Health and Safety Facts

In 2007 the Virginia Department of Health published a study by three respected epidemiologists, Health Effects of Biosolids Applied to Land: Available Scientific Evidence (Jenkins, Armstrong et al. 2007). This study represented an exhaustive review of the current scientific literature about biosolids and human health. The primary conclusions were as follows: “… there does not seem to be strong evidence of serious health risks when biosolids are managed and monitored appropriately. Human health allegations associated with biosolids usually lack evidence of biological absorption, medically determined human health effects, and/or do not meet the biological plausibility test.”

In 2014, this study was updated to review the literature after 2008. In a memo to the director of the DEQ, the director of the Office of Epidemiology in the Virginia Department of Health reported that the updated review of scientific literature “…did not find any causal associations between exposure and adverse effects.”

Long-term scientific studies consistently demonstrate that biosolids recycling through land application is safe.

Consider the following:

  • Studies have concluded that there are no impacts on groundwater quality at properly managed biosolids application sites. For example, a 1999 study reported that after 20 years of land application, tests of deep wells at an agricultural research site demonstrated no evidence of nitrate leaching and negligible fecal coliform concentrations (See, e.g. Draeger et al., supra, at 3-13 (1999)). Also, a 2008 literature survey concluded that “groundwater contamination from land application of biosolids does not appear to be likely.” (Ian Pepper, Huruy Zerzghi, John P. Brooks, and Charles P. Gerba, Sustainability of Land Application of Class B Biosolids, J. Envtl. Quality 37, 58-67 (2008)).
  • A review of biosolids pathogen research literature stated that “the overall conclusion we have reached based on all of our land-application studies over the past two decades and an in depth review of other relevant land application studies is that land application of Class B biosolids is sustainable. Specifically, the risks to human health posed by many microbiological entities within biosolids have been shown to be low if current EPA regulatory guidelines are followed. In addition, risks from indirect exposures such as aerosolized pathogens or contaminated groundwaters appear to be particularly low.” (Ian Pepper, Huruy Zerzghi, John P. Brooks, and Charles P. Gerba, Sustainability of Land Application of Class B Biosolids, J. Envtl. Quality 37, 58-67 (2008)). This conclusion is consistent with the practical experience in municipal treatment facilities where exposure to biosolids has not been associated with illness. (Statewide Program Environmental Impact Review (EIR) covering General Waste Discharge Requirements for Biosolids Land Application (2004)).

In Virginia, the General Assembly has enacted numerous laws to regulate the production and beneficial use of biosolids, based on the EPA Part 503 Rule. While the Part 503 regulations have proven to

protect public health and the environment, The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has enacted more restrictive measures ensuring an overabundance of protection for citizens of the Commonwealth. The EPA has approved Virginia’s biosolids management program and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has the primary responsibility for regulating the land application of biosolids in the Commonwealth.