Biosolids applied to Rangely field passed safety test

RANGELY | Biosolids being spread on neighboring fields as fertilizer has Rangely resident Jean Kenney concerned. Biosolids refer to solid organic matter recovered from a sewage treatment process and used especially as fertilizer. Biosolids material from the Town of Dinosaur’s waste treatment program was recently applied to about 11 acres neighboring Kenney’s family property.

“I’m super concerned about all the bacteria, and my grandkids are next door,” Kenney said in a phone interview. “We didn’t realize what they were hauling in and no one contacted us.”

The biosolids in question came from one of two “lagoon cells” that are part of the Town of Dinosaur’s waste treatment system. According to Steve LaBonde, project manager for Westwater Engineering, the state department of public health notified the Town in 2008 that its discharge permit would not be renewed because of seepage concerns with the two lagoons, only one of which was in use. In 2014 the town embarked on a preliminary engineering report to put synthetic liners in the lagoons, which were lined with clay and bentonite.

One part of the multi-phase project involved installation of a synthetic polypropylene liner in the secondary lagoon cell in 2016.

“The town had never used both cells,” LaBonde said. In 2016 effluent flows were diverted to the second cell, and the first cell was allowed to dry out “for the better part of a year and a half” so the biosolids could be removed.

In March 2018 samples were sent for testing to Midwest Labs in Nebraska. The results indicated the Dinosaur samples qualified as a Class A biosolid. Class A biosolids can be legally used as fertilizer on farms, vegetable gardens and can be sold to home gardeners as compost or fertilizer.“

“[Classes] are dictated by fecal coliform counts,” LaBonde said. “The Class A limit is 1,000 parts per dry gram. The Dinosaur sample had less than two parts per gram.”

By contrast, Class B biosolids are considered suitable for agricultural application and can have up to 2 million parts per dried gram. Class A biosolids can be used for compost, and at one point a few years ago in metro Denver were being sold as such.

“Biosolids are considered beneficial fertilizer,” LaBonde said Tuesday via phone.

“It is highly regulated, and safe,” Rio Blanco County Public Health Director Julie Drake said via email.

The use of biosolids from human waste is extremely common nationwide. At one point, according to LaBonde, New York City shipped biosolids by the train car to eastern Colorado.

“Every wastewater treatment program has to answer the question, what do you do with the biosolids?” LaBonde said. “It’s far better to apply it for beneficial use than applying it to a landfill.”

The Town of Meeker has an activated sludge plant and disperses biosolids in a “slurry” state—mostly water—on fields along County Road 7, according to Water Treatment Plant Supervisor Kurt Nielson.

The Town of Rangely’s biosolids are separated from the raw influent stream, then deposited into an aeration basin, sent through a “hydrogritter” and placed in a holding container, where it is bagged and sent to the landfill, according to Utility Department Supervisor Don Reed.

For Dinosaur, LaBonde said, “The town wanted to go through a public process to see who might want it for beneficial use, saving the cost of fertilizer.” The town published public notices in the Rio Blanco Herald Times on June 28 and July 5, 2018, soliciting interest from local ranchers, and held a public meeting on July 10, 2018, to see who, if anyone, was interested. Rangely residents Brian Prater and Kelby Bell expressed interest. Soil tests were performed to determine if the proposed fields would benefit.

In September, the town submitted a letter of intent to Tim Larson at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s  water quality control division with a summary of the test results and soil tests.

“Larson copied Julie Drake on the sampling results, and realizing we were crossing the county line, also copied the [RBC] county commissioners,” LaBonde said. The NRCS Meeker Service Center was also notified.

When they didn’t receive much feedback, the Division issued a notice of authorization for application of biosolids on the Prater and Bell properties.

In the Nov. 15 edition of the HT, Dinosaur advertised the project to remove the biosolids followed by a public bid opening on Dec. 5. The bid was awarded Dec. 13 to Colorado West Contracting out of Grand Junction, with a notice to proceed given on Jan. 21, 2019. Colorado West began hauling at the end of February and finished March 21.

“Prater will amend those [biosolids] into the soil. We didn’t have enough to do Bell’s property.”

Prater said by phone he intends to plant oats and grass in the field.

RBC Commissioner Jeff Rector and Drake agree that in the future, adjacent property owners should be notified about the practice. Amending the county’s land use code to require a special permit or conditional use permit is being considered. LaBonde said they haven’t had to do that in any of the other communities where they’ve worked.

“In the industry we look at it as a beneficial byproduct and it saves the rancher from applying chemical fertilizer to grow a beneficial crop,” LaBonde said.

For more information about biosolids, visit the following links:


By Niki Turner |


1 Comment

  1. It is not uncommon for media outlet to be ignorant of sewage and sewage sludge biosolids.

    Here is yet another story that fits ignorance to a fault.

    It all begins with the premise that ALL sewage sludge is derived from household toilets. That is, in fact, a bald face lie perpetuated by the sewage industry and even municipalities.

    You can see it in Drake’s statement, “It is highly regulated, and safe”.
    Is Julie saying the most contaminated substance on the planet is FREE FROM RISK? Last, I look the definition of “safe” was (3. Free from risk; sure: a safe bet.) I am sure Rio Blanco County Public Health can produce current data on the “safety” of biosolids of any class. The only thing regulated about biosolids is that it is a perfect example of regulatory failure.

    Indecently, the EPA opening biosolids web page took down this statement, “Decade of research demonstrate the “SAFETY “of biosolids” three weeks ago and after 19-P-0002 from the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) Report released 11/15/2019. “EPA Unable to Assess the Impact of Hundreds of Unregulated Pollutants in Land-Applied Biosolids on Human Health and the Environment”. The author of this brief needs to ask ANY Public Health service for any documentation showing biosolids are “safe” I would also avoid the questions and answers on the EPA biosolids web page as they are outdated and corrupt.

    You can also see it in LaBonde statement that “Biosolids are considered beneficial fertilizer,” and “It’s far better to apply it for beneficial use than applying it to a landfill.” Just take a guess who biosolids benefits when you consider dumping on a farm is more or less free and it cost to put it in a land fill?

    Just take a guess at who is being exposed to every chemical in the TSCA Chemical Substance Inventory ( ) and then guess what carcinogens exposure does for cancer, chronic disease and birth defects as it enters your water supply, your food and chemical laden dust from a dump site.

    It makes absolutely no difference on the amount left of fecal coliform in A and B and notice NONE even mentioned chemicals. Testing of biosolids from regulations made in the 70s is a health joke on public.

    Be sure to also read the OIG report no 14-P-0363 which warns about industrial pre treatment not working nor has it ever worked. It cannot possible work when the EPA has not updated the priority pollutant list since 1981 and will NOT even address the chemicals found in the TSCA.

    You have been warned and I do not get paid to do it.


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