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HAVE WE LEARNED FROM OUR FAILURES AND CAPITALIZED ON OUR SUCCESSES IN BIOSOLIDS PROGRAMS

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Abstract:

Charles De Gaulle once wrote, “In order to become the master, the politician poses as the servant.” We in the biosolids industry seldom “pose” as the servant, nor do we pose as the politician. We have a tendency to hide behind science and think because we are technically right we shouldn't have to expend the energy and money it takes to understand what our customers, up and down, are going through. The “servant” or the people we serve are asking why we are dumping this “yucky” stuff on them? They want to know why you are not taking care of this stuff in your own back yard? That is of course if you are not. They want to know if the practice is safe and what kind of assurances you can give them? The main question they want to ask is why you didn't ask them if it is OK to do what you are doing before you started? The “politician” has the same questions, but they also want to know what are your alternatives and what you bring to their community.

One successful biosolids program is in the Pacific Northwest where there is general acceptance of biosolids. What is not readily recognized is that this program is 20 years in the making. There are many small and large successful programs around the nation that we also should be looking at. What, I bet, they all have in common is that they have early on engaged their customers, acknowledged their concerns and addressed their fears. There have also been many failures throughout the nation over the last 15–20 years and generally the failure has been one of not engaging their customers.

Sometimes we rely on contractors to manage our biosolids and hopefully do the outreach that is needed before, during and after they start. We sometimes have a strong contractor oversight program, but we seldom go out and meet with the neighbors or the local politicians. We are trying to prevent negative headlines from happening. We have a very specific site inspection program that check the trucks, pre-approve the sites that will be applied, check that material is applied evenly and in the correct quantities, but do we meet with the local school board? We make sure that the incorporation is adequate, that all set backs are observed, that the field is planted and irrigated, we make sure that a crop is grown and harvested and that follow up crops are appropriate, but do we go to the local city council or board of supervisors meeting? Usually not!

We check with our customers (regulators, other POTWs, other inspectors) to see if they need additional information or if they have any concerns, but we seldom check with the local politicians or home owners. The message that we the biosolids industry is trying to get out to the contractors and our sister agencies is that we will not stand for sloppy practices, but we seldom engage the politicians and the local public to see if we are causing a nuisance. We need to be willing to go out to the politicians and local public and say we would like your permission to manage these organic nutrients in your back yard, in your term of office and that we will do it right. We the generators need to help each other help the industry.

John Kenneth Galbraith once said, “Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.” We certainly are dealing with the unpalatable, but we shouldn't have to deal with the disastrous.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2175/193864701784993191

Publication date: January 1, 2001

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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