Take sludge? Chester County residents weigh in

dworthington@heraldonline.comFebruary 26, 2013 

— Should sludge from Charlotte be applied to South Carolina farmland?

Passionate speakers made their arguments Tuesday at the Richburg Fire Hall.

Those arguing against the Class B sludge from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Department said it has a persistent smell and is unsafe. They said it is a toxic waste filled with disease-causing pathogens. They said the long-term effects have not been studied enough. Charlotte can keep its own poop, they said.

An equal number argued that the sludge is safe, a part of a natural recycling program that returns needed nutrients to the soil, that are then used by plants and animals.

Throughout the evening, officials from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control listened – as they said they would at the start of the public hearing. Tuesday’s meeting, before more than 300 people, was to gain residents’ input, one step in the process of deciding whether to renew the utility’s permit to apply sludge to more than 6,600 acres in York, Chester, Lancaster and Fairfield counties.

No date has been set to determine whether the permit will be renewed, DHEC officials said.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities has been applying the sludge from its wastewater treatment plants for 10 years under DHEC permits. The utility also disposes of the sludge in North Carolina.

Iris Dickerson, who lives on Fishing Creek Road in Chester County argued against any sludge being applied.

She said when she came home from a tour in Afghanistan she was overwhelmed by a “nasty, stinking smell, that smelled just like Afghanistan. I left the war in Afghanistan. I didn’t come back to be in the war again.”

Mary Ann Olson of Brattonsville said sludge is “like cancer, the bad results don’t show up for years. Question the science you are being fed.”

David Cole of Chester urged that the permit require Class A sludge, which has no detectible levels of pathogens. Cole has been researching the land application of sludge and the utility’s permit request. He gave DHEC a 6-inch stack of papers on his research, dropping them on the table after his presentation. The thud echoed in the cavernous fire hall.

Farmers such as Joe Wilson, Mike Walley, Jay Williams and Allen Beer backed the land application program.

Wilson, who has more than 600 acres in Chester and York counties in the program, said Synagro, the company Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities uses to dispense the sludge, strictly adheres to all the permit rules. “This is basically a recycling process,” he said.

Williams said he is trying to get permitted for the land application of sludge on his farm. “Why would a person who has spent their whole life in agriculture put anything down that’s harmful to them or the products they produce?” Williams said.

Walley, whose family has 65 acres in the program, noted their Chester County fields have never been greener.

Beer, a Chester cattle farmer, said, “Mother Nature can handle these things.”

Others question the health effects, with several noting they have had doctors tell them the sludge is aggravating their conditions.

Dennis Summers, who moved from Charlotte to Fishing Creek Road to get away pollution, said the land-applied sludge is hazardous to him. He said he has lung cancer. He asked that there be a four-mile zone around Fishing Creek Road to protect him and other residents.

Jimmi Adkins of Chester asked DHEC officials if the sludge was making her child sick.

“Please stop it,” she said emotionally. “The kids will suffer; mine is suffering now.”

Ann Proctor, a former DHEC worker who said she has inspected farms in the program as well as wastewater plants, said she never found any problems with the program and that there have been no cattle deaths attributed to application of biosolids.

She said the program works and that people should not be “fooled by people who get all their information from the Internet.”

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066

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