GreenYes Digest V97 #171

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GreenYes Digest Sat, 19 Jul 97 Volume 97 : Issue 171

Today's Topics:
co-composting MSW with sewage sludge (2 msgs)
Forestry: Onward and upward!
Re[2]: co-composting with sewage sludge
sludge co-composting regulations are safe...but for whom?

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Date: Fri, 18 Jul 1997 23:26:46 -0500
From: Jim McNelly <>
Subject: co-composting MSW with sewage sludge

Susan K. Snow wrote:
> Does anyone know about the Bedminster Bioconversion corporation
> co-composting plant in Sevier County, Tennessee? There, mixed municipal
> solid waste is composted with sewage sludge. Can anyone tell me the
> quality of their compost; the quality of the environment about the
> plant?
> Has anyone taken a chemical analysis sample of the finished compost from
> a Bedminister or other co-composting operation in their community?

Hi Susan,

I know that you and I have gone round and round on the biosolids issue
in the past few months, with me making the point that biosolids are
innocent until proven guilty and you suggesting (my words) the
opposite. You may be surprised to hear that I have quite a few
objections to mixed waste composting, but I try to do so on the basis of
analytical data and not just anti-corporation emotions.

Mixed waste composting basically takes the commingled solid waste
stream, commercial and residential, and processes it into smaller
particles that are subsequently composted. This is contrasted with
source-separated composting which takes yard trimmings, food scraps,
non-recycled paper, and commercial organics before they are commingled.
Most MSW composting technologies rely on hammermills to reduce particle
size, but Bedminster is different in that it uses an Eweson digester to
bio-mechanically reduce particle size whereupon oversize material is
screened and removed.

I used to run a mixed waste composting facility in the late 1980s using
the Eweson technology, and am intimately familiar with it. The Eweson
digester is a rotating tube typically 12' in diameter and anywhere from
120' to 180' long, although some longer tubes at 16' in diameter are on
the drawing board. These tubes have three chambers with a retention
time of three days. Chamber three is emptied every morning, the
contents of chamber two transferred to three, chamber one to two, and
chamber one is filled with mixed waste. Being high in paper and
relatively dry, the material requires water and nitrogen, and Bedminster
recommends the use of biosolids to provide this moisture and nitrogen.

The tube rotates slowly at thirty revolutions per hour, sometimes with
chains and flighting to break up and mix the material. The material
down-loaded from chamber three is sufficiently mascerated and decomposed
that it can be screened at 1 1/2" with a minimal amount of organic
matter in the oversize stream. Plastic bags, wood, rocks, toys, shoes,
clothing, and disposable diaper back-sheets are characteristic of the
oversize material. Paper products, bones, even deer heads and hides
decompose quickly in the Eweson digester sufficiently to pass through
into the undersize stream.

In this respect, the Eweson technology is far superior to hammermilling
systems in that plastics are not shredded into little bits that
contaminate the compost. The material coming out of the digester is
suitable for composting, although some of their sales representatives
claim that the digester is a composting system in and of itself. This
is hardly the case. The digester is nothing more than a mixer and a
pre-conditioner of mixed waste such that inert material can be removed
by screening as an alternative to hammermilling. The resulting material
must still be composted.

Bedminster has yet to latch onto a true composting system for the
back-end of their system. They have been using aerated static piles
formed by front-end loaders for years. They have not incorporated the
features of state-of-the art composting systems which include even
delivery of air throughout the composting mass, temperature feedback and
heat removal, re-homogenation and re-moisturization, 100% capture of
process air to bio-filters, or sequential agitation. Part of the reason
for this tardiness in adopting modern composting principles is that many
within the company believed their sales literature that claimed that the
material was finished in 72 hours and did not require further
composting. They have subsequently tried to develop composting
technologies in-house rather than adopting principles developed
throughout the industry. Some engineering firms have recognized this
deficiency and recommended the NaturTech containerized composting system
I have designed on the back-end of the Bedminster system. We have yet
to do a project together, although several are in the discussion and
design phase. I will advocate, however, source-separated composting
prior to mixed waste composting wherever practical.

But assuming that Bedminster did utilize efficient composting
technologies subsequent to the Eweson digester, I still have several
fundamental problems with mixed waste composting. While their system
will have fewer plastics and other inert contaminants than hammermilling
systems, they will still have the full gamut of heavy metals,
particularly metals from household batteries such as mercury, lead,
nickel, cadmium, and zinc. PCB levels in mixed waste compost are often
over 10 PPM as well, of which I and many states have concerns with
levels over 1 PPM. The EPA does not regulate mixed waste compost.

A serious problem with analytical data from MSW compost is that it does
not typically pick up these heavy metal levels in the analysis because
the batteries are often still intact when the test is done, only to
decompose over time and leak their toxic contents years later. An
analogy would be to test the packing straw in a truckload of barrels of
toxins rather than the contents of the barrels themselves. Batteries
are little toxic drums that often don't leak until years after the
composting process is finished. Another problem with testing of mixed
waste compost is that there is a screening process that removes
batteries in the process of selecting compost for analysis. If
batteries were included, especially the little button batteries with
mercury, nickel, and cadmium, there would be occasional spikes of heavy
metals that would make the compost unfit for any application other than
landfill cover or mined land reclamation, and most mining companies I
know of would not want the liability of such metals on their property.

This household battery issue can be mitigated to a certain extent by
incorporating numerous magnetic separators throughout the composting
process and by adding a density separator at the end of the compost
process to remove batteries, glass, and other heavy materials. Even
then, the compost should be screened to under 3/8" to keep button
batteries out of the soil. This problem is worse with hammermill based
composting systems that are more prone to break open the batteries and
spill their contents into the compost before they can be removed. To
its credit, the "softer" Eweson process is more capable of removing
batteries than hammermill based systems.

Even with proper separation technologies, I have a problem is in the
fact that it takes close attention to composting process control to
condition the compost to a texture and low moisture level where the
batteries can be removed efficiently. Typically the compost has to be
rushed through the composting process and is too coarse and wet for the
density separator or screener to work efficiently. If the compost is
too dry in the process, it fails to decompose properly, which is a
problem on the other side of the spectrum. Too often we see the fine
screen and density separators bypassed and the compost used as "Class
11" on designated farmland instead of "Class 1" for unrestricted use.
Most of the so called "Class 11" material is actually only suitable for
controlled access, non-food chain uses and I am opposed to any mixed
waste compost being distributed for unrestricted use, meaning bagging or
residential applications.

I installed a fine screen and density separator at the facility I
managed, (non-Bedminster) but corporate pressure demanded that the
material be moved out at a coarser screen, bypassing the the separator.
I would have nothing to do with such schemes and for this, among other
reasons, my employment ended. I can not speak to the issues of how the
Bedminster facility in Sieverville, TN is operated, but I know that a
fine screen and density separator are on-site. The plant can be run in
a manner to produce a Class 11 compost suitable for agricultural use,
but that depends on the efficiency of the equipment, the skill of the
facility manager, and the integrity of the management. Their plant in
Marietta, GA has been plagued with start-up problems including odors and
two major fires.

But back to the heavy metal issue. It is a fact that household
batteries are in mixed waste, and that they are concentrated into a
mixed waste compost. It is also a fact that they are high in heavy
metals, and that if they are not removed, they contaminate the compost
to levels far in excess of even the most liberal guidelines, much less
the EPA 503 sludge rules.

This is not a perceptual problem, like the biosolids=toxics issue that
Susan Snow keeps bringing up where there are "suspected" toxins or the
dose or concentration of metals has not been shown to be a biohazard to
plants, animals, or humans. It is the dose and the concentration that
makes the toxin, and mixed waste compost laced with household batteries
has levels of often undetected heavy metals that make it unsafe to use
where there is public exposure or the soil can be used in the food
chain. Sewage sludge, on the other hand, that meets the definition of
"biosolids" which means low concentrations of toxins, I am convinced is
safe to use on farmland.

In any case, I advocate source-separated composting prior to, or instead
of, mixed waste composting as the first option for a community. This
approach produces a compost that is safe to use and does not have the
other contaminants such as plastics, glass, and metals found in mixed
waste compost.

Jim~ McNelly       
NaturTech Composting Systems, Inc.   320-253-6255 
Information on Composting and Sustainable Futures
The Humusphere           HTTP://


Date: Tue, 19 Aug 1997 01:17:15 -0500 From: "Susan K. Snow" <> Subject: co-composting MSW with sewage sludge

Jim, Thank you for your indepth discussion. If you don't mind, I would like to share it with the communities with whom I am working.

One community seems to have the non-choice of a tire-burning garbage incinerator or Bedminster's co-composting system. This I believe is a non-choice. They have had source separation and minimal recycling via BFI. Apparently, the recycling awareness has also been minimal, as the participation rate is relatively low. BFI says they are average.

The public officials are sold on the idea that recycling which costs a mere $30,000 a year, is too expensive and they want to move in a more comprehensive direction. Instead of increasing recycling and source separated organic matter to be composted, they are being sold in a landfill in a tube.


Date: Fri, 18 Jul 1997 12:59:42 -0400 (EDT) From: Subject: Forestry: Onward and upward!

--------------------- Forwarded message: From: (Paul Spitler) Sender: To: Date: 97-07-16 21:13:22 EDT

Folks, Here's the latest on the timber roads amendment. Onward and upward we go. Keep the calls and letters coming. Paul

TO: All Forest Activists FROM: Jim Jontz & Steve Holmer DATE: July 15, 1997

SUBJECT: On to the Senate!

Even though we didn't pass the Porter/Kennedy amendment in its original form, the fact that the timber industry had to concede half of what we wanted (with the Dicks amendment) shows the strong the support in the Congress for eliminating this subsidy and gives us momentum as we go to the Senate.

We expect to see the issue of logging roads subsidies to be addressed by the Senate as part of the Interior Appropriations bill. Several Senate offices have expressed interest in sponsoring the amendment and we will be making an announcement as soon as we have a firm commitment. The bill is expected to be considered by the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee this Friday and by the full committee on July 22. Floor action could take place the following week with a vote possible as soon as July 29. This doesn't give us much time, so we need to move into full gear to prepare for this Senate vote.

Please contact your two Senators and urge them to support the elimination of all federal subsidies for the construction and reconstruction of logging roads on the National Forests. Please dial 202/224-3121 to be connected to your Senators.

White House Continues to Fumble on Roads Policy We have received a series of contradictory and pitiful explanations from the Administration for Secretary Dan Glickman's letter opposing the Porter/Kennedy amendment ranging from "a mistake" to "insubordination."

Please contact the following Administration officials and let them know how you feel about the Glickman letter. If the Glickman letter hadn't appeared at the last moment we most surely would have passed the Porter/Kennedy amendment in its original form. While the Administration has proposed in the budget to eliminate purchaser credits, they opposed an opportunity for the House to end the program. Let the Administration know that if they are sincere about eliminating purchaser credits, they should announce the termination of the program.

Secretary Dan Glickman, USDA, 202/720-3631, 202/720-2166 fax

Under Secretary of Agriculture Jim Lyons, 202/720-5166, 202/720- 4732 fax

T.J. Glauthier, Office of Management and Budget, 202/395-4561, 202/395-4639 fax

Katie McGinty, Council on Environmental Quality, 202/456-6224, 202/456-2710 fax

Paul Spitler Western Ancient Forest Campaign California Field Office 2655 Portage Bay East, Suite 5 Davis, CA 95616 (916)-758-0380 fax (916)-758-0382


Date: Fri, 18 Jul 97 13:42:46 EST From: Subject: Re[2]: co-composting with sewage sludge


One clarification for your position on composting: animal products (meat, fish, bones, dairy) need to be restricted only from backyard composting bins. Remember to not mix-up the differences between backyard and larger-scale methods of composting. Animal materials take longer to break down than vegetative materials, and might attract pests in a backyard. They are absolutely appropriate for most properly controlled larger-scale composting systems that accept food, whether they be in-vessel or windrow systems. This enables the diversion, reclamation, recycling, and reuse of clean nutrients not only from supermarkets and grocery stores, but also from restaurants and all of the millions of cafeterias in our schools, universities, businesses, and myriad other institutions. Fallen bears and birds are just as necessary for the regeneration of a forest as are leaves and plants. The microbes couldn't care less, its all organic material: "compost happens"!

Gray Russell Bronx Green-Up Compost Project The New York Botanical Garden tel: (718) 817-8024 email:


Date: Mon, 18 Aug 1997 14:57:33 -0500 From: "Susan K. Snow" <> Subject: sludge co-composting regulations are safe...but for whom?

In 1989, the USEPA published proposed sludge regulations that addressed the land application, distribution, and marketing of any products derived from sewage sludge including composts. Apparently, the EPA's proposed regs established maximum allowable exposure limits for pathogens, heavy metals, PCBs, and organic toxics.

This did not go over well with a peer review committee in 1990 which deemed the environmental and health risk analysis used to establish the regulations as <<overly restrictive.>>

The above information is from an article entitled 'Compost Products and Their Uses' in the Aug., 1991 issue of SOLID WASTE & POWER. The authors are the president and recycling specialist with a company specializing in solid waste management, composting, land application, product marketing, facility design, and recycling. The authors write: <...[T]he regulations would make it <<very difficult>> to land apply or distribute and market the sludge-derived compost product that met EPA's standards.>

It should not be a surprise as to what EPA has done, if you have read RACHEL's #553. <<...[O]ne realizes that the purpose of the regulatory system is not to protect human health and the environment. The purpose of the regulatory system is to protect the property rights of the corporations, using every branch of government to thwart any serious attempts by citizens to assert that human rights should take precedence. "At the most fundamental level," write Fagin and Lavelle, "the federal regulatory system is driven by the economic imperatives of the chemical manufacturers--to expand markets and profits--and not by its mandate to protect public health."(pg. 13)

Is the finished product from the co-composting <safe> to put on farms, gardens, lawns? Guess that depends <safe> for whom: <Safe> bet you may never know exactly what is making you, your family and pets ill with rare cancers, blood diseases, infections, viruses, and parasites due to a damaged immune system. <Safe> that the so-called <environmental> industries will make money at your expense; <safe> that the decision makers can now get rid of sewage sludge and garbage by spreading over the lands in their respective areas or selling it to unsuspecting consumers and farmers everywhere. It is a <safe> bet that the real problems will not be addressed, being source reduction, materials reuse, recycling and clean composting.

Not to worry! Health and a quality life doesn't really matter. Only money and business as usual.

It's just my take from all this. Susan Snow


Date: (null) From: (null)

Recently, I read a back issue of Solid Waste & Power magazine which was in my file from the years I served on our community environmental control commission, an advisory organization to the parish council, to which I was appointed. The article stated that in 1989, the USEPA published proposed sludge regulations that addressed the land application, distribution, and marketing of any products derived from sewage sludge including composts. The EPA's proposed regs established maximum allowable exposure limits for pathogens, heavy metals, PCBs, and organic toxics, according to the article.

This did not go over well with a peer review committee in 1990 which deemed the environmental and health risk analysis used to establish the regulations as <<overly restrictive.>>

The article was entitled COMPOST PRODUCTS AND THEIR USES. The authors of this article included the president and recycling specialist with a company specializing in solid waste management, composting, land application, product marketing, facility design, and recycling. They wrote: <...[T]he regulations would make it very difficult to land apply or distribute and market the sludge-derived compost product that met EPA's standards...>

After talking with the EPA, companies such as this, changed EPA's mind and the proposed regs were weakened. Solid Waste & Power is an industry journal. However, this information seems to fall in line with what the environmental community has told me. That's the problem I have with sewage sludge/biosolids. Regs that are altered to sell products, not to protect public health.

After two members of my family died from very rare diseases: autoimmune hemolytic anemia and cancer of the liver and splenic; and cancer of the nervous system --splenic hemagiosarcoma --I am looking at all sources as possible causes. I believed that it was the so-called inert ingredients in pesticides--naphthalene, one of the inerts in carbaryl, a main ingredient in moth balls, and used in veterinary medicine is connected with AIHA; but now I've learned that it may have been chemicals in fertilizers, as well.

That's from where I come. Most of the communities whom I work with are concerned with the environmental, as well as the cost factors. When one's health is destroyed by a company that has moved into a community, emits odors, has perhaps poisoned one's well or soil and food --nothing else matters.

Thank you for taking the time to write. Please be assured, I'm not angry with you. I am only concerned about what is poured down the drain by industry and unknowledgeable consumers and may be in the sewage sludge/biosolids.

Susan Snow


End of GreenYes Digest V97 #171 ******************************