The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) will withhold the final authorization of new permit applications to land-apply sewage sludge as the agency continues to evaluate levels of a class of chemical compounds known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in biosolids produced by wastewater treatment plants in the state.
New Sewage Sludge Utilization permit applications will continue to be processed by MDE, but no decision will be made on them until more data has been collected from wastewater treatment plants across the state and a determination that is protective of human health and the environment can be made. Sewage sludge is not allowed to be spread on fields during the coldest time of year, but it is allowed, where permitted and weather permitting, beginning March 1.
MDE has begun targeted testing of Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTP) across the state to gather more data on the presence of PFAS in the influent, effluent, and biosolids that result from the WWTP processes. As the department gathers more information it will proceed with caution with Sewage Sludge Utilization Permits.
These permits, which allow farmers to utilize biosolids for non-human-consumption crops, play an important role in the handling of wastewater byproducts. MDE will allow existing permittees to land-apply biosolids and will continue to issue renewal permits for current permittees while the additional information is being gathered.
The pause on approval on new permit applications means that the biosolids under evaluation will not be spread on properties that have not already received material previously.
MDE will require permittees using out-of-state sources to provide the department with test results from a certified laboratory by May 1.
PFAS refers to a large group of more than 9,000 human-made chemical compounds that have
been used since the 1940s in a range of stain- and water-resistant products. These uses have led to PFAS entering the environment, where they have been measured by many states in land and water. Some PFAS can last a long time in the environment, in the human body, and can
bioaccumulate in the food chain.
MDE’s examination of biosolids produced by wastewater treatment plants is using the best available science to identify sources of PFAS and respond to any risks associated with findings. Data collection and health risk analysis is ongoing. The department intends to release the results of its findings in the near future.