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Fertilizer & Soil Amendments

Biosolids is a term used by the water treatment industry that refers to treated sludge. Sludge, or "biosolids," are the byproduct of the treatment of domestic wastewater in a wastewater treatment plant. more...

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To create biosolids, these residuals are further treated to reduce pathogens and vector attraction by any of a number of approved methods. Nevertheless, toxic chemicals, such as PCBs, dioxin, and brominated flame retardants, remain in the "treated" sludge, as there is no technology available to remove these and tens of thousands of other chemicals from sewage sludge, the byproduct of wastewater treatment. Depending on their level of treatment and resultant pollutant content, biosolids can be used in regulated applications ranging from soil conditioning to fertilizer for food or non-food agriculture to distribution for unlimited use.

History of the term

The term biosolids was formally recognized in 1991 by the Water Environment Federation (WEF). WEF, founded in 1928, is a not-for-profit technical and educational organization with members from varied disciplines (e.g. wastewater treatment operators and engineers) who work for the preservation and enhancement of the global water environment. WEF was formerly known as the "Federation of Sewage Works Associations." Biosolids is the term created in 1991 by the Name Change Task Force at WEF to differentiate raw, untreated sewage sludge from treated and tested sewage sludge that can be beneficially utilized as soil amendment and fertilizer. The term "biosolids" also helps make the land application of processed sewage sludge more acceptable to the public. The proposal to create a "Name Change Task Force" originated with Peter Machno, manager of Seattle's sludge program, after protesters mobilized against his plan to spread sludge on local tree farms. "If I knocked on your door and said I've got this beneficial product called sludge, what are you going to say?" he asked. At Machno's suggestion, the Federation newsletter published a request for alternative names. Members sent in over 250 suggestions, including "all growth," "purenutri," "biolife," "bioslurp," "black gold," "geoslime," "sca-doo," "the end product," "humanure," "hu-doo," "organic residuals," "bioresidue," "urban biomass," "powergro," "organite," "recyclite," "nutri-cake" and "ROSE," short for "recycling of solids environmentally." In June of 1991, the Name Change Task Force finally settled on "biosolids," which it defined as the "nutrient-rich, organic byproduct of the nation's wastewater treatment process."

The new name attracted sarcastic comment from the Doublespeak Quarterly Review, edited by Rutgers University professor William Lutz. "Does it still stink?" Lutz asked. He predicted that the new name "probably won't move into general usage. It's obviously coming from an engineering mentality. It does have one great virtue, though. You think of `biosolids' and your mind goes blank."

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