Chester County farmer appeals sludge permit

dworthington@heraldonline.comJune 12, 2013 

A Chester County farmer wants the full South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to review a permit that allows Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities to apply sludge on more than 6,000 acres in York, Chester, Lancaster and Fairfield counties.

Dave Cole filed the appeal.

“More than 300 people said ‘no’ to this nuisance,” Cole said, referring to a February public hearing that packed the Richburg Volunteer Fire Department. The Department of Health, Cole said, has determined that human waste odors are “normal” in a farm community.

“As a farmer, I personally take exception to the theory that the foul stench of human waste is even remotely comparable to the odor from a normal, healthy, productive farm. Human waste odor is extremely offensive and animal manure pales in comparison.”

The health board has 60 days to consider Cole’s appeal or affirm the department’s decision. If the board does not act, Cole and others can appeal the decision to the state’s Administrative Law Court.

In his appeal, Cole repeated requests he has made to the health department since the permit came up for public review.

Cole wants the department to require that sludge from Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities meet Class A standards, which are:

• that the sludge be free of disease-causing agents;

• that it be injected into the ground;

• that signs with the word “biohazard” and the health department’s phone number be posted at each site where sludge is applied;

• and that monitoring wells be present at each site where sludge is applied.

Cole also wants the agency to permit each application of sludge individually instead of combining them in one permit.

Last week, South Carolina renewed the Charlotte Mecklenburg Utility Department’s permit to spread sewage sludge on farmland south of Charlotte, but with new conditions including monitoring of groundwater.

The city will have to test groundwater at the five South Carolina farms that got the largest amounts of Charlotte sludge in the past five years. Nearly two-thirds of the 81,000 wet tons the city produces each year is shipped to four South Carolina counties.

The permit renewed June 3 includes few other measures residents had sought, including advance public notice of sludge applications.

The new permit was issued as the North Carolina utility nears the end of a yearlong, $667,000 study of alternatives to spreading the stuff on distant farms.

A byproduct of sewage treatment, nutrient-rich sludge is free fertilizer to farmers. Some neighbors say it stinks, and they worry about other elements of sludge, including metals and chemicals, that could hurt their health.

The utility says it’s been a victim of mistaken identity in South Carolina.

Despite the packed hearing in Chester County, the South Carolina health department says no complaints have been filed about Charlotte’s sludge in five years.

Rock Hill has acknowledged odor complaints about its land applications in the area and now incinerates its sludge.

The new permit also requires the utility to write a plan setting out dates to apply sludge based on the crops it fertilizes.

South Carolina also reserved the right to revisit the 10-year permit after five years.

Bruce Henderson of The Charlotte Observer contributed.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066

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