This story was written and broadcast twice in 2003 by "The Osgood File" when the Inland Empire Regional Composting Facility was being built. California had it right then. We must demand that our Legislators to get involved and to get it right or we will be breathing this crap for the foreseeable future.
The Osgood File (CBS Radio Network): 12/29/03
The Osgood File (CBS Radio Network): 7/25/03
In the past ten years, composting has become a big business.
Over the past ten years, composting has become big business in the United States. While environmentally conscious citizens have been cultivating compost piles in their backyards for decades, allowing soil microbes to turn yard waste and food scraps into productive topsoil, only recently has composting become a full-fledged industry. Today facilities across the country process thousand of tons of waste every day, combining sewer sludge, farm manure, and yard waste collected from the curb into organic soil amendments. Co-composting, as this process is called, has freed up space in landfills and kept manure from seeping into the water table, where it can contaminate ground water. Combine this trend with tougher restrictions on use of landfills and the fact that the EPA estimates 67 percent of municipal waste produced in the U.S. is compostable, and the future of composting looks bright.
But there is one big drawback to the composting boom – pollution. While composting has significantly improved the environment in many ways, the facilities are also becoming a major source of air pollution. Composting operations in southern California, for example, emit 6.8 tons per day of volatile organic compounds that contribute to the formation of ozone and particulate air pollution, while the region’s oil refineries emit 9 tons per day of the same pollutants. Experts say that when organic compounds decompose, they undergo chemical reactions that release gases like methane, nitrous oxide, and ammonia. Ammonia is especially problematic, because it combines with elements in the air to form fine particles that degrade visibility and have been linked to respiratory problems. And there are less scientific considerations as well, such as the unpleasant smell of decomposing manure and decaying yard waste released when tons of compost are spread out in open fields.
To address these problems, California's South Coast Air Quality Management District is introducing the nation's first air pollution controls on composting facilities. The new rules will require composters to reduce their emissions by 70 percent by the end of the decade. They call for registration and annual reporting of co-composting facilities. They also require that facilities be enclosed, compost aerated, and emissions be vented through filters to control damaging compounds.
The new rules may come as a surprise to come, but officials say the writing has been on the wall for some time. "In Southern California, we have the worst air quality problems in the nation," explains Barry Wallerstein, Executive Officer at AQMD. "We have significant problems in terms of ozone, or smog, and particulate air pollution." That's a problem, he says, because recent studies have shown a link between air pollution, decreased lung function and growth, and increased absenteeism from work and school. These problems threaten citizens' health and cost California millions of dollars every year, and although composters are not the biggest polluters, they are still contributing to the problem. "Composting emissions are a small piece of a large puzzle, but the solution lies in a multifaceted approach," says Wallerstein. "We need to regulate all sources of pollution."
In response to the new rules, facilities managers like John Gundlach are gearing up to meet tough standards. Gundlach is in charge of organics management at the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, one of the largest co-composting facilities in the area. He emphasizes that composting is still beneficial to the environment, but he acknowledges the pollution problem and says his company has already put a plan in place for reducing their emissions.
As part of that plan, he says Inland Empire recently bought a 410,000 square foot former furniture warehouse and is in the process of turning it into an enclosed facility for composting. Gundlach is also planning on controlling pollution by varying what goes into the compost pile in the first place. Adding grass clipping and leaves to his mostly-manure and sludge mix will cut down on the ammonia formed, he says. And aerating the piles, or mixing them up more, will help, too. "If you don't aerate, you get anaerobic bacteria, and those are the ones that stink," Gunlach says. By aerating, he says, composting facilities can cut down on offensive odors and keep greenhouse gases out of the air.
Barry Wallerstein: Executive Officer
South Coast Air Quality Management District
21865 E. Copley Dr.
Diamond Bar, CA 91765
Phone: (909) 396- 3131
John Gundlach: Manager of Organics Management
Inland Empire Utilities Agency
9400 Cherry Avenue, Building A
Fontana, CA 92335
Phone: (909) 357-0241
Phone: (909) 993-1640