Environment Minister slow in updating regulations for sampling biosolids to make sure they are safe!

Apr 23, 2024 | 42-5, Blog, Governance, Legislature, Question Period, Video | 0 comments

I suspect the Environment Minister has not updated the Organic Matter Recycling Regulation (OMRR) over the past 15 years because of the cost. Cost of updating sewage treatment facilities to improve the quality of biosolids or safe disposal. Unfortunately, Hon. George Heyman has maintained grossly outdated regulations.

The OMRR is the regulation that creates the standard for processing human sewage into Class A/B biosolids. We have known for years that heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and per- and polyfluoroalkyls (PFAS) accumulate in biosolids.

However, when my colleague Sonia Furstenau, MLA for Cowichan Valley, questioned Minister Heyman in budget estimates on April 2, 2024, he stated, “updates to the regulation will enable a director to require sampling of biosolids for contaminants of emerging concern, such as per- and polyfluoroalkalized substances — PFAS — or microplastics. That work is being undertaken, and we’re in the drafting phase.”

As I outline in my question, in 2011 the Minister was the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, I was a Central Saanich Councillor and Saanich Peninsula Wastewater Commissioner, that was 13 years ago and back then he wrote our Commission asking us to not apply biosolids on the land.

It’s frustrating to hear the Minister still repeating the talking points from way back then (i.e. “contaminants of emerging concern”) yet despite his claims that the OMRR has been constantly updated, I can assure the public, neither Minister Heyman nor his predecessor, has substantively changed the parts of the regulation respecting biosolids. It was inadequate then and it remains inadequate today.

It is inexplicable to me that after nearly a decade and a half Minister Heyman is struggling to make an amendment to “enable a director to require sampling of biosolids.” How?!? How are we not sampling for contaminants of emerging concern even though they have been a concern for at least a decade!

In 2011, Minister Heyman expressed his concern about biosolids and yet in 2019 he required the Capital Regional District (CRD) to consider land application in their plan. Is he really protecting human and environmental health?


A. Olsen:

Yesterday was Earth Day, and so it’s important that the Minister of Environment answer some questions about our environment.

In 2011, the current Minister of Environment wrote to the Saanich Peninsula Wastewater commission asking us to maintain a ban on the land application of biosolids within the Capital Regional District. I was a member of that commission. I was a commissioner on the commission that the minister wrote, encouraging. I agreed with the minister, and my vote on the record reflects that.

There was strong evidence then, just as there is strong evidence now, that the accumulation of pharmaceuticals, personal care products and PFAS — perfluoroalkyls, polyfluoroalkyls — can accumulate and concentrate in biosolids. PFAS are also known as forever chemicals. They’re dangerous to human health and the environment, and scientific evidence showed 13 years ago that we should be concerned, and the evidence has only strengthened on that matter.

Instead of updating the organic matter regulations, this Minister of the Environment, in 2019, wrote to the CRD requiring them to consider the land application of biosolids. It’s unacceptable that the Minister of the Environment permits the toxic material to be applied to lands across the province.

My question is to the Minister of the Environment. Will he immediately update the organic matter regulation and require this to be before the end of this parliamentary session?

Hon. G. Heyman:

Thank you to the member for the question.

There are a lot of complicated issues related to biosolids, and as the member noted, he supported previous direction from the ministry for a number of reasons. One of which is that we want the most beneficial use. Another of which is that we want to ensure that we are not adding to greenhouse gas emissions by simply landfilling biosolids. We are working with regional districts to find beneficial uses. We are also updating, on a regular basis, our information data about the presence of contaminants of concern in biosolids and constantly updating our standards in that regard.

The Speaker: Member, supplemental.

A. Olsen:

I didn’t say that I previously supported the ministry. What I said was I previously agreed with the minister when he was the executive director of the Sierra Club, when he was writing to the Saanich Peninsula Wastewater Commission, encouraging us to maintain a ban of the land application of biosolids.

That’s what I was supporting. It was the minister in his former role with his former belief that we should not be applying biosolids on the land.

The minister has been responsible for the Ministry of Environment for the past seven years, and he has been negligent in updating the organic matter recycling regulation. In fact, we knew 13 years ago that the regulation was grossly inadequate. It remains the same today. In 2011, we demanded the CRD and the province operate from the precautionary principle on biosolids. That’s basically what we’re requesting the Minister of the Environment to do now, more than a decade later.

Instead, the minister has deployed the opposite approach, failing to modernize the OMR and failing to require the proper testing of that material. He said to my colleague in budget estimates just last week that he was going to amend it so that the director could require sampling. How is it that we’re not having basic sampling of this waste material?

My question is, again, to the Minister of the Environment. Will he require the organic matter recycling regulation to be updated before this place adjourns and goes to another election and we go into another parliament where this Minister of the Environment has failed to protect the interests of our environment and the citizens of British Columbia?

Hon. G. Heyman:

What I would say to the member, and to all members of this House, is we are constantly updating our information base. We are constantly updating our regulations, and we take the concerns of British Columbians in communities around the province very seriously.

It is difficult to satisfy everyone, because the fact is, as a society, we produce contaminants. We need to address them in the best way possible. We need to ensure that we are protecting all of our communities against climate change and simply burying the problem. I receive regular reports from staff on their progress with the organic matter recycling regulation. We are looking at it.

[10:50 a.m.]

As I mentioned earlier, we are reviewing the science and searching for more science on contaminants of emerging concern. We’ll continue that work. That work will continue today, next week, and it will continue with governments in future mandates.


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