national survey asked states if their regulations were the same as or more stringent than the federal Part 503 rule with regard to pollutant concentrations, pathogen reduction and vector attraction reduction (see summary, “Comparison of State Regulations to Part 503” on page 48). At a minimum, state regulations have to be the same as Part 503 and not less restrictive. In terms of pollutant limits — looking at ceiling concentration (Part 503, Table 1) and pollutant concentration (Part 503, Table 3) — 14 states are more restrictive on either one or both of those tables. Thirty-five states use the same limits. Only Connecticut is more restrictive with regard to pathogen reduction and three states — Connecticut, Maine and Oregon — are more restrictive on vector attraction reduction requirements.

The following section provides more details on how the states’ regulations compare to Part 503. Note that several states use the term “exceptional quality” biosolids. These are biosolids that do not exceed the ceiling concentration or pollutant concentration limits, meet one of the Class A pathogen requirements and achieve one of the first eight vector attraction reduction options in Part 503. (All numerical limits are in mg/kg.)

Alaska: There is a requirement for no significant offensive odors for exceptional quality biosolids when given away to the public in a bag or other container.
Arkansas: Has more stringent buffer distances; requires permit for land application of Class B biosolids.

California: Table 1 — copper (2500); lead (350). Table 3 — chromium (1200); selenium (36).

Connecticut: Only heat dried, composted or lime stabilized biosolids can be land applied. Use same limits for ceiling and pollutant concentration. More restrictive limits on arsenic (10); cadmium (34); chromium (1200); selenium (36). There is no limit for molybdenum and barium is regulated (4700).

Delaware: Delaware does not allow permitting of out-of-state Class B, Table 1 and 3 biosolids for land application.

Florida: Exceptional quality biosolids monitoring required monthly; APLR is not an option. Setbacks are more restrictive: 200 feet to surface waters and conduits to groundwater; 300 feet to private potable water supply wells; buildings occupied by the public; 500 feet to public potable water supply wells; 1000 feet setback to Class 1 waters, outstanding Florida waters and outstanding national resource waters.

Idaho: Guidelines in areas of buffer distances are more restrictive.

Illinois: Does not use concentration limits in existing regulations. Cumulative loading rates, in lbs/acre: Arsenic (100); cadmium (10); copper (250); lead (1000); mercury (7); nickel (100); selenium (8); zinc (500).

 Indiana: More restrictive setback distances from wells, homes, public buildings.

Kentucky: More restrictive limits in Table 3 for zinc (900), lead (250), nickel (50), cadmium (10) and copper (450); no ceiling limits at all.

Maine: The ceiling limits are more restrictive than Part 503 for arsenic (41); cadmium (39); copper (1500); lead (300); mercury (10); and zinc (2800). They are the same for molybdenum, nickel and selenium. Biosolids with metal limits above those numbers cannot be beneficially used. The pollutant concentration limits (called “screening concentrations in sewage sludge”) are more restrictive for all metals but lead and selenium. The limits are: arsenic (10); cadmium (10); copper (1000); mercury (6); nickel (200); and zinc (2000). Biosolids above the screening concentrations but below the ceiling limits can be beneficially used, but are subject to additional siting standards and monitoring requirements.

Maine also notes it is more restrictive than Part 503 in terms of vector attraction reduction because it requires a site specific odor control plan for Class B biosolids.

Maryland: Has Class 1 pollutant concentrations based on former EPA/USDA metal concentrations. More restrictive on all metals except for lead.

Massachusetts: More restrictive on ceiling concentrations and pollutant concentrations for cadmium, copper, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, and zinc.

Michigan: Pollutants of concern (POCs) regulated on a case by case basis; POCs not limited to list defined by EPA.

Minnesota: Continues to track all cumulative metals unless exceptional quality biosolids are produced.

Mississippi: State regulations for land application are more restrictive in areas like siting requirements for locating land application sites, maintaining a safe distance between the historic high water table and the zone of incorporation/injection, annual soil monitoring, etc.

Missouri: More restrictive buffer zones, additional pollutants monitored, more frequent testing, annual reports required for all size facilities.

New Hampshire: More restrictive setback requirements. Standards for dioxins and PCBs. Limits for all metals in Tables 1 and 3 are more stringent. In addition, New Hampshire requires more frequent testing and tests for more parameters.

New York: More restrictive on the following pollutants: cadmium (25); chromium (1000); copper (1000); mercury (10); nickel (200); zinc (2500); PCBs (10; one for compost); lead (250 for compost).

Oklahoma: PCBs not to exceed 10.

Oregon: Septage must be screened and alkaline stabilized prior to land application. High strength septage needs to be blended in a 1:3 ratio with regular domestic septage and receive 24 hour stabilization.

Pennsylvania: Requires monitoring for PCBs.

South Carolina: Increased sludge monitoring; requirements for buffer zones and septage reuse are more restrictive.

Texas: Regulations more restrictive on buffer zones, registration and transportation.

Vermont: More restrictive on some ceiling concentration limits and less on others (plan to revise numbers in 2000). More conservative pathogen related cropping restrictions, site characteristics (such as depth to bedrock/groundwater and setbacks to water supplies).


The last two tables present state biosolids management data in two ways. “State Biosolids Management Practices By Number of Facilities” (p.50) provides the total number of municipal wastewater treatment plants, and then specifies the number of treatment plants that use each management method (beneficial use practices, landfilling, incineration and surface disposal). The table on page 52 includes the total biosolids generated in each state, and how that total is managed (by percent of each practice). Two states — Indiana and Nebraska — divert all biosolids generated to beneficial use. Twelve other states recycle 80 percent or more of the biosolids generated, while 15 beneficially use 50 to 79 percent. Vermont reports the highest amount of biosolids composted (50 percent), but notes that much of the composting is done out-of-state. Forty-three percent of the biosolids generated in Maine are composted.


Eleven states have biosolids quality data for all of their wastewater treatment plants. These include Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin. Michigan has biosolids quality data for all facilities that file an annual report, while Nebraska reports it has data for the majority of plants in the state. Colorado, Delaware and Mississippi have biosolids quality data for all facilities using beneficial use methods, while Florida has data only for plants recycling an exceptional quality biosolids. Iowa, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia have data for all the major wastewater treatment plants (greater than one mgd). Ten states (Colorado, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin) report that they supply data to EPA’s Biosolids Data Management System (see Biosolids Happenings, “National Database on Biosolids Quality,” June, 1999).

This year’s survey asked states about the availability of biosolids information on their web sites, including the biosolids regulations and availability of permitting applications to download. Twenty-seven states report that regulations are posted on their web sites; eleven states have permit forms that can be downloaded. Details on the states’ web sites can be found on BioCycle’s web site: By Nora Goldstein and David Block.

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