From the Lufkin Daily News


ANRA turning biosolid sludge into consumer-friendly compost

By CHRISTINE S. DIAMOND, The Lufkin Daily News

Monday, December 26, 2005

"Soil Therapy Compost" – an East Texas product – is flying off retailers' shelves in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

"Compost sales are phenomenal – they can't keep them on the shelves," Kelley Holcomb reported at an Angelina and Neches River Authority board meeting recently. "We are producing compost out of every cubic yard of sludge we receive."

Turning treated biosolid sludge into usable compost isn't new to ANRA; selling it as a consumer-friendly product off the shelves of 27 retailers, however, just began this past August.

Their current retail market ranges from Arrow Feed & Ranch in Granbury to Elizabeth Ann's Old World Garden in Fort Worth to East Texas Landscape in Sulphur Springs. With enough interest, Holcomb is hoping the product could soon be made available in Lufkin retail lawn and garden stores as well.

"We are still learning our way around some issues like bagging and advertising," Holcomb told the board.

It was while enrolled in Lufkin Leadership that a fellow classmate, Jeanelle McCall with Lufkin Printing, suggested Holcomb name ANRA's proposed retail product line – "Soil Therapy Compost," Holcomb said in a later interview. She also designed the consumer-friendly Web site to accompany ANRA's retail product line, he said.

A logo depicts hands, clad in garden gloves, working compost into the soil – with the idea, Holcomb said, being the hands are healing the soil with the nutrient-rich compost.

The compost is created at a "remote" site off U.S. Highway 79 between Jacksonville and Palestine, he said. ANRA in 1992 conceived the idea "as a means to help preserve landfill capacity, preserve water quality," ANRA's Web site states. The environmental project's goal was to keep sludge out of streams and regional landfills like the Angelina County Landfill.

"Both (destinations) have inherent environmental issues," Holcomb said.

The open-air, covered processing facility was constructed in 1998 and opened to the public in 2000 with six participating cities and industries.

The Neches Compost Facility receives 55,436 cubic yards of sludge each year – 895 cubic yards from Athens, 89 cubic yards from Bullard, 1,187 cubic yards from Georgia Pacific, 148 cubic yards from New London, 2,178 cubic yards from Palestine, and 965 cubic yards from Whitehouse.

These entities pay ANRA to dispose of their sludge.

Lufkin could do the same for a cost comparable to what it pays for landfill disposal, Holcomb said.

While upfront costs entailed in composting sludge exceed landfill costs, compost sales revenue pays for ANRA's program, he said.

Turning this amount of biosolid sludge into compost requires 10,872 cubic yards of wood waste, moisture, heat, oxygen, and time.

"Humidity/moisture level is the single limiting factor," Holcomb said.

Biosolid sludge arrives at the facility already wet, containing 75-90 percent moisture, he said. As it cooks, reaching a required temperature of 131 degrees, it releases moisture as steam. On rare occasions when the sludge is dry and rainless summer days reach 100 degree temperatures, ANRA adds water, he said.

First, though, at a rate of two parts woody material to one part biosolid sludge the materials are mixed together and placed in windrows –150 feet long, by 11 feet wide, and five feet high. The core temperature of the windrows is manually collected with a three-foot-long digital thermometer.

"There's lots of documentation involved in this process," Holcomb said.

That's because Texas Commission on Environmental Quality requires the compost to cook at 130 degrees for 15 days. During this time the windrows are turned five times. At the end of 15 days, ANRA takes a Fecal coliform sample which must register less than 1,000 MPN (most probably number) to proceed. Afterward the compost cures.

The cured material is then sorted and screened according to which of its three markets is currently demanding compost. Texas Department of Transportation, which sprays the compost on road sides, prefers compost with larger particles that are less likely to wash away. Medium grade compost is sold during business hours to the public, landscapers and homeowners at $12.50 a cubic yard.

"It is a growing market," Holcomb said. "Landscapers have finally realized it, and we can't keep it on the yard."

Their third and newest market is the bagged-retail sales Soil Therapy Compost, which requires the "greatest amount of screening and blending," he said.

With consumer demand expected to increase at a rate of 100 percent per year in the home-and-garden business, ANRA has the capacity to accept additional biosolid sludge from other entities.

As the Environmental Protection Agency's land application standards become more stringent, Holcomb expects the biosolid sludge compost niche will also grow.

"It is the right thing to do and is the environmentally friendly thing to do," he said.

Although ANRA considered building a second compost facility closer to Lufkin and Nacogdoches, they determined it was cheaper to transport the material to the current facility than construct and permit a new facility. There are several similar facilities in the state, including one operated by the city of Bryan, he said.

Currently, Angelina County's Landfill takes in 8,230 cubic yards of sludge from 14 entities, including 3,998 cubic yards from the city of Lufkin.

For information on the Internet about Soil Therapy Compost go to www.soiltherapy.org or anra.org/index_composting.htm, or e-mail info@soiltherapy.org, or call 800-282-5634.

Christine S. Diamond's e-mail address is cdiamond@coxnews.com.