CHESTER COUNTY — The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control will hear public comment Tuesday on whether to allow the CharlotteMecklenburg Utilities Department to continue disposing sludge on land in York, Chester, Fairfield and Lancaster counties.
The permit, issued in 2000, allows the North Carolina utility to dispose of Class B sludge on more than 6,600 acres. The permit, which expired in 2010, is one of several hundred that have lapsed. DHEC is trying to reduce that backlog.
The sludge is treated sewerage from Charlotte-Mecklenburg utilities.
Tuesdays hearing is expected to be a clash between farmers who say the land application is safe and saves them money, and residents who say the sludge is unsafe, smells, and is a potential health risk.
Class B sludge contains detectible levels of pathogens.
Pathogens that are directly or indirectly ingested through the food chain can cause death, diseases or physical deformations, says Dave Cole of Chester County.
The federal Environmental Protection Agencys definition of sludge verifies Coles claims.
Most people dont understand what it means, he said. Roll all the warning labels into one and you have sludge.
Cole has studied the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Department sludge permit and questions whether the utility has met state standards.
A DHEC spokesman said Charlotte-Mecklenburg utilities have not violated permit requirements. Joe Beasley, the spokesman, said Charlotte-Mecklenburgs records were reviewed in 2011.
Cole said he doesnt want to put farmers out of business, but he wants the sludge coming to South Carolina to meet higher standards.
Class A sludge contains no detectible levels of pathogens, according to the EPA. Class A sludge does not face application restrictions. In areas where Class B sludge is applied, there must be buffers, restrictions for public access and crop harvesting restrictions.
According to the permit, the sludge can only be applied once every three years. Buffers of at least 50 feet should be maintained along roadway and property boundaries. Buffers from water sources should be at least 100 feet.
In addition to requiring that sludge meet Class A standards, Cole wants the sludge to be injected into the soil, rather than applied or sprayed on the land. He said injecting the sludge would reduce odor and run-off issues.
That method would require more groundwater testing, which he said should be done by DHEC or independent inspectors rather than Charlotte-Mecklenburg utilities.
Peggy Harshaw farms 367 acres in McConnells, where she plants wheat and corn. The land also is used for gazing; she has 45 beef cattle.
She is one of eight farmers in York County that allow Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities to apply sludge.
Its treated. I feel safe, Harshaw said.
She said the utility has been putting the sludge on her land for 10 years. The sludge has nitrogen and phosphorous that fertilize her crops. The grass grows greener and the wheat looks better, she said.
Harshaw said there were sporadic problems with the odor but that has been addressed. The smell of the chickens and turkeys is worse, she said.
Harshaw said she spends about $50,000 on commercial fertilizer that is applied in areas where sludge cant be used.
If sludge wasnt available and Harshaw had to use commercial fertilizer exclusively, she said it would put her out of business.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066