COURT UPHOLDS VIRGINIA BIOSOLIDS REGULATIONS

RICHMOND, VA ---- A Virginia Circuit Court has upheld the regulations that control the application of biosolids on Virginia’s farms and determined they protect the environment and public health.

The December 7, 2016 decision by Presiding Judge Joi J. Taylor dismissed all challenges to the state’s biosolids regulations that were contained in a 2013 suit filed by The Potomac Riverkeeper, Inc. and The Shenandoah Riverkeeper.

Biosolids are the nutrient-rich organic materials resulting from the additional treatment of sewage sludge in a resource recovery municipal treatment plant. During treatment, beneficial bacteria and other tiny organisms break the sludge down into simpler, harmless organic matter, which can then be safely recycled as a fertilizer and soil conditioner.

Named as respondents in the suit were The Commonwealth of Virginia, the State Water Control Board, which had approved substantial amendments to the biosolids regulations in 2008, and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which administers the biosolids program.

Opposing the suit and joining the Commonwealth as intervenor-respondents were the Virginia Association of Municipal Wastewater Agencies (VAMWA), Virginia Biosolids Council (VBC), Virginia Farm Bureau Federation and the Virginia Agribusiness Council. VAMWA and VBC were represented by Chris Pomeroy of AquaLaw. The Farm Bureau and Agribusiness Council were represented by Harry M. “Pete” Johnson of Hunton & Williams.

In dismissing the suit, Judge Taylor cited Virginia’s decades-long history of successfully regulating biosolids to ensure the environment protection and public health and safety. Also cited were the conclusions of the Expert Panel on Biosolids, which was created by the 2007 General Assembly to answer a series of questions relating to biosolids, health and the environment. The Panel said that during its 18-month study it had “uncovered no evidence or literature verifying a causal link between biosolids and illness.”

The Panel’s members included physicians, public health educators, university researchers, sanitation professionals, environmental and public health officials, and private citizens.

“The Expert Panel concluded that land application is a viable reuse of biosolids,” said Judge Taylor, “that has been shown to be protective of the environment when applicable law and regulations are followed.”

The Court found that Virginia’s biosolids regulations, as amended by the State Water Control Board in 2008, “fulfill the statutory requirements of Virginia Code…and that the record reflects substantial evidence supporting the Board’s decision…”

Further, said the Court, “The DEQ found the Regulations are designed to manage the land applications of biosolids in a manner that prevents runoff into surface waters and groundwater; that biosolids do not contribute to local nitrogen and phosphorus allocation any more than other well-managed agricultural operations; that organic matter in the biosolids helps to build and stabilize the soil, thereby reducing erosion and runoff in the long term, that established buffer, setback, and slope restrictions were protective of state waters and karst topography; and that land application could occur under established conditions without negative environmental impact.”