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List of State Officials - Martin O'Malley, Governor; Anthony Brown, Lt. Governor; Shari T. Wilson, MDE Secretary 

Volume III, Number 7

 October 2008

eMDE is a monthly publication of the Maryland Department of the Environment. It covers articles on current environmental issues and events in the state. 

Sewage Sludge Management in Maryland

By A.Hussain Alhija, Waste Management Administration

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Sewage sludge, also known as biosolids, is not raw sewage—it is actually one of the final products resulting from the treatment of sewage at a wastewater treatment plant where organic matter is broken down and disease-causing organisms are killed. After treatment, the remaining fine particles and water have a mud-like appearance and are classified as sewage sludge. Sewage sludge can also be solidified into a more earthlike material called “cake”.

MDE’s Waste Management Administration, which oversees the proper utilization of sewage sludge in Maryland, established and enforces the sewage sludge regulatory requirements to protect human health and the environment.

There are five major ways that sewage sludge, produced in Maryland, is managed. It is:

  • applied to agricultural land;
  • composted or pelletized and made into a commercial soil supplement;
  • used for land reclamation such as restoring surface mines;
  • disposed in landfills; or
  • used as combustion for energy.

Sewage sludge, available free to farmers, is an excellent fertilizer and soil amendment because it contains nutrients that are beneficial to crops and because the nutrients gradually release over time. This is important because nutrients stay in the soil and on the field, rather than quickly dissolving and running off into streams, as can happen with chemical fertilizers and manure that are rich in ammonia. By applying sewage sludge on farmland, nutrients are recycled into living plants reducing nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.

Initially established in 1993, a result of an Interagency Agreement between MDE, the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA), and the University of Maryland Institute for Agriculture and Natural Resources (UM), the State Sewage Sludge Task Force (also known as the State Biosolids Task Force) convened to review and recommend potential modifications to MDE’s sewage sludge management regulations. Comprised of representatives from MDE, MDA, UM, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Soil Conservation Service, sewage sludge generators, and sewage sludge applicators, the Task Force held meetings from 1995 through 1998 and shared information on specific technical issues related to land application of sewage sludge.

In 2006, MDE reconvened this Task Force to assist in the review of MDE’s sewage sludge technical regulations.Changes under consideration include:

  • reorganizing the regulations to make them more “user-friendly” (e.g., grouping permit requirements by type rather than distributed in several places throughout the regulations);
  • streamlining application requirements;
  • incorporating requirements of federal regulations under 40 CFR 503 that pertain to land application of sewage sludge;
  • incorporating the MDA nutrient management requirements for application of sewage sludge on agricultural land to minimize excess nutrients and runoff of pollutants; and
  • creating a revised fee structure.

Click here for notes posted by the Task Force of the decisions made during the meetings.

MDE is in the process of making final changes to the draft regulations in preparation for the formal regulatory process. Once the regulations are proposed, they will be placed on MDE’s website, and a public comment period will be publicized, including a public hearing to obtain additional public comment.

Questions concerning the Task Force or the regulations under development may be directed to the Chairperson, Mr. A.Hussain Alhija, Chief of MDE’s Design and Certification Division in the Waste Management Administration, at 410-537-3315 or by email at Hussain.Alhija@maryland.gov.


©2008 Copyright MDE

Editorial Board
Maryland Department of the Environment
1800 Washington Boulevard, Baltimore, MD 21230