There’s a group near me, the Sewage Sludge Action Network, that is mightily concerned with land application of wastewater sludges.  That is, sludge produced as a byproduct of treating human sewage.  I am sympathetic with some of their concerns, in part because it is difficult to oversee the entire process to ensure that it is being done safely.  Additionally, some of the regulations appear to need revisiting, to include revising setback requirements, as well as redoing and expanding the original risk assessment regarding the process, and other things.

But, at the end of the day, it is important to combine concerns with finding alternatives.  We have sewers everywhere, getting wastes out of sight and out of mind and doing a lot of good public health protection in the process.  Sludge happens, and will continue to happen, and all the sludge produced in the US each day, if piled up, would make a bigger pile than just about any other waste product of our society.  What are these cities and towns to do, even if they wanted to do something else?

Economies of scale suggest that a group of small towns could ban together and build an incinerator (forget calling this a waste-to-energy facility, it doesn’t work that way).  But many people will object to an incinerator.  If there is a whole lot of land available, perhaps the wastewater could be treated naturally in constructed wetlands, radically reducing the amount of sludge produced in the process.   But suitable land at reasonable cost is not always available.  There are going to be trade-offs, and an appreciation of this fact is important when addressing one’s concerns to the regulators and to the community.