Mayor of Tenino assesses methods to better treat and use human waste

Tenino Mayor Wayne Fournier wants his town to become a “hub” for Washington’s agricultural industry.

TENINO, Wash. – Above the Tenino Wastewater Treatment Plant, waste is treated before being sent to an onsite lagoon, after which much of it will be transported to other sites for treatment or later use. Tenino Mayor Wayne Fournier hopes that in three to five years, Tenino will be able to turn its own waste into Class A biosolids on site and ultimately produce a product that meets testing standards for be distributed for all agricultural purposes.

“We want a closed system, we want a sustainable system, we want to be independent,” said Mayor Fournier.

According to Washington Department of Ecology“Biosolids are a nutrient-rich product of Washington State’s wastewater treatment systems. They are soil amendments that farmers and land managers can use in place of commercial fertilizers. They are also used in the manufacture of certain fertilizers and as a component of compost, topsoil and similar products.”

A spokesperson said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State Department require biosolids to meet both Class A pathogen requirements and pathogen reduction requirements. Pollutant and Vector Attraction (VAR) in order to receive clearance to apply to any type of terrain, without restrictions.

Fournier says he understands the initial “ick” factor some may have about the idea, but encourages people to learn more about the processes involved in eliminating pathogens.

“Everything is tested, it’s processed, it’s tested for chemicals, pharmaceuticals, metals like that, it’s highly regulated,” Fournier said.

He said it is important to reconsider how all waste is handled and encourages composting and other local methods to reduce the need to haul waste.

“Nothing really lives through it except, supposedly, tomatoes,” Fournier said. “We make it every day and we have to figure out what to do with it, so of course we process it and our goal is to process it from start to finish and make it a soil amendment.”

Fournier adds that the city has also considered how the waste could be reprocessed to feed the sewage treatment plant, but the fertilizer option at this stage seems more likely.

The Washington Department of Ecology said that in 2020, about 87% of biosolids were “beneficially used,” of which about 86% were classified as Class B biosolids and used on permitted agricultural sites. About 14% were considered “exceptional quality,” meaning they could be distributed or used for any purpose, including growing food. The department said Tenino attempted a cleanup project in 2020 but at the time the material had not passed for VAR. He says Tenino can work with staff to get approval to clean it again, or transport more material to a site that can do additional processing. The ministry says that the material recently added to the septic tank may make the process more difficult, but it is still possible.

Other cities have also used processes to produce class A biosolids of exceptional quality. Tacoma, for example, has developed TAGRO landscaping products, mixing pasteurized wastewater products with other gardening components.

The mayor of Tenino said that to set up a system it would probably take around three to five years, requiring permits and funding. But he is confident that it would be a sustainable long-term decision for the region and encourages others in the region to take an interest in it as well.

“I think there’s an ick factor and I don’t think there’s been much need for it, [but that’s changing]”, Fournier said. “People just used traditional fertilizers, you see cow manure and other things used, and that’s exactly what people have experienced and I think the actual treatment of that it is accelerating.”

As well as keeping waste treatment local, he said it could also give local farmers a boost.

“Agriculture is important in Tenino, Thurston County, Lewis County, Grays Harbor,” Fournier said. “We want to be a center for the agricultural (farming) industry and fertilizers are in high demand and traditional fertilizer prices are skyrocketing along with other things, so we want to work with the farming community and find alternatives.”

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