Biosolids permit decision now expected by mid-August

Carla Clark | For The Republic Rob Kittle asks questions during public hearing to allow a biosolids storage facility in Bartholomew County held by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) at the Sports Center Building at CERAland Park, Columbus, Ind., Wednesday, April 17, 2024.

State environmental regulators say they hope to make a decision on a proposed sewage sludge-holding facility in Bartholomew County by mid-August.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is considering a request from Evan Daily of Biocycle LLC to accept dewatered biosolids for blending and use on farmland in Bartholomew and several neighboring counties a storage facility southeast of Columbus at 3788 E. County Road 300S. Biosolids are organic materials produced during the treatment of human sewage at wastewater treatment plants.

Initially, IDEM officials said they expected that a decision on the Biocycle LLC permit would come by June 1 at the earliest. Currently, the permit is still in the review process, officials said.

“We hope to have a decision within two months,” said IDEM spokesman Barry Sneed.

In April, around 110 people attended a public hearing at CERAland Park on the proposed facility as regulators consider the request, with nobody speaking in favor of it. The vast majority of the 80 written comments received prior to the hearing were also negative.

According to the proposal, the biosolids will be mixed when they arrive and placed in an area sectioned off by interlocking concrete blocks that allow access for sampling before land application. Once the desired amount is reached in the holding area, the blend will be sampled and tested to determine land application rate.

The structure Daily wants to build will have a concrete base with concrete walls on three sides, according to his application. The south side of the building, which will be open for truck access, will have a trench drain across the opening with a runoff holding tank. The application states the holding area for biosolids will be 85 feet wide by 100 feet long, with a holding capacity of 46,750 cubic feet.

Wastewater treatment techniques stabilize and disinfect the biosolids, which contain nutrients necessary for plant growth, including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, copper, zinc, calcium, magnesium and iron, according to regulators.

However, the sewage sludge may emit a distinctive odor depending on the treatment process and methods used. The odorous compounds generated and detected are most often ammonia, amines and reduced sulfur-containing compounds, according to the EPA.

Meteorological conditions such as wind speed and direction, relative humidity, and temperature can impact nuisance odors, according to the agency website. The EPA states the odors do not mean that the biosolids pose harm to human health and the environment.

The proposal has been met by fierce opposition from local residents and some business in the area, including CERAland Park and Otter Creek Golf Course. Some of the concerns include potential runoff from the facility could reach their properties and a nearby creek, as well as the unpleasant odor from the operation and concerns over whether the sludge could get into the aquifer that supplies water to Columbus.

Contaminants have been detected in the city’s water supply in the past, including PFAS, 1,4 dioxane and E. coli, though there is no evidence that the use of sewage sludge on farmland played any role.

Parts of the aquifer in the county that supplies Columbus with drinking water “lacks overlying clays” and are “highly susceptible to contamination from surface sources,” according to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Columbus City Utilities, for its part, has said the application of sewage sludge on farmland poses a low risk for human health and city’s water supply provided that “everybody follows the protocols they’re supposed to.”

IDEM has said that it “encourages the beneficial reuse of biosolids … in a manner that protects human health and the environment.” Anyone who applies biosolids to farmland “must comply with federal and state land application laws and rules and obtain a permit,” according to IDEM.