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How Hard Is It to Set Up a Mycoremediation Facility?

Jason Hammond Oct. 24, 2023

One of the issues with recycling is the number of things that can’t be recycled traditionally – plastic, Styrofoam, and so on. The amount of waste produced by our modern lives can seem impossible. However, there’s another way to break down these materials – fungi. Mycoremediation is the process of using fungi to decontaminate polluted environments and break down things like plastics and heavy metals. Fungi have highly adaptable metabolisms and enzymes that allow them to digest a wide variety of unusual substances, from medication to petroleum. For instance, fungi can suck up heavy metal pollutants from soil and water. These metals concentrate in their fruiting bodies, which can be easily removed afterward. Depending on the pollutant being broken down, the mushroom can be removed and put in a hazardous waste facility or even be safe enough to eat. Either way, using fungi to remove pollutants is much easier than other methods of environmental remediation, which can involve labor- and time-intensive things such as complete removal of polluted soil. If fungi are used to break down solid waste, the mushrooms – even if they can’t be eaten – reduce the dangers of things such as PFAS, microplastics, or methane from landfills entering the environment. Mycoremediation has the potential to massively change how we dispose of our waste, but the process is still new and unexplored. For the potential mycoremediation entrepreneur, there’s no clear permitting path from Oregon DEQ. Instead, they must navigate the conversion technology facility permit process. 

Conversion Technology Facility
As defined by the DEQ, a conversion technology facility converts carbon-containing solid waste to useful products via thermal, chemical, mechanical, or biological processes. These facilities represent the future of solid waste management, but this is a double-edged sword. As these facilities and their operations often involve new technologies and processes, they require individual assessment and personalized standards to prevent risks to the environment and public health. Due to the unique challenges, the DEQ has set up flexible criteria to analyze conversion technology facilities. They focus on how a facility’s design, construction, and operation addresses risk for public health and the environment in a flexible manner. The criteria also allow for the establishment of personalized base performance standards and on-site screening measures to monitor risk. This allows for creativity and flexibility in facility design without sacrificing safety. However, each permit must be essentially bespoke to reflect the uniqueness of each facility.All facilities, even permit-exempt ones, must meet certain standards for environmental protection and public health. As conversion technology facilities often deal with organic or hazardous waste, such standards are important. The main thrust of these environmental standards is to prevent waste materials from leaking out by operating procedures, facility design, and construction. For instance, the staff of such a facility must receive proper training on the prevention of waste leaking out. Likewise, the facility must have operating procedures that prevent such waste leakage and ensure finished products are safe for use. 

Application Process
As you might imagine, the application process for a conversion process facility permit requires a lot of work. The DEQ breaks it down into six steps:
1.    Application – this doesn’t just involve the actual permit application, but a land use compatibility statement and a disposal site compatibility with a municipal solid waste management plan, among many others.

2.    Completeness Review – DEQ makes sure that the application has all the needed parts, otherwise it’ll be returned to the applicant for completion.

3.    Environment Risk Screening – if the application is complete, DEQ reviews and examines the facility’s potential environmental risk. This is an extensive process, requiring tons of information about the physical facility and its operations, including site schematics, seasonal variations in operation, and any nearby wells, among other things. The screening determines if a facility is considered low or high risk, and therefore what kind of permit it gets.

4.    Draft Permits and Public Notice – after the risk assessment, DEQ drafts the facility permit and then posts the draft permit for public comment alongside a cover letter and public notice document. The public comment period lasts from thirty to thirty-five days.

5.    Comment Period Ends – DEQ responds to public comments and edits the draft permit accordingly.

6.    Length of Time to Issue Permits – assuming this entire process goes perfectly without a single hitch or stumbling block, the time from applying to receiving the permit is four to eight months.

Besides the DEQ’s requirements, a facility might need to submit other applications to other government agencies, such as the local municipality or even the EPA. While the process can be long and confusing, there’s great potential in mycoremediation. Such a project would be well worth the effort as it represents a completely new way to think about solid waste and environmental protection. With a good team, the challenges of permitting a mycoremediation facility can be overcome.