September 21, 2005 | General

BioCycle World

BioCycle September 2005, Vol. 46, No. 9, p. 6

Researchers are being invited to help develop a protocol that will allow for compiling data on reports of alleged health symptoms by persons living near municipal wastewater treatment biosolids land application sites. Data collected could help provide answers to whether a “causal link between biosolids land application and health effects exists,” notes the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF), which is soliciting proposals from researchers. According to WERF, this research responds to a July 2002 report from the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. Although the report found no documented scientific evidence that the part 503 rules have failed to protect public health, it did recommend that U.S. EPA update the scientific basis of regulations governing biosolids, improve knowledge of chemicals and, pathogens, and evaluate concerns about health effects and exposure.
The WERF funding for Phase 1 of this program is $150,000. The complete research program includes development of a protocol (Phase 1), the pilot testing and refinement of the protocol (Phase 2), and a methodology for its implementation and use by the appropriate agencies (Phase 3). The funding amounts for Phases 2 and 3 will be established while Phase 1 is underway. For more information – about this WERF research, visit or contact Elizabeth Striano via e-mail at Proposals should be submitted to WERF by October 3, 2005.
The exchange of organics residuals for fresh vegetables has been started on a trial basis at morning markets in Sendai City, northern Japan, reports the newsletter Japan for Sustainability. Under the system, when a consumer brings organic residuals that have been dried and compressed to one of five vegetable markets in Sendai, each kilogram will be exchanged for 100 yen (about U.S. 91 cents) worth of fresh vegetables. The organics collected at the markets are then composted by the farmers and used for growing vegetables.
Known for their traditional land use practices, Native Americans shared their expertise in composting programs at an event arranged by U.S. EPA Region 5 officials. Topics featured ideas for building and sustaining community support, funding and technical resources plus waste diversion based on cultural traditions and values. Leading the workshops were the Oneida Tribe of Wisconsin, Blackfeet Nation of Montana, Fond du Lac and Bois Forte Bands of Chippewa of Minnesota, Eastern Band Cherokee of North Carolina, and the Prairie Band Potawatomi of Kansas. The Tribal Composting Workshop was held in conjunction with the National Recycling Coalition’s 24th Annual Congress held in late August in Minneapolis.
In Uganda, where more than 60 percent of wood production is used for fuel (leading to indiscriminate tree cutting), biogas is seen as a good alternative at the household level. It is also a way to make use of animal manure, by providing fertilizer. In the Kulika region, six biogas plants have been established, and have become focal points for training farmers interested in biogas.
According to a report in LEISA, the magazine which reports Low External Input and Sustainable Agriculture progress (Vol. 21, No. 1), about 50 to 60 percent of the farmers who established biogas plants have been successful and “… are happy with the technology, especially in highly populated districts where fuel wood is a major problem. They save the money that would otherwise have been used to buy fertilizer and they save the time used to make compost, as the slurry needs no treatment before use.” Website for LEISA is
A report by Anne O’Brien, head of the Organics/Waste & Resources Action Program (WRAP) in the United Kingdom gives good data on how the demand for compost is developing there. Published, in the Autumn, 2005 issue of the UK Composting Association’s publication, Composting News, O’Brien writes that there are now 64 composting sites on the Association’s list with a combined processing capacity of over 850,000 metric tons. To better predict compost sales in the near future, WRAP did some market assessments that reached out to segments including landscaping, horticulture and organic farming.
The response from landscapers showed a strong interest in green waste compost; last year, over 875,000 cubic meters of compost were used. Writes O’Brien: “Over the next two to three years, both supply and demand are predicted to increase significantly, with annual demand for composted products expected to increase to 926,000 m3 by 2007 and demand for organic matter as a whole expected to rise to over 3.5 million m3 in the next three years.” Costs are seen as a continuing challenge; WRAP reports that green waste compost is around £15 ($27) per cubic meter. Overall findings indicate strong and continued growth in demand for compost, with these areas “representing specific opportunities”: topsoil amelioration; topsoil manufacture; topdressing; and mulching.
In the horticulture industry, a major barrier to widespread acceptable is a negative perception of compost quality. Specifically pathogens were viewed as a “major limitation to increased uptake of composted materials by producers.” A WRAP study on pathogens showed that a composting process that treats green waste at a minimum of 65°C for seven days, with minimum moisture of 51 percent will eradicate all major pathogens.
In the organic farming marketplace, WRAP found that the demand for green waste compost appears to have reduced slightly over 2004, but product sales were estimated at £126,898 ($228,416). Looking ahead, O’Brien points out that if the amount of fully organic land increases, compost use “is likely to increase. However, the total amount of organically managed land in the U.K. has declined over the last year, and it is not clear whether or not that decline will continue.”
On the positive side, she cites growing government pressure on the horticulture industry to use more peat free products. Also the growing emphasis on urban regeneration, brownfield development and land remediation have presented compost with a new-and significant role. Finally, she emphasizes, “WRAP is committed to creating sustainable markets for composted products and encourages everyone to join the revolution.”
One of the greatest misconceptions about earthworms, says Lee Frelich of the Minnesota Center for Hardwood Ecology, is that they are native in northern hardwood forests. “This is not true in northern Wisconsin, Upper Michigan and all of Minnesota,” declares Frelich. “All of the earthworm species in those areas are European in origin and arrived with European settlement.”
In an article titled “Worming into New Territory” in Wisconsin Natural Resources, Sophia Estante reports that scientists are finding that earthworms (like other exotic species) may negatively change the environment. She also quotes a University of Montana doctoral candidate who explains that earthworms alter plant communities by changing the forest floor (the decomposing layer of leaf litter on the soil surface) and the first few inches of duff (loose, moist roots and fine soil) by both consuming it and mixing it into the underlying soil (leaving a trail of gummy worm castings.) In addition, different earthworm species specialize in mixing soil at the surface or wiggling between,shallow soil and deeper layers.
Gardeners are urged to be careful when transplanting: “People should only introduce worms to planting where worms are already present, or in compost piles where the worms will not survive outside the pile.” Estante also notes that more than 100 earthworm species have been identified, and 15 species are commonly found in the Midwest and Canada – some living in the leaf litter layer and others dwelling in the top soil layers, while night crawlers burrow deep into subsoil layers. To learn more about earthworms, and a project called Worm Watch, she suggests a website visit to: And for more details about Wisconsin Natural Resources, call 608-267-7410.
Cindy Hale is a forest ecologist at the University of Minnesota-Duluth who studies how different species of earthworms may change soil structure. Her work is also described in the magazine article. She can be contacted at the Natural Resources Research Institute, 5013 Miller Trunk Highway, Duluth, Minnesota 55811.
A report in the Department of Energy’s Biomass Initiative for August 2005 shows that the state of Utah consumed 833.1 trillion Btu of energy, with coal supplying nearly half of that amount. Petroleum and natural gas accounted for 31 and 20 percent respectively. It is estimated that Utah could generate 1.1 billion kWh of electricity from biomass sources, which could power 105,000 homes (or 19 percent of all residential needs in the state.) Urban and agricultural residues account for the most potential energy at 231,000 and 217,000 dry tons/year respectively. Annually, forest residues can contribute 173,000 dry tons, and 102,000 dry tons are available from mill residues.
At Utah State University, a recent grant from the U.S. DOE will be used to demonstrate an anaerobic digester system at a large dairy farm. Two projects will be using landfill gases to convert into usable energy. The first project is a methane gas to energy located at the Salt Lake City landfill, with chief partner Detroit Edison; the second project is at the Hill Air Force Base building a new power plant using methane gas from the Davis County landfill to save $600,000 per year on energy costs. Current biomass operations in Utah include the Davis County SWM and Energy Recovery, which converts municipal solid wastes to energy and the Garkane Power Association which uses milling and logging residues to produce energy. The two biomass installations have a combined output of 5,600 kW.
The state of Utah offers tax breaks for biomass, and other renewable systems, such as a sales tax exemption on the purchase of industrial systems with outputs of 20 kW or greater and tax credits (25 percent for residential systems, and 10 percent for commercial installations.) The private company Mainstay Energy also offers to buy renewable energy credits from owners of renewable energy systems.
Chicago mayor Richard Daley became a strong advocate for green roofs of live plants while traveling in Europe. Now 120 will be built including one on City Hall and one above a huge subterranean parking garage and commuter train terminal in Millennium Park. As explained in BioCycle articles, green roofs reduce sewer overflows by absorbing rain (especially when compost is used) filter out pollutants, oxygenate the air, and keep buildings cooler in summer while cutting electricity use.
In New York City, landscapers last month were installing a green roof (covering 35,000 sq ft) at the Silvercup Studios where parts of the HBO series, “The Sopranos,” are filmed. Proponents hope that the project data will convin commercial property owners and developers to use the concept widely. “We are looking to demonstrate to the government, the public and private business that green technologies are an economic benefit,” said the co-owner of Silvercup Studios. The project obtained a major grant from Clean Air Communities which is devoted to reducing air pollution and energy consumption in low-income neighborhoods. With current technology, green roofs typically cost $8 to $10 a square foot, while a regular roof costs about $4 to $8. New York City has approximately 60,000 sq ft of green roofs built or under construction. Other green roof examples in North America include: a 1.5 acre installation at the Gap corporate office in San Bruno, California; an 8-acre multilevel roof on Salt Lake City’s Latter Day Saints Conference Center; a 10.4 acre roof on the Ford Motor Company’s truck plant in Dearborn, Michigan; and a green roof planned for the remodeled California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

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