Sewage Sludge/Biosolids

What is sewage sludge and when does it become “biosolids”?

Sewage sludge is the solid, semisolid, or liquid materials removed during the treatment of domestic sewage in a treatment facility. Sewage sludge includes, but is not limited to, solids removed during primary, secondary, or advanced wastewater treatment, scum, domestic septage, portable toilet pumpings, Type III marine sanitation device pumpings, and sewage sludge products. In order for sewage sludge to become biosolids it must be treated to meet the standards established in state and federal regulations for use of biosolids for land application, marketing, or distribution. These regulations require that the sewage sludge undergo established treatment to meet the pathogen control levels, established treatment and management practices to meet the vector attraction reduction, and contain concentrations of regulated metals below established limits. Only after the sewage sludge has undergone the established treatments and monitoring to become "biosolids" can the material be safely recycled and applied as fertilizer to improve and maintain productive soils and stimulate plant growth.

Biosolids Law and Regulation

On January 1, 2008 the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) assumed regulatory oversight of all land application of biosolids. The action, which moved oversight of the Biosolids Use Regulations from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to DEQ, was at the direction of the 2007 General Assembly, which voted to consolidate the regulatory programs so that all persons land applying biosolids would be subject to uniform requirements, and to take advantage of the existing compliance and enforcement structure at DEQ. DEQ established the Office of Land Application Programs within the Water Division to manage the biosolids program, as well as land application of industrial wastes, municipal wastewater, treated septage, animal wastes, and water reclamation and reuse. VDH continues to consult with DEQ and advise the public on health issues related to biosolids applications.

In addition to moving oversight of the biosolids program to DEQ, the General Assembly made changes to the law that added requirements to further protect human health and the environment. Among these changes are the requirement for having and following nutrient management plans for all fields receiving biosolids, unannounced inspections of the land application sites performed by DEQ staff and/or a local government monitoring program, certification of persons land applying biosolids, and payment of a $7.50 fee per dry ton of Class B biosolids land applied. The fee is paid by the generator of the biosolids, and helps to fund the biosolids regulatory functions of DEQ and the Department of Conservation and Recreation, as well as local government monitoring programs.

DEQ has approximately 10 employees devoted to the biosolids land application program who provide administrative oversight of the program; perform the inspection and permitting functions, and provide training to land appliers and local monitors. The Virginia Department of Health initiated the first training of land appliers in November of 2007. DEQ assumed the certification program and as of April 2019, the program has 205 active Certified Land Applicators.  DEQ provides continuing education classes several times throughout the year, at regional offices across the state, for the land applicators to maintain their certification.

Modifications to the regulations pertaining to biosolids were proposed following transfer of the program to DEQ and the State Water Control Board voted to adopt the final amendments on September 22, 2011. The final amendments were signed by Governor McDonnell on June 12, 2013 and became effective September 1, 2013.  In 2015 additional amendments were made in response to a change in the law to include fees for the land application of Exceptional Quality Cake biosolids and industrial residuals. All these amendments remain in effect in the VPA Permit Regulation and the Fees for Permits and Certificates regulation.

VPA Permit Information

VPA Permit Regulation, 9VAC25-32-10 et. seq. is one chapter of the Administrative Code developed and implemented by the State Water Control Board (Click on "Chapter 32" to see each section of the regulation).


General Biosolids Information

Related Links


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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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