Québec bans U.S. biosolids imports until it develops PFAS protections

The “transitional measure” for the agricultural use of residual fertilizing materials appears as an addendum in the update of Québec’s Guide to the recycling of fertilizing residual materials. Photo credit: stock.adobe.com, Wolfgang Jargstorff

As a “sign of caution,” Québec has issued a temporary moratorium on biosolids imports from the U.S., as it works to establish control mechanisms and thresholds for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS.

The “transitional measure” for the agricultural use of residual fertilizing materials appears as an addendum in the update of Québec’s Guide to the recycling of fertilizing residual materials published by the Ministry of the Environment, the Fight against Climate Change, Wildlife and Parks.

“The temporary moratorium on the agricultural use of U.S. biosolids announced today is a sign of caution,” announced Environment Minister Benoit Charette, in a statement translated from French. “It allows us to ensure that the organic residues used to fertilize crops are safe for the environment and everyone’s health until a threshold is established to confirm the quality of imported materials,” he added.

In December, the Order of Chemists of Québec (OCQ), the Order of Agronomists of Québec (OAQ) and the Order of Veterinary Physicians of Québec issued a joint warning over the use of U.S. biosolids. PFAS in particular was noted as an emerging contaminant of concern, and the groups highlighted the risk around imports from Maine, in particular, where high levels of PFAS contamination have been discovered in soil, milk, grass and manure.

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Last spring, the Maine legislature banned the use of all products that contain wastewater biosolids due to concerns about PFAS contamination.

“Chemists and biochemists are experts in chemical substances and their various interactions,” announced OCQ President Michel Alsayegh in a statement. “Several of them are hard at work characterizing sewage sludge in an exhaustive manner and developing decontamination and recovery solutions in accordance with our mission to protect the public,” he added.

The groups also advised against using compost augmented by biosolids or any other byproduct.

In his statement, Charette called the agricultural spreading of nutrient-rich, organic materials resulting from the treatment of sewage in a wastewater treatment facility, “a responsible, sustainable and advantageous management solution from an agronomic and environmental perspective,” and an effective alternative to landfilling in the face of climate change.

Charette noted that Québec is currently working on establishing an acceptable PFAS threshold.

The addendum notes that in the case of biosolids already stored on site, it will be necessary to obtain written confirmation from the generator certifying that no PFAS are contained.

The new moratorium also applies to composite waste material generated from paper deinking processes.

A public consultation on Québec’s biosolids moratorium will be open from February 22 until April 8.

This article appears in ES&E Magazine’s April 2023 issue:

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