Orange County Sanitation District's Biosolids Environmental Management System achieves verification

In July 2003, Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD), CA became the first agency to have a verified Biosolids Environmental Management System (EMS).

Feb. 18, 2004 -- In July 2003, Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD), CA became the first agency to have a verified Biosolids Environmental Management System (EMS). Staff were excited by the widespread congratulations including several local, state, and federal elected officials, key interested parties, and many supportive people within our industry.

Although achieving the EMS verification was a great accomplishment, OCSD's journey is far from over, as would be expected from a system based on continuous improvement. Below are some of our experiences; where we have been in our EMS adventures and where we are headed in the future.

Other EMS Benefits

One of the first major changes made as a requirement for the biosolids EMS was the reorganization of documentation.

Piles of scattered files soon became a bookshelf of organized binders so everyone knew where to find important documents. This was especially handy when our EPA Region IX inspector paid us a surprise visit!

The inspection went swimmingly well as a result of this reorganization. The next major improvement was to break down some of the historic "silos" that are associated with a typical wastewater treatment plant.

Through the "biosolids value chain" or all the processes that affect biosolids quality and the Biosolids EMS Steering Committee, OCSD staff and vendors have also been able to work together on the biosolids EMS manual as well as routine daily matters to more effectively resolve issues as they arise.

The team is evolving to the point where we are starting to see some valuable brainstorming and input that is resulting in program improvements.

These program improvements are in addition to the several made in response to OCSD's external verification audits in March and June 2003. The external and internal audits have proven very useful to improving OCSD's program. For instance, the external audit identified a need for an improved management review of the biosolids EMS.

The finding resulted in the creation of staff quarterly updates from the steering committee and more regular updates with management. This finding helped to reestablish management's involvement in the program.

OCSD's biosolids vendors have also made great strides in their commitment to the biosolids EMS. One vendor has greatly improved his relationship with the local communities in which they do business, including posting a large sign with the company's name, contact information, and mission statement.

OCSD's outcomes related to environmental performance, regulatory compliance, quality biosolids practices, and public communication and participation for fiscal year 2002-03 have been favorable. OCSD metals are consistently 77% below the stringent exceptional quality level.

With the exception of one vendor over-application incident, there were no value chain non-compliance events. There were about 450 external stakeholders reached by mail, three major public input opportunities in addition to the numerous public meetings attended by staff to hear the communities input, about 450 unique hits to the OCSD biosolids website, and about 27 internal stakeholder training sessions held.

Since listening to our stakeholders' comments in public meetings, OCSD has ramped-up its Class A biosolids production to almost 50% in the past year.

In addition, OCSD is about to kick off the implementation of its long-term plan that moves the agency to Class A biosolids products and their corresponding markets.

The strategic plan is located at: http://www.ocsd.com/about/reports/strategic_plans.asp.

As part of OCSD's commitment to continuous improvement, we are currently working to improve our internal performance indicators tracking to better document the benefits of our biosolids EMS.

In the meantime, for those interested in bottom-line costs, OCSD staff estimate that it has cost us about $250,000 in internal staff time over three years to get our biosolids EMS up and running. We currently are spending about one and a half full-time staff member's time implementing and maintaining the system and ensuring its continuous improvement.

OCSD still has much growing to do to meet our goal of having a mature EMS, and we will continue to share our experiences with the community and the wastewater profession. OCSD's EMS manual is located at http://www.ocsd.com/info/biosolids/ems.asp.

Source: Orange County Sanitation District and the National Biosolids Partnership

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