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Emerging challenges in biosolids management

Wastewater treatment plants, by separating solids from water, generate a residual organic material known as “biosolids.” For roughly half of the major municipal wastewater treatment plants (WTPs), disposal consists of providing biosolids for application to cropland, which beneficially increases the nutrient and organic content of the soil.

However, public concerns over the presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS)—a group of manmade chemicals that are persistent in the environment and can impact human health—in wastewater have recently led to increased scrutiny over the use of biosolids. Losing the ability to land-apply biosolids would result in significant cost increases to both WTPs and farmers.

In addition to vegetables and other crops accumulating PFAS when fields are irrigated with contaminated water, the land application of biosolids can also add PFAS to the food supply. The extent of PFAS accumulation in crops, livestock, and dairy cow milk can be measured by established analytical techniques and characterized by recently developed mathematical models.

For the past 15 years, Barr has helped clients assess the fate and transport of PFAS; evaluate, permit, and design PFAS treatment and disposal options; sample and characterize wastes; and identify and reduce sources. For additional information, contact Ward Swanson.