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The water industry in England was organised into 9 river-catchment-based public authorities in 1974; Wales had its own authority. In 1989 the river management function was separated and all 10 authorities were floated as publicly quoted companies on the London stock exchange. The companies' charging and investment plans are regulated by a government watchdog on a 5-year business planning cycle to meet new and existing obligations.

UK law required that disposal of sewage sludge at sea ended by 31st December 1998. This had been known since 1989 and alternatives were planned, built and commissioned to comply with this legal requirement. At the same time legislation has increased biosolids production by requiring full secondary treatment. Most recently there has been quite widespread application of phosphate standards on works' effluents discharged to rivers. In general biosolids recycling has been evaluated as the Best Practicable Environmental Option, but in special situations, thermal destruction has been identified.

Starting in 1996, with the publication of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's report “Sustainable Use Of Soils”, biosolids recycling came under stakeholder and media scrutiny that destabilised the market. Landowners became concerned about the risk of gradual pollution, perhaps by something that we are not yet even considering (the DDT syndrome). The supermarkets and food industry queried the risk of human pathogen transmission especially the “emerging pathogens” for which traditional practices may not be adequate. Farmers'confidence was shaken because of these stakeholder concerns – would they be able to sell their production if land had been treated with biosolids? Milestone agreements were concluded with the stakeholders in 1999 and 1998 respectively. These agreements gave certain undertakings and indemnities to the stakeholders.

The paper will describe various examples of how companies have risen to the challenges. In addition to thermal destruction these will include a dash to Class-A biosolids, partnership with the latest precision farming developments and development of independently audited quality assurance leading to insurability and the creation of an expert-system knowledge-centre. These developments are intended to guarantee the sustainability of biosolids management.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2000-01-01

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