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EPA Awards Millions for Biosolids Research

Friday, October 15, 2021

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The U.S. Environmental Agency announced in September that it was granting nearly $6 million in funding to four institutions to research the potential harming risks to human health and the environment from pollutants found in biosolids.

“It is important that municipalities and utilities have the information they need to treat and manage biosolids,” said Wayne Cascio, Acting Assistant Administrator for Science in the EPA’s Office of Research and Development, in the press release. “These grants will help us leverage resources and knowledge to ensure the latest science is being used to protect public health and the environment.”

Biosolids, also known as treated sewage sludge, are created during the wastewater treatment process.

The EPA reports that, when applied to land, they add nutrients, improve soil structure and enhance moisture retention. The economic and waste management benefits include saving space in landfills, recycling a waste product and reducing demand for synthetic fertilizers.

Because they are also reported to contain a variety of pollutants, states, municipalities and utilities need further research to determine how to process, handle and use biosolids.

© iStock / Skyhobo

The U.S. Environmental Agency announced in September that it was granting nearly $6 million in funding to four institutions to research the potential harming risks to human health and the environment from pollutants found in biosolids.

The following institutions are receiving research grants:

  • Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore – to use analytical, toxicological and risk sciences tools to identify previously unknown biosolids-associated organic contaminants, trace their fate through multiple environmental media and prioritize them for future decision-making;
  • Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan – to improve knowledge of occurrence, transport, fate, plant uptake, livestock and human exposure to pollutants in land-based biosolids including pharmaceuticals, personal care product residues and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS);
  • Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point, Virginia – to evaluate the influence of wastewater source and treatment choice on pollutants in sludge to improve strategies for monitoring sludge-related pollutants, select optimal treatment processes and reduce contaminant levels in U.S. biosolids and receiving soils; and
  • The Water Research Foundation in Denver – to conduct studies and use the data to evaluate fate and transport models in risk assessments, leading to recommended best practices to reduce or manage potential risks of unregulated organic chemicals in biosolids-amended fields.

Of the $5,976,976 in grants, John Hopkins University was awarded $1,498,000 and Virginia Institute of Marine Science received $1,486,562. The EPA has not announced the totals for Michigan State University and The Water Research Foundation.

Recent EPA Water Funding and Regulations

In March, the EPA declared $2.7 billion in State Revolving Funds to assist state communities, tribes and territories with infrastructure projects that help provide safe drinking water and protect surface waters across the nation.

The EPA reports that it made more than $1.1 billion available in new grant funding for the Drinking Water SRF. The program was established in 1996 by the Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act and is a federal-state partnership to help ensure safe drinking water and provides financial support to water systems and to state safe water programs.

The Agency also announced a $12 million grant to help wastewater utilities that serve small, rural and tribal communities. Specifically, the grants worked to ensure that smaller wastewater systems have the knowledge, training and technical assistance needed so that they can continue to provide safe sanitation to citizens across the country.

The EPA released three new rulemakings in September regarding identifying opportunities to better protect public health and the environment through regulation of wastewater pollution. Preliminary Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 15 (Preliminary Plan 15) outlines new regulations to reduce contaminants—including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and nutrients—from key industries.

According to the EPA, the decision to initiate the three new rulemakings arrives after concluding several studies previously discussed in its Effluent Guidelines Program Plan 14. The agency has determined that revised effluent limitations guidelines (ELGs) and pretreatment standards are warranted for:

  • Organic Chemicals, Plastics and Synthetic Fibers category to address per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) discharges from facilities manufacturing PFAS;
  • Metal Finishing category to address PFAS discharges from chromium electroplating facilities; and 
  • Meat and Poultry Products category to address nutrient discharges.


Tagged categories: Environmental Controls; Environmental Protection; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Grants; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Regulations; Research; Water/Wastewater

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