British Columbia’s Capital Regional District (CRD) Board decision to overturn a ban on the spreading of biosolids is generating some backlash among residents who say they fear risks of contamination.
Earlier this month, CRD officials approved a motion for a portion of biosolids produced at the Residuals Treatment Facility – part of the new core area wastewater system – to be used as a fertilizer at Hartland Landfill, about 14 km northwest of Victoria.
The Residuals Treatment Facility will start the production of dry biosolids by mid-2020, and with the Province’s approval, the CRD will enter into a beneficial use agreement for five years.
With the region’s new $775-million sewage treatment system scheduled to come online this year, officials need to find options for managing the some 7,000 tonnes of dried Class-A biosolids that will be generated as a byproduct each year. For now, the majority of the biosolids will be used as an alternative fuel for a cement manufacturing facility in the lower mainland once the McLoughlin Point Wastewater Treatment Plant begins operating.
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This decision to spread the remaining biosolids at the landfill is a partial reversal of one made in 2011, which prohibited the spread of biosolids on land due to concerns about contamination and food production.
The Facebook group “Friends of the Nicola Valley”, who have organized a petition against the ban reversal, wrote an open letter of opposition to Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman and the CRD’s Environmental Services Committee that expressed fear of irreparable damage to regional soil. The letter highlights and links to several scientific studies that have found risks around biosolids application, and particularly notes the array of microplastics, vitamins and pharmaceuticals that may be found in human feces.
“Biosolids is a pollutant-rich material, and spreading it on soils, whether on forests, farms, or flower gardens, means making those pollutants available to the terrestrial environment,” the group’s letter states.
CRD Chair Colin Plant has stated that staff will immediately include the full spectrum of options permitted by provincial regulations in their analysis of options for the long-term biosolids strategy. He said they will ensure that the analysis takes into account impacts on public health, water resources, agriculture, life-cycle costs, climate change objectives, other environmental considerations and legal liabilities.
“Using biosolids at Hartland will not only help to capture landfill gas, but will also help sustain and improve the tree cover over the closed portions of the site,” Plant stated in an announcement to media. “This approach demonstrates a beneficial use of biosolids, required by the provincial regulator, during short periods when cement kilns are shut down for maintenance,” he added.
The CRD, which has stated that the landfill is leach-proof, is required to provide a contingency plan for the beneficial use of biosolids during operation shutdowns to the Ministry of Environment & Climate Change Strategy by April 30.
The CRD Board has moved forward with the biosolids application option following some pressure, but insists it’s a temporary move. The B.C. Ministry of the Environment only approved the plan to use biosolids as fuel for cement kilns under the condition that an alternate plan is presented for the few weeks each year the kilns shut down.
Plant has suggested that the region could risk losing funding for the sewage treatment project if the Board does not come up with a plan that suits the province, and the landfill spreading option has emerged as the most recent approach.
In another letter opposing the biosolids’ spreading, Philippe Lucas, former Victoria City Councillor and CRD Director, as well as founder of the group “Biosolid Free BC”, said studies have found that “when applied to land, the contaminants in biosolids become windborne, and can be transported dozens of kilometres from their site of application, threatening local animals, habitats, residents, and CRD staff at Hartland Landfill.”
Lucas also warned of significant liability risks around the spreading of biosolids.