Regulation of Biosolids

Who provides regulations for land applied biosolids?

The Nutrient Management Act (NMA) governs the safe management of materials containing nutrients in ways that will enhance protection of the natural environment and provide a sustainable future for agricultural operations and rural development. The NMA was developed by the Province of Ontario in consultation with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MoECC), Ontario Ministry of Health, the University of Guelph and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. 

The NMA is provided by OMAFRA and all fields must be approved by OMAFRA before biosolids can be land applied. OMAFRA has also established guidelines for Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Nutrient Management and Application of Municipal Sewage Biosolids to Cropland. You can obtain a copy of the NMA and BMP’s online or at your local OMAFRA office.

MoECC is responsible for enforcement and compliance. They ensure that the regulation is followed during biosolids application through on-farm inspections. 

Violators of the NMA can face severe consequences such as monetary fines or imprisonment.

What about the Nutrient Management Act?

The NMA came into effect in September 2003. The Nutrient Management Act (NMA) governs the safe management of materials containing nutrients in ways that will enhance protection of the natural environment and provide a sustainable future for agricultural operations and rural development. It was developed by the Province of Ontario in consultation with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MoECC), Ontario Ministry of Health, the University of Guelph and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

In January 2011 the NMA was amended to include NASM (Non-Agricultural Source Material). NASM is any material that is not from an agricultural source and is capable of being land applied as a nutrient. This includes biosolids. The change to regulation and application process provide specific limitations for beneficial use. The biggest advantage to the change is that farms are approved by OMAFRA instead of the MoECC, which increases the chance that people knowledgeable about farming practices are approving the applications. Another key advantage from previous legal legislation is all nutrients applied must be taken into consideration for the next crop. For example, if biosolids supplied 75% of the nutrients required to grow a field crop then the farmer must ensure that he does not exceed the remaining 25%. This can provide a significant advantage to farmers through the ability to apply biosolids whenever the cropping practices allow (nutrient uptake and removal) which will greatly reduce the amount of commercial fertilizer required to grow their crops. Thus, reducing demand and input costs.

What is NASM?

NASM is short for Non-Agricultural Source Material. NASM is any material that is not from an agricultural source and is capable of being land applied as a nutrient.

Not all materials can be classified as NASM. Materials must meet a stringent list provided under the Nutrient Management Act to be considered a nutrient, or a beneficial material for land. 

If a material cannot meet the minimum standards for NASM. It cannot be land applied and often times ends up in a landfill. 

The requirements for beneficial use are: 

  1. Nutrient Content: NASM must meet a minimum requirement of benefit. This benefit is calculated on the amount of phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium in the material.  Nutrients are important for maintaining soil health and fertility. 
  2. Organic Matter: A material may meet the NASM criteria if it passes the regulation as organic matter, which is used to improve soil structure and soil quality.
  3. Regulated Metal Content: There are up to 13 regulated metals that must be tested for to ensure that minimum traces are found in NASM materials.  
  4. Odour Category: Materials that do not meet the odour requirements or approvals from the director cannot be land applied as NASM. NASM must meet odour requirements to reduce nuisances to neighboring properties.
  5. Pathogen Content: Pathogen levels are tested to ensure there are minimum, reduced, or no traces found in NASM materials. This is done to protect ground water from contamination.

The NMA lists 3 different categories of NASM. Each having their own list of sampling requirements and restrictions.

Category 1 - is unprocessed plant material 

(eg. Vegetable peels, vegetable washwater that contains food grade cleaners, etc.)

Category 2 - is processed plant material 

(eg. food waste, Bakery Waste)

Category 3 - Pulp and paper mill biosolids, sewage biosolids, animal based material (eg. meat processing plant waste, municipal biosolids)

What about soil pH?

Plant growth and the availability of most nutrients and micro-nutrients are affected by the pH of the soil.

For optimal intake of nutrients the soil PH should be between 6.5 & 7.0. 

If Levels are below 6.0 Ontario regulations prohibit land application of biosolids. This is because some soil components, like metals, are more available to plant uptake in acidic soils. Farmers are encouraged to apply neutralizing lime to raise pH. If neutralizing lime has been applied the soil may be retested and, if results show pH above 6.0, land application may take place. 

Can anyone apply and haul biosolids?

No. Biosolids must be applied and hauled by individuals who hold specific licenses to do so. 

Individuals who are applying biosolids must hold a current nutrient application technician license. This ensurers the operator has been trained to properly handle materials containing nutrients (biosolids) and passed an examination of their knowledge of the regulation that they must adhere to. The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) provides course training and examinations required to obtain a license.

All biosolids haulers in Ontario must obtain approval by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. These approvals are issued as Waste Management System Certificates of Approval. 

During transportation of biosolids the approval number must be displayed on the unit. 

The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change inspects and enforces the certificates and approvals for all sites across Ontario.

Do Biosolids have to be injected?

What is Injection?
Injection is the placement of nutrients below the surface of the soil of the land. 

The Nutrient Management Act (NMA) outlines acceptable biosolids application rates based on specific field conditions but does not require biosolids to be injected. The only unacceptable form of application is irrigation. There are many cases where farming practices do not allow for injection (hay, cover crops, no-tillage practices, etc.) and some farmers prefer to use there own tillage equipment and will allow us to surface apply then they will incorporate after biosolids are applied. 

Injection can provide exceptional benefits such as reduced odour emissions, increased nutrient capture (less likely to volatilize into the atmosphere or erode), ability to place the nutrients directly into the root zone/seed bed, and provides tillage. Each one of these benefits greatly enhances environmental protection and increases potential yield.

We are fully equipped to accommodate all approved methods of application. Click here for more information of our application equipment and methods.

Do neighbours have to be notified?

Although it is not a requirement, Wessuc Inc. strives to ensure all neighbouring properties are aware of the intention to apply biosolids prior to application. Notice may be provided by our field staff verbally or written form. There are circumstances where verbal communication can’t be achieved; in these cases the package would be left in a mailbox or a place where it is easily found (doorjamb). 

The package includes a brochure on the beneficial use of biosolids and a letter outlining location of biosolids generator and application practice.   

Click here for more information.

What are the guidelines?

All biosolids application and processing requirements were previously regulated under the Ontario Guidelines for the Utilization of Biosolids and Other Wastes on Agricultural Land. The guidelines came into effect in 1996 and were developed by MoECC and OMAFRA. These guidelines addressed requirements from sewage processing to application of biosolids to land. They provided guidance for application of biosolids on agricultural land while protecting the quality of the environment, human & animal health, food quality and productivity of the land.