Friday, November 17, 2023

General Permits For Safe Land Application Of Sewage Sludge, Septage Extended For 1 Year, Delaying Updates For PFAS ‘Forever Chemical’ Contamination

The Department of Environmental Protection published these one year General Permit extension notices in November 18 PA Bulletin--

-- PAG-08: Beneficial Use Of Biosolids By Land Application

-- PAG-07: Beneficial Use of Exceptional Quality Biosolids By Land Application

-- PAG-09: Beneficial Use Of Residential Septage By Land Application


Significant opposition in the General Assembly has delayed consideration of updates to these general permits to deal with, among other issues, PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ contamination of biosolids and septage from onlot septic systems.

These GPs have been repeatedly extended without change since April 2, 2019 

The 2019 Pennsylvania PFAS Action Team Initial Report found, experts say the use of contaminated biosolids applied on farm fields is likely a primary source of food contamination. Produce grown in soil contaminated with PFAS absorb the chemicals into their roots, fruit, and leaves, which humans and animals eat.”

The Report recommended DEP update its biosolids general permits for land application and residential septage with a monitoring and reporting requirement for PFAS. Read more here.

Penn State research has found PFAS chemicals persist through the wastewater treatment process and may enter crops where treated wastewater is used for irrigation.  Read more here.

At the same time, PFAS sampling in some states found PFAS chemicals from a variety of sources already on farms.  Biocycle: Read more hereRead more here.

On June 21 of this year, the Joint Legislative Budget and Finance Committee released a report on changes DEP proposed to general permits covering land application of biosolids from wastewater treatment plants and residential septage.

DEP proposed biosolids be tested for PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ and factoring phosphorus load levels into determining land application amounts. 

The report found there is no federally approved testing method for PFAS in biosolids and no state or federal standard or limits for PFAS in biosolids.

DEP has adopted PFOA and/or PFAS standards for drinking water and groundwater and soil cleanup standards under the Land Recycling Program. Read more here.

The U.S. Environmental Protection is now doing a risk assessment for PFAS in biosolids to determine if federal regulatory action is warranted that is expected to be completed in December 2024, according to the report.

The report estimates PFAS testing may cost wastewater systems between $900 (once a year) and $13,000 (12 times) a year using a current method.

The proposal would also increase the cost of septic cleaning $90 to $150 per cleaning, again, according to the report.

DEP comments on the LBFC report said “DEP believes that public health and environmental benefits of the proposed revisions to these permits-- which LBFC was not directed to study-- also need to be considered in weighing the public interest of the proposed permit revisions” (page 173).

DEP noted it has an obligation to protect ground and surface waters from PFAS contamination and DEP expects to begin requiring monitoring for PFAS in biosolids as part of implementing the federal EPA wastewater pretreatment program (page 176).

DEP offered 20 pages of comments on the LBFC report.

Click Here for a copy of the Joint Committee reportClick Here for a summary.

For more information on environmental programs in Pennsylvania, visit DEP’s website, Report Emergencies, Submit Environmental Complaints; Click Here to sign up for DEP’s newsletter; sign up for DEP’s eNotice; visit DEP’s BlogLike DEP on Facebook, Follow DEP on Twitter and visit DEP’s YouTube Channel.

[Posted: November 17, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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