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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 to the Fees for Permits and Certificates regulation 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 Virginia Pollution Abatement (VPA) Permit Regulation 9VAC25-32 and the Fees for Permits and Certificates Regulation 9VAC29-20.

VPA Permit Information

A VPA permit authorizing the land application of biosolids is issued to a permit applicant for each county where biosolids are proposed for land application.  When a VPA permit application is submitted, the permit application must include specific sites and fields that are proposed for land application of biosolids. Permit processing involves individual site evaluations, notification to the owners of land adjacent to the proposed land application site, and for new permits or permit modifications to add greater than 50% of the original permitted acreage, a public meeting is held. After a new permit is issued or a permit modification is signed, biosolids may be land applied only to those sites that have been approved and included in the issued or modified permit.  All biosolids must be land applied in accordance with the permit, which identifies special conditions regarding biosolids treatment and quality, transport, storage and site operations, including setbacks to residences, property lines and environmental features.

Obtaining Extended Setbacks

The land application of biosolids on sites authorized by a VPA or VPDES Permit must comply with setbacks of 100 feet from property lines and 200 feet from occupied dwellings, among other Setback Restrictions. Owners and residents of property adjacent to a land application site may request that the setbacks from property lines and occupied dwellings be extended from 100 feet up to 200 feet and from 200 feet up to 400 feet, respectively.  To request the set backs for property lines and occupied dwellings, the owner or resident of the property must complete and submit the Request for Extended Setback from Biosolids Land Application Field Form. The form must be completed for the specific person requesting the extended setback, have the name and signature of the requestor's attending physician, and be submitted to the DEQ office that will, or has, issued the permit.  The setback extensions are granted to the requestor whose name is on the form and will follow the requestor should that person relocate within the state of Virginia.

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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