Biosolids Regulations and Voluntary Initiatives

Regulations that ensure the safe and responsible management of biosolids have been in effect since the 1970s. The Clean Water Act amendments of 1977 and 1987 and the Ocean Dumping Ban Act of 1988 prohibit ocean dumping of biosolids and require comprehensive controls on biosolids use and disposal. More directly, the 40 CFR Part 503 Biosolids Rule of 1993 establishes biosolids quality requirements and encourages the beneficial use of biosolids. In an effort to further promote beneficial use practices through a voluntary set of guidelines, a not-for-profit alliance was established in 1997 and, with the support of Congress, is developing an Environmental Management System (EMS) for Biosolids.

• The 40 CFR Part 503 Biosolids Rule
• Environmental Management System for Biosolids

The 40 CFR Part 503 Biosolids Rule
The 40 CFR Part 503 Biosolids Rule. Regulatory influences on biosolids use include the Clean Water Act amendments of 1977 and 1987, which required federal regulators to take a more active role in biosolids management. Previously, regulatory oversight was handled primarily at the state level. Effluent limits also were set by the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program for industrial facilities discharging to municipal wastewater treatment facilities. As a result, biosolids quality has dramatically improved since the 1970s.

On Feb. 19, 1993, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published the 40 CFR (Title 40, Code of Federal Regulations) Part 503 Biosolids Rule (Part 503 rule) governing the use and disposal of municipal sewage sludge under Sections 405(d) and (e) of the Clean Water Act. Part 503 requirements are based on results of a comprehensive risk assessment that began in the mid-1970s and was more extensive than any previous federal rulemaking effort for biosolids.

Internationally recognized experts and EPA's Science Advisory Board reviewed the data and methods for conducting a multimedia risk assessment. In addition, an independent report by the National Research Council in 1996 concluded that established numerical limits in the Part 503 rule on concentrations of pollutants are adequate to ensure the safety of crops produced for human consumption. The result was state-of-the-art risk-based standards for the use and disposal of biosolids.

The Part 503 rule establishes quality requirements for the use and disposal of sewage sludge. It also is a tool for encouraging public acceptance and expanding markets for the beneficial use of biosolids as a soil conditioner or fertilizer. Specifically, the rule:

• helps biosolids managers identify "Exceptional Quality" biosolids. These are biosolids that meet Class A pathogen reduction requirements, the most stringent metals limits (pollutant concentrations) and vector control requirements. Exceptional Quality biosolids meet the same strict controls as other fertilizer products and may be used with few site restrictions;
• encourages municipal wastewater treatment facilities to treat biosolids to a higher quality level and minimize constraints on use; and
• requires relatively expensive pollution control equipment and/or management practices, further assuring clean and safe beneficial uses for biosolids.

There have been a number of revisions to the Part 503 rule. Most recently, EPA has been reassessing current standards for dioxin and dioxin-like compounds in land-applied biosolids as part of an ongoing agency-wide dioxin reassessment. On June 12, 2002, EPA published a Federal Register notice of data availability for the Round 2 Part 503 sewage sludge regulations. This document summarizes the new sewage sludge data and risk assessment for dioxin. Based on the revised risk assessment, EPA estimates that the risk of cancer to highly exposed populations is very low. EPA plans to use the results of the reassessment when finalizing the standards for dioxin in land-applied biosolids.

Environmental Management System for Biosolids
The ability to market biosolids products is determined by the public's awareness of the safety and value of biosolids recycling. To help promote environmentally safe and sustainable biosolids management practices that build public confidence in local communities, the National Biosolids Partnership (NBP) was established and, with support from Congress, has been working to develop a voluntary Environmental Management System (EMS) for biosolids.

NBP is a not-for-profit alliance of EPA, the Water Environment Federation and the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies, with members from state and local regulatory agencies, U.S. Department of Agriculture and other stakeholder groups. The EMS is a voluntary program designed to help ensure the responsible management of biosolids from generation of solid wastewater treatment residuals to further treatment, transport, storage and use of biosolids.

The EMS is a tool that biosolids generators and service contractors can use to show communities that biosolids meet environmental standards and that demonstrate their commitment to meeting and exceeding regulatory requirements. The benefits of adopting an EMS include:

• improved regulatory compliance;
• enhanced environmental performance;
• increased efficiency;
• reduced cost; and
• improved community relations.

The EMS for biosolids was derived from International Standards Organization (ISO) 14001 and contains many of the same elements. However, it also includes best management practices for biosolids and ways to enhance public participation and communication. Successful EMS implementation depends on participation of the public, producers, service contractors, farmers, academics and environmentalists, as well as members of federal, state and local governments.

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