Biosolids battle brewing

In the wake of much controversy, Nutri-Blend’s permit application to apply biosolids on 1,555 acres in Goochland was approved by the State Water Control Board on Oct. 26.

According to Mary Powell, spokesperson for Nutri-Blend, the company will begin applying biosolids in the coming week.

In August, Nutri-Blend held a public hearing in Goochland, and seven residents spoke out in opposition to the application, claiming that the treated sewage sludge known as biosolids posed a health risk to the community.

“My father almost died from it,” claimed Wendie Roumillat of Jackson Shop Rd. at the public hearing. “It’s awful. We didn’t know what it was, all we knew was there was this terrible smell coming from a field near my Dad’s house.”

While there have been anecdotal claims of health problems from biosolids, none have ever been verified by medical or scientific investigation, said Robert Crockett, representative of the Virginia Biosolids Council.

“Biosolids is a time-tested material,” Powell said in an interview, adding that Nutri-Blend welcomes emerging scientific evidence that would prove otherwise.

In its efforts to support research, Powell said that Nutri-Blend is a member of biosolids associations, which donate funds to colleges and universities that research and evaluate the safety of biosolids use.

Local farmers like Paul Lanier stand firm in their approval of the fertilizer.

“I’ve been using biosolids for over 30 years,” Lanier said. “I’ve got five grandchildren,  and we’ve had no health problems.”

Lanier added that his cows have always been healthy, and the biosolids significantly improved the health of his soil.

Andrew Pryor, District 1 supervisor, also uses biosolids on his dairy farm.

“I’ve used it for a long time,” Pryor said, adding that “it’s economical.”

In June, tensions between citizens and the county heightened as allegations arose regarding Goochland’s biosolids ordinance.

Roumillat and Kathy Crockett of Community House Rd. sought an injunction to halt the spreading of sludge in the county, claiming that it was applied on a flood plain and there was a lack of advance notice.

Goochland biosolids monitor Hugh Hardwicke said there was no evidence of a violation, and that the James River was not in danger of being contaminated by run-off.

Despite some citizens’ concerns, biosolids remain an attractive option to farmers, especially given the steady decline in commodities prices during the past year.

Many studies have been done which uphold the safety of using sludge as fertilizer. The Virginia Department of Health claimed “there does not seem to be strong evidence of serious health risks when biosolids are managed and monitored appropriately.”

However, the same study also concluded that “no concerted effort has been made to collect and analyze data on reported health effects resulting from biosolids applied to land,” and that “it is impossible to determine the full extent of chemical content or biological makeup of a particular biosolids mixture…”

Currently, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) tests for 10 heavy metals and nine inorganic chemicals. Before it becomes biosolids, the sludge is treated through either aerobic or anaerobic digestion and/or lime stabilization before being certified for land application.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s 1993 risk assessment analysis determined which biosolids constituents posed the greatest hazard, and tests only for those constituents.

However, a recent EPA study tested for 145 contaminants in 74 randomly chosen wastewater treatment facilities in 35 states.

The results revealed an amalgamation of flame retardants, pesticides, plasticizers, pharmaceuticals, semivolatile organics and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Goochland records indicated that Nutri-Blend’s biosolids come from 38 wastewater treatment facilities in five states. Powell said that Goochland’s biosolids will likely come from Richmond, Chesterfield, Henrico and/or Washington, D.C.

Powell added that Nutri-Blend gets paid to remove the biosolids from the wastewater treatment facilities, which are funded by taxpayers, then provides it to the farmers free of charge.

Sewage sludge has to go somewhere, and the federal government advocates burning sludge to create energy, although that practice has also generated controversy.

Health concerns regarding biosolids use have prompted several Goochland citizens to contact the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which has helped ban biosolids in more than 70 communities in Pennsylvania.

“Ultimately, it’s not about sludge,” said Shireen Parsons, CELDF organizer. “It’s about democracy. It’s about who gets to choose what the county wants. Is it the citizens or corporations?”

CELDF supporters hope to establish an ordinance that would, in effect, ban corporations from applying biosolids in Goochland.

Goochland records indicate that the company Synagro has also applied biosolids to approximately 5,000 acres in Goochland.

Originally published in The Central Virginian.

For more information, visit:


State Water Control Board

Virginia Biosolids Council

Virginia Department of Health

Virginia Department of Environmental Quality

Environmental Protection Agency

Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

Biosolids articles



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