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Blue Plains Upgrade Could Produce Valuable Farm Fertilizer, but Critics are Wary

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After moving tons of earth for an expansion, Stafford Regional Airport in Virginia faced an embarrassing problem: severe and seemingly irreversible baldness. Virtually nothing grew on its dusty, damaged land.

The airport's worried manager, Ed Wallis, tried different treatments before he was advised to consult with officials at the Blue Plains Advanced Water Treatment Plant, a sprawling facility at the southern tip of the District that processes 375 million gallons of the area's wastewater per day.

Airport officials liked what they saw and began accepting a dark substance called a biosolid from Blue Plains. Five months later, grass started to sprout. A year later, it was thigh-high.

"It was unbelievable," Wallis said.

That transformation a decade ago is a legend at Blue Plains, the first thing officials from the plant mentioned recently while promoting theirbiosolid fertilizer. That's a fancy scientific marketing name that masks what the biosolids truly are - sludge made primarily from human waste.