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Whenever two or three biosolids professionals gather, the conversation seems eventually to turn to the public's lack of understanding of biosolids and the reasonableness of land application. In Southern California, for example, a grand jury recently released a 16-page report entitled, “Does Anyone Want Orange County Sanitation District's 230,000 Tons of Biosolids?” The study recommended four specific actions Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) could take that, according to the National Biosolids Partnership (NBP) web site, “could bolster public tolerance of the District's biosolids management program.” The NBP said of the grand jury report:

The purpose of the study was to review OCSD's existing biosolids management programs and long-range plans in light of recent developments to determine if modifications are warranted. The study also considered opportunities to enhance public acceptance of existing programs, which could extend the timeline for eventual conversion to more-viable options and postpone the inevitable expenditure of funds to develop alternatives for biosolids recycling (Orange County Grand Jury Issues Biosolids Recommendations to OCSD, 2005).

Activities such as the Orange County grand jury's investigation of Orange County Sanitation District's biosolids management program point out the need for biosolids generators and those who advise them to be aware of the public's understanding and tolerance of biosolids and disposal practices. This is especially true of land application of Class B biosolids. For example, the Orange County grand jury report recognized OCSD as one of the leading publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) and the first in the United States to achieve certification of its Environmental Management System (EMS) for Biosolids. It also dwelled at length on the lack of public understanding of and tolerance for land application and recognized problems caused by persistent perceptions of risk to humans and nuisance issues. Despite OCSD's extensive and exemplary public outreach and involvement actions and the Orange County grand jury's apparent understanding of OCSD's environmentally responsible actions to manage its biosolids, the grand jury recommended that OCSD phase out Class B biosolids land application except in remote areas.

The degree to which POTWs and biosolids contractors reach out to the public, listen to their concerns, and attempt to reach out to them to explain biosolids practices and involve the public in decision making is crucial in establishing public understanding of and tolerance for land application. This paper reports on a survey of biosolids professionals and their public communication and outreach practices.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2005

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