A Conceptual Northeast Solution

There is a need for more reliable and cost-effective biosolids (sludge) management alternatives for Maine. Funds are requested to investigate the feasibility of the long-term placement of a PFAS/Biosolids Bio-Technology Hub (BioHub) in Maine, to serve as a research facility that proves destruction technologies for emerging contaminants work for fast-paced deployment throughout the U.S. Funding for placement, siting and operation will be required.

Why fund this project?

Sludge is an organic solid, semi-solid, or liquid by-product of the wastewater treatment process. Current end-use and disposal options include incineration, landfilling, and beneficial reuse; all of which must comply with the Clean Water Act and regulations that are protective of public health and the environment.

In Maine, emerging contaminants such as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) are impacting available capacity and causing the loss of numerous sludge management alternatives. PFAS is used in a variety of items, including food packaging, firefighting foam, clothes, and cosmetics; and are now found in soil, drinking water and human blood. Studies have linked PFAS to health issues such as low birth weight and cancer. Concerns over contamination drove Maine to pass laws banning the land applications of biosolids.

There is currently no approved, proven, or established method to treat PFAS in wastewater or in biosolids on a large scale. Pilot studies have identified potential ideas, but these options are not yet fully scaled and may prove to be cost prohibitive. The deficiencies in treatment, transportation, and disposal options point to the need to develop and modernize sludge management infrastructure.

What will happen if the project is not funded?

After detecting PFAS in wastewater solids, Maine implemented restrictions on land applications. Expected and unexpected shutdowns of incinerators, landfills and land application sites throughout the Northeast are limiting backup options and causing treatment facilities to store sludge on site; not a sustainable or safe solution. As municipalities work to develop solutions, the costs are rising dramatically, and ratepayers will bear the cost.

Aerial image of Lewiston-Auburn Water Pollution Control Authority’s Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Does the project have community support?

The BioHub’s goal is to bring new technologies forward, allowing for an active research, testing, and educational facility which can serve as a technical resource for water utilities, regulators, water managers, and others in Maine. The following organizations support this project: NEIWPCC, NEBRA, MeWEA, the Northeast states’ health and environment departments, numerous water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs), environmental consulting and law firms throughout the Northeast, E2Tech, RCAP, universities, and national environmental organizations.

Has the project team evaluated alternatives?

There are no facilities in the United States that independently and objectively compare the effectiveness of the treatment methods that are currently being researched. The BioHub would provide a way for vendors to put treatment systems to the test, improve their products, and provide valuable information to engineers and utilities that have to pay for installation.

What is the initial project phase?

Stakeholders will first investigate the feasibility of creating, siting, and managing a regional residuals BioHub. The U.S. EPA, Northeast states, WRRFs, academia, waste management, resource renewal and sustainability companies, and innovators will collaborate to establish a dynamic research, testing, and educational facility serving as a technical resource for WRRFs, water managers, planners, and engineers.

Casella Organics’ Hawk Ridge Compost Facility in Unity, Maine.

According to the “Cost Analysis of the Impacts on Municipal Utilities and Biosolids Management to Address PFAS Contamination,” prepared by NACWA, NEBRA, WEF, and CDM Smith in October 2020, average costs increased by approximately 37%. Beneficial reuse programs experienced the most significant cost impacts due to PFAS. The WRRF facilities which reverted to landfill disposal after abatement of beneficial reuse programs are burdened with biosolids management costs at least double of their previous years.


NEIWPCC is a regional commission that helps the states of the Northeast preserve and advance water quality. NEBRA is a non-profit professional association advancing the environmentally sound recycling of biosolids and other organic residuals in New England, New York, and eastern Canada. MeWEA supports and enhances Maine’s water environment community.