Public Opinion/Jason Malmont (illustration, not included) - Treated: Dave Koser, an employee of the Shippensburg wastewater treatment plant, uses a front end loader Wednesday to clean up a pile of biosolids at the storage facility of the processing plant. The borough is considering upgrading their sludge class.
Shippensburg Borough Council is looking for a better way to dispose of sludge from its sewage treatment plant. Preliminary figures indicate that treating the sludge to the standard for Class A biosolids would pay for itself. Like many municipalities, Shippensburg now spreads Class B biosolids on farm fields. Residents in the southern part of Franklin County have objected to the spreading of Class B biosolids on farmland. They fear the practice puts them at greater risk of getting sick. Class B biosolids are about 95% pathogen-free while Class A is about 99.9% free, according to a spokeswoman with the Department of Environmental Protection. The state does not regulate the application of Class A sludge. "What's good about Class A is that we can produce it and people can come here and take it away," said Charles Music, operations manager at the Shippensburg wastewater treatment plant. "You could come up here and put it on your front lawn. It would be a good soil additive for that." Music said a $1 million project to convert Shippensburg's sludge to Class A biosolids would pay for itself in 10 years. The cost of the additional treatment would be offset by saving on transportation. The plan would avoid the cost of spreading Class B biosolids and would rely on people picking up free Class A biosolids at the plant. ARRO Engineers, Lancaster, is comparing three options for the borough -- continuing Class B treatment, making Class A biosolids by heat and making Class A biosolids chemically. The report could be finished by the end of August, according to Music. Few Pennsylvania municipalities have invested in equipment and space to make Class A biosolids. DEP has issued Class A permits to 33 generators, 13 of them out of state and five of them municipalities in south-central Pennsylvania, according to DEP spokeswoman Sandra Roderick. Most treatment plants cart sludge to landfills or spread it on the ground. Five of the 10 sewer plants in Franklin County land apply. Another two have applied for permits. It's become increasingly difficult in recent years to find farmers who accept biosolids, according to Roderick. "The more opposition and the more vocal people become the less likely farmers are to use the material because they don't want to deal with the hassles," she said. "Some of these (permit applications) can get pretty nasty. A lot have gone to public hearings." There's been no public outcry in the Shippensburg area against spreading Class B biosolids, Music said. The borough's problem has been that farms change ownership and new owners may not want biosolids. Farmers also may want to switch to crops that limit the use of biosolids. "Our problem is whether the farmers want to continue," Music said. "It's getting harder and harder to permit agricultural land for Class B application." Shippensburg traditionally has applied its sludge to land, and taken it to the landfill when fields are frozen. The borough owns about 50 acres for spreading biosolids, but it's less than half the land the borough needs, Music said. The treatment plant serves about 3,000 connections in Shippensburg and five surrounding municipalities. The plant produces about 2,000 pounds of Class B biosolids a year, Music said. Heating the sludge would drive out more water, reduce the volume to 600 tons and treat to Class A standards. A chemical process of treating to Class A standards would increase the volume and cost more than heating the sludge, Music said. Borough council in May had considered a 10-year lease on equipment to chemically treat the sludge, but decided to take another look when it found the borough would not own the equipment at the end of the term. "We're tending toward a sludge dryer of some kind," Music said. The dryer would cost $500,000 to $700,000 with additional expenses for a building and equipment. Landfilling sludge costs about $50 a ton. Jim Hook can be reached at 262-4759, or firstname.lastname@example.org. <mailto:email@example.com> Originally published Friday, August 8, 2003 Public Opinion/Jason Malmont Originally published Friday, August 8, 2003