WEF Offers Update on Biosolids and PFAS Concerns

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The Water Environment Federation (WEF) recently issued an alert updating its members about concerns over biosolids and per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). In recent years, concerns about PFAS have been a high-profile issue for the water sector, media and public.

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS and GenX. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries, and although they have been phased out for many applications, they are still persistent in the environment. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects, although much more research is needed.

Concerns about PFAS have primarily focused on its presence in drinking water, however, some attention is turning to biosolids. There are rare cases where heavy industrial discharges of PFAS have impacted biosolids and state environmental agencies are beginning to evaluate regulations for biosolids.

See these stories from Maine, for example. The Water Environment Federation (WEF) recently issued a statement to its members to be aware of these concerns and to know that the federation is being proactive and using facts and science-based communications resources as needed.

WEF’s position

Biosolids production recovers valuable nutrients, organic matter and energy from treated wastewater. It is a safe and innovative process that lowers costs for consumers, improves our environment, conserves natural resources and supports our nation’s agricultural communities, according to WEF.

WEF is closely following concerns about PFAS and continuing to rely on the current science to inform its response. According to the federation, that science shows no significant health risk from human exposure to biosolids and that contamination of surface or groundwater from biosolids is very unlikely.

WEF is urging federal and state regulators to focus on stopping these chemicals at their source through appropriate controls on industrial and other uses — before they enter the sewer system or the environment — and to consider the impacts of new policies or laws on utilities. The federation also supports further PFAS research.

Activities and resources

WEF has a variety of activities underway and offers communications resources to respond to concerns about biosolids and PFAS.

Talking points on PFAS — WEF has generated talking points on biosolids and PFAS that are based on the current science, the importance of biosolids to utilities and others, the need to focus on source control, and support for additional research. Members can access the talking points.

Availability to assist member associations and members — WEF is available to assist MAs and members with communications and advocacy on biosolids, particularly to state agencies and at the local level.

News sources — There are several useful sites for those interested in learning more about PFAS and tracking news, including a webpage of the U.S. EPA, a webpage of the North East Residuals and Biosolids Association and the PFAS Project run by Northeastern University. There is also an informative overview video on PFAS available on YouTube.

WEF resources for communications — WEF has resources to assist members in communications, with much of the content housed at biosolidsresources.org. There is basic information about biosolids, videos, social media, reports and technical support documents. The messaging book is another resource. WEF published an episode of the Words On Water podcast featuring Ned Beecher, the executive director of the North East Biosolids and Residuals Association.

WEF has also posted a series of videos on YouTube called “Speaking of Biosolids,” which feature brief interviews with experts talking about the various benefits of biosolids. WEF has also prepared a package of social media content to make it even easier to post about biosolids. Collaboration across water sector — WEF is working closely with the National Association of Clean Water Administrators, The Water Research Foundation, WEF member associations, and regional biosolids organizations to track concerns, provide facts and science, and support an appropriate regulatory response. WEF is also in communication with the U.S. EPA about biosolids.

WEF plans to continue to expand biosolids advocacy, communications and research and offering more resources for the water sector. All resources are posted at http://biosolidsresources.org/OE/. For more information, contact Patrick Dube, biosolids program manager, at pdube@wef.org or Travis Loop, senior director of communications and public outreach, at tloop@wef.org.


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