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Author      Title/Abstract      

Author: Terry Cole
Date: 2/204
Residuals Conference 2004

Biosolids – for the public, the word often conjures up images of medical waste, rancid fields, or unpleasant odors. Gaining public acceptance of biosolids requires wastewater industry professionals to go on a search for the “holy grail” of truth – the process of ensuring fact is separated from fiction, and public concerns are allayed with sensitivity and scientific soundness. The quest for the holy grail of public acceptance involves several steps, and this presentation will address each. Step one, “preparing for the journey,” requires industry professionals to do their homework about their audience and prepare a plan that places the issue in the context of larger wastewater management planning. Building relationships with stakeholders and laying the groundwork for biosolids acceptance before there is an actual plan on the table is also critical. The next step, “putting on the full armor,” requires managing the overall operation of the wastewater system to the highest standards possible so that the public feels comfortable with claims that biosolids management will also be handled to these standards by an agency that has established credibility in the community. Step three, “facing the dragons of doubt,” begins with defining the goals of the public education program, and defining the tools available to implement that program. Considering the types of concerns the community will have, and tailoring messages to adequately address those concerns makes the approach proactive rather than reactive. In the last step, “rescuing the virtues of truth,” agencies must roll out their public education program by targeting key opinion leaders with tailored messages, recognizing the emotional component of the issue and avoiding scientific defenses alone, and strategically following a plan of action to ensure a consistent and well-considered effort. Finally, agencies will be reminded that the true value in seeking the truth of the grail is gained through the process of the search – working in tandem with the public every step of the way to achieve the final goal of public acceptance will make the “quest” not only successful for the agency, but for the community it serves.

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