NASM Questions and Answers

Table of Contents

  1. What are non-agricultural source materials?
  2. What are sewage biosolids?
  3. Why is NASM in the Nutrient Management Regulation?
  4. What does the regulation do?
  5. How does the regulation protect the environment?
  6. Is land application of NASM safe?
  7. Is it safe to apply sewage biosolids to land?
  8. What is a NASM Plan?
  9. Who can prepare a NASM Plan?
  10. What happens if a material cannot meet the standards required by the regulation?
  11. What can be grown on land where sewage biosolids have been applied?
  12. What testing is required for NASM before it can be applied to land?
  13. What are the sampling and analysis responsibilities for municipalities and businesses that generate NASM?
  14. Does soil have to be tested before NASM can be applied?
  15. Why are there different setbacks for municipal and private wells?
  16. Will the public receive notice before NASM is applied in a municipality?
  17. Is there a training and certification process?
  18. Who can I call if I think NASM isn't being applied or stored according to the rules in the regulation?
  19. Learn more
  20. Disclaimer

1. What are non-agricultural source materials?

Non-Agricultural Source Material, or NASM, is treated and recycled material from non-agricultural sources, like leaf and yard waste, fruit and vegetable peels, food processing waste, pulp and paper biosolids and sewage biosolids, that is applied to agricultural land to provide a beneficial use. A full list of materials that are considered NASM can be found in Schedule 4 of the Nutrient Management Regulation.

NASM does not include compost that meets the standards for Category AA or A outlined in Part II of the Ontario Compost Quality Standards. It also does not include untreated septage or commercial fertilizers.

The regulation, under the Nutrient Management Act, 2002 (NMA), provides the rules for the storage, sampling, analysis and land application of NASM.

NASM is classified under one of three categories, and the types of NASM in each category are listed in Schedule 4 of the regulation. The NASM in each of the categories can be applied to agricultural land.

  • Category 1: e.g. Leaf and yard waste that has not been composted
  • Category 2: e.g. organic waste matter that contains no meat or fish and is derived from food processing at a bakery
  • Category 3: e.g. pulp and paper biosolids, paunch manure and sewage biosolids

The land application standards vary based on the category and other qualities of the NASM being applied.

NASM can not be land applied if it has any of these characteristics:

  • the content of a regulated metal exceeds CM2 NASM
  • the content of E. coli exceeds that of CP2 NASM
  • the odour detection threshold exceeds that of OC3

2. What are sewage biosolids?

Sewage biosolids are created when municipal wastewater treatment facilities separate municipal wastewater (water from sewage systems, road drains, etc.) into liquid (clean water that can be discharged to a nearby stream or river) and the leftover solids. Solids go through an additional treatment process to reduce the presence of potentially harmful micro-organisms and potential causes of odour. The final treated materials are sewage biosolids. Sewage biosolids that do not exceed the regulatory limits for contaminants, pathogens and odour can be land applied as a NASM.

3. Why is NASM in the Nutrient Management Regulation?

NASM contains valuable nutrients that are good for crop growth. The NMA and the regulation ensure that nutrients at agricultural operations are managed in an environmentally responsible way.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) considered the Walkerton Inquiry recommendations when developing the NMA and the regulation. As a result, nutrient management became part of Ontario's comprehensive, science-based approach to protecting drinking water.

By placing the standards for material quality and land application in a regulation, we established consistent requirements based on the quality of the material. This will help protect the environment, human health and agricultural land.

4. What does the regulation do?

The regulation manages NASM as a nutrient and has clear standards and requirements for land applying these materials. This keeps these materials out of landfills, extends the lives of landfills and recycling the nutrients in a useful and responsible manner. The regulation has many rules that outline how NASM and other nutrients must be managed at agricultural operations, including rules about:

  • the quality of the NASM being land applied, ensuring it meets strict criteria and is beneficial to the soil
  • the land application of NASM, including set-back distances based on NASM qualities (e.g. odour potential, metal levels and pathogen content) and application rates based on crop requirements
  • the siting, design, construction and management of NASM storage facilities

5. How does the regulation protect the environment?

The regulation builds on and enhances existing nutrient management practices and creates the same standards for the entire province. There are three categories of NASM, each with different rules for storage and land application. NASM cannot be land applied under the NMA if it exceeds certain metal, pathogen or odour levels, or if using it does not provide specified benefits.

The category of the NASM also determines if a farm needs a NASM Plan. A NASM Plan must be approved by OMAFRA if it:

  • is for storing Category 2 or 3 NASM
  • is planning the land application of Category 2 NASM (where metals are above the specified threshold)
  • is planning the land application of Category 3 NASM

Other laws may apply to NASM, such as the Environmental Protection Act and the Ontario Water Resources Act. The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) enforces compliance under these acts as well as the NMA.

6. Is land application of NASM safe?

The safe application of NASM to farmland has been practiced for more than 30 years. The regulation ensures that NASM meets strict criteria before it is applied to land to minimize the risks to human health, crops, the environment and Ontario's water supply.

Recycling byproducts to agricultural land returns valuable nutrients and organic matter to the soil and helps to preserve the fertility and health of our agricultural land. For the safety of Ontarians, standards for land application include:

  • Standards for odour, which include setback distances from dwellings, residential areas, and commercial, community and institutional uses. The greater the odour detection threshold, the greater the required separation distance.
  • Separation distances from wells and surface water.
  • Mandatory waiting periods after application of NASM before crops can be harvested or farm animals are allowed to graze.

MOECC does proactive inspections and responds to complaints regarding NASM land application activities to ensure compliance with the regulatory standards and protection of the environment. NASM land application standards and requirements are enforceable under the Nutrient Management Act. The Environmental Protection Act and/or the Ontario Water Resources Act may also apply.

7. Is it safe to apply sewage biosolids to land?

Government scientists, health experts and agrologists continually review the regulatory requirements and standards for applying sewage biosolids to land. This is to make sure that the regulation and standards continue to protect food safety, human health and the environment. Requirements are revised as needed, based on new science or technology.

The standards include:

  • requirements for spreading to take place at specified minimum distance away from homes, wells and watercourses
  • mandatory waiting periods after application before crops can be harvested or livestock is allowed to graze

Read the Sewage Biosolids - Managing Urban Nutrients Responsibly for Crop Production web page for more information.

8. What is a NASM Plan?

A NASM Plan is a legal document that deals with the management of NASM, including storage and land application. The required content of a NASM plan is set out in Part III of the regulation and Part 8 of the Nutrient Management Protocol. NASM Plans consider many factors to determine an application rate that is agronomically sound, and protects the environment and human health.

NASM Plans must comply with the regulation, the Nutrient Management Protocol, the NASM Odour Guide and the Sampling and Analysis Protocol. Most NASM plans must be approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).

9. Who can prepare a NASM Plan?

NASM Plans must be prepared by a NASM Plan developer who holds a valid NASM Plan Development Certificate issued by OMAFRA. To be eligible, individuals must take specific training courses, successfully complete an assignment and pass an exam. Visit the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus website for more information about the NASM Plan Development Certificate.

NASM Plan developers may use a software program called NMAN to help develop NASM Plans. Using NMAN can help NASM Plan developers to set out application practices that balance agronomics with environmental stewardship.

10. When do I need a NASM Plan?

The regulation requires you to have a NASM Plan when applying or storing Category 2 and 3 NASM. NASM Plans must be prepared by a certified NASM Plan developer.

NASM is placed into three different categories based on their metal and pathogen concentrations, and how much odour the NASM gives off. These indicators determine what you need to consider when storing and land applying NASM, such as the need for a NASM Plan and setback distances for your NASM storage.

You must have an approved NASM Plan if you:

  • apply Category 3 NASM to land
  • apply Category 2 NASM with high concentrations of regulated metals
  • store any Category 2 or 3 NASM

OMAFRA may request an operation to submit a NASM Plan for approval if it believes that the management of NASM may cause an adverse effect or is not following the regulation for OC1, OC2 and OC3 NASM. This request may be made even if the operation wouldn't ordinarily require one.

11. What happens if a material cannot meet the standards required by the regulation?

Waste materials that don't meet the standards of the regulation cannot be land applied as a NASM. You cannot land apply NASM if:

  • the content of a regulated metal exceeds CM2 NASM
  • the content of E. coli exceeds that of CP2 NASM
  • the odour detection threshold exceeds that of OC3 NASM

Read the NASM Sampling and Analysis Requirements web page for more information on regulated metals and pathogens, and the NASM odour guide for more information on odours.

12. What can be grown on land where sewage biosolids have been applied?

In Ontario, sewage biosolids are commonly applied to land that is used to grow crops for livestock feed or fuel production (e.g. ethanol) and is not used for fruits and vegetables or pasture. The mandatory waiting periods after the application of sewage biosolids before crops like fruits and vegetables can be harvested, or before livestock can be grazed, makes the use of sewage biosolids impractical in these situations. The length of the required waiting period varies depending on the type of crop grown on the field. For example, hay cannot be harvested until three weeks after spreading, tree fruits cannot be harvested for three months, and vegetables cannot be harvested for a full year.

The length of the waiting period also depends on the type of animal to be grazed on the field (e.g. two month waiting period for horses, six month waiting period for swine).

13. What testing is required for NASM before it can be applied to land?

NASM must be tested for total solids, nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations, and the concentrations of 11 regulated metals, before it can be land applied. Sewage biosolids must also be analyzed for E. coli concentrations. NASM cannot be applied if tests above the regulated levels.

14. What are the sampling and analysis responsibilities for municipalities and businesses that generate NASM?

NASM generators are responsible for the sampling and analysis of NASM that will be applied to land.

  • Sampling and analyses must be done in accordance with the regulation and the Sampling and Analysis Protocol.
  • Sampling parameters and frequency is done in accordance with sections 98 to 98.0.5 of the regulation.
  • Generators must give the NASM analytical data to the farmer receiving the NASM. This information may be provided through the NASM Plan developer.
  • Generators must keep accurate sampling and analysis records as needed and in accordance with the regulation and protocols.

Those receiving NASM are not allowed to receive NASM until they receive the sampling and analysis results.

15. Does soil have to be tested before NASM can be applied?

Agricultural soils that may have NASM applied must first be tested for soil pH, phosphorus and the concentration of 11 regulated metals. This testing ensures that the characteristics of the soil are appropriate to receive NASM. The NASM can be land applied only if the test shows that the soil meets the standards of the regulation.

MOECC conducts pre-approval inspections to make sure that the site conditions (e.g. surface slope, depth of soil) are suitable and that all required protective distances (e.g. setback distance from surface water) have been properly identified.

16. Why are there different setbacks for municipal and private wells?

It is likely that more water is taken from a municipal well than from a private well, making the "cone of influence" that a private well can draw from much smaller. The setback distance for municipal and private wells is consistent with other provincial regulations, such as the Ontario Building Code.

17. Will the public receive notice before NASM is applied in a municipality?

OMAFRA notifies the local municipality (lower or single tier) when any NASM plan within its jurisdiction is approved. A person cannot land apply Category 3 NASM or Category 2 NASM that is CM2 unless written advanced notice is given to the local MOECC district office. The notice must include the content specified in the regulation.

18. Is there a training and certification process?

OMAFRA is responsible for nutrient management education and training required under the regulation. A person must have a NASM Plan Development Certificate in order to prepare a NASM Plan. You can find more information about the NASM Plan Development Certificate on the University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus website.

19. Who can I call if I think NASM isn't being applied or stored according to the rules in the regulation?

Reports of non-compliance of the regulation can be made to MOECC district and area offices located throughout Ontario and to the Spills Action Centre at 1-800-268-6060.

20. Learn More

You can find more information about the regulatory requirements for NASM from the OMAFRA website. For information about compliance and enforcement, visit MOECC's website.

21. Disclaimer

The information contained on this page is not authoritative. It is derived from the Nutrient Management Act, 2002 (NMA) and its General Regulation (O. Reg. 267/03) and is for informational purposes only. Efforts have been made to make it as accurate as possible, but in the event of a conflict, inconsistency or error, the requirements set out in the NMA and the regulation take precedence. Please refer to e-Laws for what the NMA and the regulation actually provide. In addition, there may be additional legal obligations under different pieces of Legislation which are not the subject of this informational web page. The Government of Ontario assumes no liability for any inaccurate or incomplete information, nor for any actions taken in reliance thereon. Prior to implementing any changes to your operations, it is strongly recommended that you review the NMA and the regulation directly and seek any advice you consider appropriate from a qualified person.


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca
Author: OMAFRA Staff
Creation Date: 18 September 2009
Last Reviewed: 21 January 2011