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Important Sewage Sludge Information

September 8, 2008


Given the fact that Municipal Sewage Sludge contains heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and mercury that do not degrade, you are creating health and safety mine fields for our children and future generations.

To date there are no requirements to disclose the fact that sewage sludge was applied to the land when selling or leasing the property.  There is also NO notation on the deed such as “soil altered” or “sewage sludge” applied.

As we speak, in Randolph County a high school is beginning construction in spite of the fact that millions of gallons of sewage sludge have been dumped on the land that contained hazardous waste including but not limited to lead, arsenic, mercury and chromium.

Just down the road an 18 home sub-division has been built on land where sewage sludge has been dumped and an entry road is being constructed for an additional 30 homes to be built on land where large amounts of sewage sludge has been dumped.

The only testing on the high-density sub-division was two 6” test borings.  The results were that the arsenic level was more than two times – double – the arsenic level of the background test site 150 yards away.  Yet the Randolph County Commissioners approved the rezoning 5 – 0.

Testing at the school site was done at the last minute and was both inadequate – 1 per acre – and with procedural flaws.

The EPS and DENR hide behind an antiquated (15 years old) “one size fits all” standard, Reg 503.  This Reg has the same loading or volume limit for a school, daycare center, high-density sub-division or a farm.

There are no requirements to disclose the fact that sewage sludge has been applied and in fact neither the developer or the School Board have been forthcoming with any disclosures or warnings so as to allow construction workers, residents and in the future teachers and children to be able to take precautions in regard to the hazardous waste present.

Something must be done.

 Eric & Janet Black

6651 Post Road

Randolph County

Thomasville, North Carolina 27360


Table 1 – Environmental Pathways of Concern – Identified For Application of Sewage Sludge To Agricultural Land (see attached), specifies various pathways (ways that pollutants, i.e., heavy metals, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, etc.) may enter your body.

 There are 14 pathways listed including; ingesting plants grown in sewage sludge amended soil (#1), home gardening (#2), children ingesting sewage sludge (#3), consuming livestock that ingested sewage sludge while grazing (#5), operating a tractor (#11), and breathing volatile pollutants (#13).

 It is notable that operating equipment in the construction of homes or schools, landscaping, constructing driveways, digging sites for pools, etc., are not listed.  The reason is that neither the EPA’s governing regulation 40 CFR Part 503 (circa 1993) nor the list of Environmental Pathways ever anticipated the building of homes or schools as an end use.  Everything and everyone talks about agricultural use only.  40 CFR Part 503 is a out-dated “one size fits all” standard, that is, the same standard for farm use, daycare center, residential or high school/middle school use of land.

 Given the fact that there is no disclosure required, even though hazardous waste has been disposed of on the land, individuals are not able to take appropriate precautions.

 The following steps need to be taken immediately:

 1)      Full disclosure to anyone residing, working or attending school on land where Municipal Sewage Sludge has been applied

 2)      Full disclosure to anyone purchasing or leasing land where Municipal Sewage Sludge has been applied

 3)      A notation on the deed/title registered at the courthouse that would be a permanent record i.e., “soil altered” or “Municipal Sewage Sludge applied”

 Eric & Janet Black

6651 Post Road

Randolph County

Thomasville, North Carolina 27360



Representative Pat B. Hurley

NC House of Representatives

300 N. Salisbury Street, Room 607

Raleigh, NC 27603-5925

 April 21, 2008

Dear Representative Hurley,

We are writing to request your intervention in a situation that could affect the health and welfare, both short-term and long-term, of thousands of residents of Randolph County.  This risk has been created due to the disposal of millions of gallons of Municipal Sewage Sludge which contained lead, mercury and arsenic to name just a few of these extremely dangerous contaminants.

It is undisputed that the sewage sludge waste stream question contained the above listed hazardous materials (heavy metals). As you will see, inadequate and flawed testing was performed. Those residents coming into contact with this contaminated soil should be informed of the presence of these dangerous heavy metals in order that they may take necessary precautions to protect themselves and their families. To our knowledge, no disclosure has been done or even contemplated. 

My name is Eric Black. My wife, Janet, and I own a farm on Post Road in the Tabernacle Township.  Our property is located adjacent to, and directly down-gradient from, property owned by Earnhardt Builders, Inc. (“Earnhardt Property”).  Randolph County was recently asked to rezone the Earnhardt Property to allow for residential development denser than permitted under the prior Residential Agricultural zoning.  We objected to this rezoning request on several grounds, including environmental concerns.

Upon reviewing NCDENR’s records we discovered that between 1993 and 1997 the Earnhardt Property had served as the dumping ground for over two million gallons of sewage sludge that came from wastewater treatment plants in High Point.  This sludge contained heavy metals that, of course, do not degrade.  We fear that the intensive land-disturbing activities needed to allow for dense residential development would increase our risk of coming into contact with heavy metals and other contaminants from the site.  We are also concerned about others who would unknowingly come into contact with the contaminants, including construction workers and home purchasers.

Over our objection, the Board rezoned the Earnhardt Property after almost no useful testing had been done on the proposed site.  The groundwater was never tested at all, not even for the nitrates that have been documented by the State to contaminate wells near other sludge disposal facilities in North Carolina.  No sampling was conducted at the lowest points (topographically) on the proposed site, where the semi-liquid sludge would be most likely to accumulate into hot spots.  The few soil sample results presented to the Board were taken from a maximum depth of six inches, even though the contaminated sludge had been disced into the soil much deeper.  The results presented were also “composites” of many samples, meaning samples with higher concentrations were diluted with samples of lower concentrations.

  Even with these flaws, the testing done by the developer revealed that elevated levels of known human carcinogens remained on the site.  Arsenic levels where sludge had been applied were twice as high as “background”.  The samples from the proposed building site exceeded the State’s clean-up requirement for inactive hazardous waste sites, which was not true of the background sample.  Copies of these sampling results are attached as Exhibit A for your review.

While participating in the debate over the Earnhardt Property, we learned that the County planned to build a public high school and proposed middle school on a site (“School Property”) that had accepted an estimated 13 million gallons of High Point sludge between 1993 and 1997.  Based on sampling of the sludge, this quantity translates into approximately 2,500 tons of dry sludge containing up to 500 pounds of lead and up to 20 pounds each of mercury and arsenic.  We have calculated that this is approximately the equivalent of mercury from 15,000 household thermometers, lead from 23,000 paint chips and arsenic from 34,000 doses of rat poison.

 Sampling on the School Property was also cursory and, we believe, inadequate, translating into just one sample location for every fifteen acres.  Like the testing conducted on the Earnhardt Property, the little testing done to-date has been inadequate for at least three reasons: 1) no groundwater was sampled; 2) topographical low points (likely hot spots where sludge accumulated more thickly) were not tested; and 3) the wrong strata of soils were sampled.*  It should be noted that the limited testing conducted on the school property was done without knowledge of the volume applied (12-14 million gallons) or the location of the disposal fields on the property.


* Considering that biosolids applied to the site were required to be disced into the soil, any reasonable sampling designed to characterize contamination on the sites would therefore measure levels of heavy metals in soil at a range of depths (e.g., from surface to 24 inches).  Remarkably, testing on the Earnhardt Property literally only scratched the surface (top six inches), and testing on the School Property specifically excluded the stratums of soil (between 6 inches and 18 inches) most likely to contain heavy metals. The first of several significant regulatory issues has to do with the source of the High Point sludge.  EPA’s section 503 regulations were developed to deal with sludge produced from domestic sources.  See 40 CFR 503.1 (defining purpose of part 503 as the regulation of  “sludge generated during the treatment of domestic sewage”) (emphasis added), 503.9 (defining sewage sludge as “residue generated during the treatment of domestic sewage”) (emphasis added).  The sludge disposed of on these sites, however, came from the High Point Wastewater Treatment plants, which treated residential, commercial and industrial wastewater.

 Consistent with its industrial nature, every test result of the High Point sludge (taken before application) revealed the presence of known and suspected carcinogens.  Contaminants found in the sludge included arsenic, lead, and mercury, which are ranked #1, 2, and 3, respectively, on the EPA’s CERCLA Priority list of Hazardous Substances.  As you are well aware, these heavy metals do not degrade and have been shown to cause cancer and brain damage to children.

Problems with the High Point’s digester also resulted in a problem maintaining sludge quality.  When reviewing NCDENR’s files, we discovered a document prepared by a professional engineer documenting a systemic “residual solids problem” as early as June 22, 1993 (attached hereto as Exhibit B).  Responding to a Notice of Violation from the State, the letter explained that when High Point’s Eastside Wastewater Treatment plant was expanded to double its capacity, no additional digester capacity was provided.  The “serious nature” of this digester capacity problem, along with concerns for future liability associated with land application, ultimately led the City of High Point to construct an incinerator to dispose of sludge generated after 1997.

Compounding problems with the improper source and inadequate treatment of the sludge were multiple apparent violations of land application rules designed to protect public health and safety.  Attached for your review (Exhibit C) is one Notice of Violation sent from the Division of Environmental Management (”DEM”) to the City of High Point during the relevant time period that at least six separate permit conditions were violated when biosolids were applied.  DEM found that at least six separate permit conditions were violated when biosolids were applied within 3 paces of property lines and a running stream, applied into a surface water drainage ditch, and applied on fields that were not clearly marked as required.  These violations resulted in biosolids entering waters of the State, in violation of State law.  An internal investigation by the residual management company (AMSCO, now owned by Synagro) revealed that its High Point crew caused the violations intentionally.

Similar violations were also observed on the Earnhardt Property.  Attached, as Exhibit D is a sworn affidavit of Gary Satterfield.  Mr. Satterfield is a neighbor who has lived in the area for over twenty years and observed numerous occasions when sewage sludge was applied to the Earnhardt Property.  He saw sludge “routinely applied” within approximately 20 feet of a stream that drains to the Lake Reese Watershed, with sludge applied even closer to the stream on some occasions.  He also noted that the “sludge” appeared like a liquid when applied, and that it would collect in low areas on the property when applied to steep slopes (some exceeding 10% in grade by his estimation).  He never saw any visible methods to control public access to the land, even though the sludge sometimes remained on the surface of bare land (not disced in) for weeks at a time.  Of all the times he saw the sludge applied, Mr. Satterfield never recalls observing boundary flags to designate the proper application area.**

 Mr. Satterfield’s observations document multiple violations of state rules and conditions contained in Permit No. WQ0001897, including performance standards 6 (buffers for streams and property lines), 8 (residual application areas to be clearly marked), 10 (maximum slope for application shall be 10%), and Operation and Maintenance Requirements 10(residuals to be disced in within 24 hours after application with no crop cover established).

 While we have not documented similar evidence of violations of the School Property, we understand that the same company that applied the sludge to the Earnhardt Property applied sludge from the same plants to the School Property.  Attached as Exhibit E is a chart showing a clear pattern of alternating between applying sludge at the Earnhardt Property and the School Property, further suggesting that the same crew was responsible for conducting work at these sites just a few miles apart.  Given the well-documented permit violations at the Earnhardt Property and the fields in the Notice of Violation discussed above, it seems unreasonable to assume that all permit conditions were diligently respected at the School Property.

 One of the stipulations of the biosolids permit issued to the City of High Point was that land owners receiving sludge on their properties were required to notify any future buyers about the land application (attached hereto as Exhibit F are the permit stipulations).  However, according to Mr. Earnhardt, it was not until we raised the issue that Earnhardt learned of the sludge.  Likewise, the Randolph County School Board did not appear to have any knowledge that sludge had been applied to the School Property until we raised this issue.

**  The requirement to provide flagging is important not only for compliance with buffer requirements, which appear to have been ignored, but also to ensure that the biosolids were only applied to the proper acreage in permitted fields.  Based on the observations of Mr. Satterfield, we suspect that sludge was applied to more acreage on the Earnhardt Property (formerly owned by Mr. Wellborne) than was allowed under the permit to High Point.

 We have voiced our concerns about sludge application and permit violations with Randolph County, but were told that any such concerns must be addressed by the State.  We then contacted NCDENR and received a bureaucratic reply that did not address the problems at hand i.e.

40 CFR 503 is a 15 year old “one size fits all” standard.  An updated standard is needed which recognizes the use of the land i.e. school or daycare center vs. farm pasture. The combination of one test per 15 acres, 6” blended samples and the soil for background test obtained 35 miles from site reflects inadequate and flawed testing.

 NCDENR/EPA should design a testing protocol that is site-use sensitive i.e. daycare, school, high-density subdivision, farmland etc.

 Full disclosure should be required for those coming in contact with sewage sludge applied soil i.e. farmers, students, teachers, construction workers, residents of subdivisions etc.

It is undisputed that High Point’s Eastside/Westside Sewage Sludge contained lead, mercury, arsenic, chromium, etc.  Given land undulation, large buildup of sludge in low-lying areas produce 5 – 10 times the heavy metal contamination levels at higher elevations.

We believe that, before the properties at issue are converted to residential and education use, a proper investigation and analysis of the risks at the properties should be undertaken, with the results shared with all concerned.

The bottom line of this issue is safety must come first.  Let’s not allow people to hide behind the politics of these policies, which were written years ago.  We have to deal with the real world of today.  Perhaps the authors of this land application program did not fully understand the ramifications involved when they approved this process. The sludge was applied to farmland many miles from towns and cities, not anticipating the urban sprawl we are now seeing.  It is only going to get worse!  We must act now to protect the innocent.  The completed subdivision nearby houses hundreds of people, many are young children.  During the lifetime of this subdivision, thousands of residents will be impacted by this possible health risk.  The middle and high schools which are going to be built a couple of miles down the same road will educate many thousands of children over the course of the schools’ use.  Thousands of students, teachers, staff, grounds-keepers and facilities caretakers will also be part of this unsuspecting group who is at risk.

We should override the shortsightedness of the original authors of this program, and err on the side of caution.  Why not test more fully?  It can’t be a money factor.  The high school alone is going to cost 40 – 50 million dollars.  Are the land management officials and Board of Education (state and local) afraid to find what is really in the soil?  If so, they should consider the problems which might arise in the future with parents and staff irate (and litigious) about not being informed of potential health risks. What if people develop health problems related to the schools’ environment?  What about those children whose health is already compromised, should they not be forewarned about potential health risks?  Once these citizens are living in the subdivision and/or attending these schools, it’s too late to say “sorry”.  You cannot “grandfather-in” safety.

What we are asking for is proper testing be conducted under an “end use” established protocol and “full disclosure” of the results to the public. We are urgently asking for your involvement and are available to discuss this matter with you, or provide any additional information that is available.  Thanking you in advance for your help in this matter.


Eric and Janet Black

6651 Post Road

Randolph County

Thomasville, North Carolina 27360


 That is what I have been asking in reference to Wheatmore School and it is what every resident of Randolph County/Trinity area should be asking the Randolph County Board of Education.

  My position is and has been, “why build a school where millions (est. 12 – 14 millions) of gallons of sewage sludge containing hazardous waste has been dumped?

 If you elect to take the risk as the Randolph County School Board has done, then insure that the testing is accurate, representative of the site and not procedurally flawed, you must also require extensive testing (not just one test per 10 acres as did the School Board)

The sludge was applied from 1993 – 1997; however, heavy metals that were in the sludge (lead, arsenic, mercury) remain in the soil and retain their toxicity indefinitely.

It appears that the approach of the School Board is “dam the torpedoes, full steam ahead”.  In order to insure and protect the health and welfare of hundreds, and over the years, thousands of Randolph County citizens, the Board should perform additional tests; conduct a Public Hearing giving full disclosure of the sewage sludge disposal and soil test results.  This Public Hearing should also discuss how these heavy metals might enter your body (pathways), and safeguards and procedures on how to avoid these hazardous substances.

Once again - you cannot “grandfather-in safety” so “why take the risk”?

 Here are some additional points that I feel need to be addressed by our officials in the Triad Area.

  Just like the two Randolph County sites (sub-division and school) we have been discussing, there are an additional 44 (total of 46) sites that were approved to receive Municipal Sewage Sludge in the 1990’s.  Randolph County had a total of 15 sites, Guilford County had 13 sites and Davidson County had 18 sites.

I just wonder if the current County Commissioners, Zoning Boards and School Boards of these counties are even aware of this past program of sewage sludge application?

Will Guilford County and Davidson County step up and protect their citizens and not allow the building of sub-divisions, playschools and elementary, middle and high schools on this tainted land?  (Guilford County recently approved bonds in the hundreds of millions of dollars for school improvements and future new schools.)

 Is sewage sludge applied land insurable for school bonds?
 If a school is built on toxic land, should other conference school teams be advised of field conditions relating to the application of sewage sludge before they play on these fields?

Will county officials require land application of hazardous materials be disclosed before their residents unknowingly buy contaminated land?

Have these three counties already allowed construction on land containing hazardous heavy metals and other hazardous substances?

Knowing that land had hazardous material applied to it, will that effect an appraiser’s valuation of real estate?  When selling your home, you must disclose a leaky roof, water in the basement etc.  Surely you should be required disclose dangerous toxins in your land.

How does long term working and/or living on this land affect a child’s, adult’s or elderly person’s health?  What of a fetus?  What if a pregnant woman lives in a contaminated sub-division and also teaches at a school with these same toxins?  Do heavy metals provide a trigger for dormant health issues to become active such as autism and asthma?

In the case of “organic farming”, are these food producers unknowingly using sludge-tainted farmland?  If so, is this in violation of their license certification?  What of the health hazards to themselves and their field workers when they breathe in this toxic soil (one of the EPA’s pathways for ingestion)?

 Waste Water Treatment Plants using incineration should be required to certify they do not mix sludge ash (which contains concentrated heavy metals) into compost, which unsuspecting residents pick-up and spread over their flower beds and vegetable gardens.

 Do the EPA, DENR and state and local governments allow companies that produce lead, mercury, arsenic, chromium, pharmaceuticals and other toxic waste to add a little nitrogen to the toxic cocktail and spread this on farmland under the guise of commercial fertilizer?

Do the EPA and DENR certify that it is safe to build schools and sub-divisions where sewage sludge has been applied? Why do the EPA and DENR call sewage sludge “biosolids” and say that is just like commercial fertilizer, yet require 15 to 20 pages of application conditions i.e. no grazing cattle for 30 days after application, no consumption of some food crops for up to 39 months after last application, restriction of public access to property for one year

 Given the fact that Municipal Sewage Sludge contains hazardous waste, for example – lead, mercury, arsenic, heavy metals retain their toxicity indefinitely, why doesn’t EPA/DENR require full disclosure when selling or leasing the land and require a notation on the deed sewage sludge applied” or “soil altered”.

 Why did EPA ban the dumping of sewage sludge in the ocean, and then allow it to be spread on farms?

 These heavy metals do not lose their potency.  The passage of time does not take away the risk.  Spreading of Municipal Sewage Sludge with no standardized testing which is site-use specific nor disclosure of the presence of sewage sludge creates “health/safety minefields” for future generations

Eric & Janet Black

6651 Post Road

Randolph County

Thomasville, North Carolina  27360




 Construction has recently begun on what has been named Wheatmore High School on Finch Farm Road in Randolph County, North Carolina.  The high school is the first phase of a $100,000,000 (approx.) high school/middle school/road expansion project on land where millions gallons of Municipal Sewage Sludge were disposed.

 This sludge contained known and suspected carcinogens including arsenic, lead and mercury.  The U. S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (“ATSDR”) classifies arsenic as a known carcinogen even low levels of exposure can lower IQ’s in children.  Arsenic can also cause mutations in conjunction with other chemicals.  Lead is a probable human carcinogen that affects a child’s mental and physical growth, even at low levels.  No safe blood level in children has been determined.  Mercury poisoning can permanently damage the brain, kidneys, and developing fetus.  If passed to a fetus from a mother, mercury causes brain damage, mental retardation, blindness, seizures and inability to speak.

 These heavy metals accumulate in the environment.  Arsenic cannot be destroyed in the environment.  Once lead falls into soil, it sticks strongly to soil particles and remains in the upper layer of soil.  Mercury can enter and accumulate in the food chain.  Arsenic, lead and mercury are #1, #2, and #3 (out of 275) on the CERLA Priority List of Hazardous Substances.

 Heavy metals retain their toxicity and may enter the body through ingestion or inhalation (breathing wind blown dust, mowing grass, etc.).  Construction of the school (building foundation, parking lots, ball fields, etc.) will disturb the majority of the soil, thereby disturbing the heavy metals bound into the soil.  Similar soil disturbances occur in the construction of homes (foundation, driveway, landscaping, etc.).

 The Randolph County School Board was made aware of the sludge disposal issue prior to their purchasing the land for the construction of the high school and proposed middle school.  The School Board conducted last minute tests, which in the opinion of many, were both inadequate in number and with procedures that were flawed.

 Just down the road, a subdivision has been built on land that received Municipal Sewage Sludge from the same treatment plant.  The developer of the subdivision, in spite of the fact that he was made aware of the applications of Municipal Sewage Sludge, conducted no testing and to date has made no notification to the homeowners that there may have been sewage sludge applied on their land.

 In addition, the Randolph County Board of Commissioners has approved, for the same developer, 20 homes on adjacent land where Municipal Sewage Sludge has been applied.  Minimal testing was done, yet test results revealed arsenic levels more than double arsenic levels from a nearby “background test” site.  Yet with this information in hand, the Commissioners still approved this rezoning without requiring further testing.  The developer has begun the process of building an access road for the subdivision and plans to begin construction in the near future.

 In both of these projects, it is undisputed that Municipal Sewage Sludge was applied and without proper testing and disclosure, the health and welfare of hundreds of people could be put at risk.  Yet to date, no disclosure has been issued by the School Board or the developer.

 Eric & Janet Black

6651 Post Road

Randolph County

Thomasville, North Carolina




If you smell sewage sludge, then you are eating sewage sludge.

Odor is perceived through actual particles of the source of the odor becoming airborne and then inhaled and swallowed.  These particles do not only offensively smell, but also may be health-endangering.

If a radio were played so loudly that it could be heard as far as the sewage sludge is smelled, legally it would be considered a nuisance offence and the owner would be ticketed and fined.  Residents can get relief from noise pollution but get no help with the pollution of their lifestyles.


-The City of High Point’s 1990’s permit covered 13 sites in Guilford County, 18 in Davidson and 13 in Randolph.  To the general public, these sites are unidentifiable.  Most do not even know this land application program exists.  Therefore, they have no reason to question the history of the land.  People need to know the liabilities associated with this program before investing their family’s future and lifesavings.

Do you know how many sites have been previously permitted?

Do you know their location, the volumes applied?

Before permitting new sites, do you research the history of the land and find out if sewage sludge was previously applied there?

If you should use previously-applied land, then the actual loading of the land is not accurate.  How can the public find out about this multiple loading?

Is there a single, central location/point of contact where you get this information?

I certainly hope it is more organized and readily available for you than it was for us.  It should not be such a drawn-out and cumbersome procedure as we found out, with numerous phone calls and weeks of waiting to just gain access to public records.  The process must be made user friendly.


In the 1993 Permit (Central File Copy Received October 3, 1994) Stipulation # 16 states- at the transfer of land to a new owner they shall be given full details of the materials applied.  This Stipulation should be reinstated.

Stipulation # 12 covers a similar disclosure to those who lease this land.  This should also be reinstated.


All treatment plants using incineration and those that may convert in the future must stop combining the waste ash (which contains heavy metals) and compost which unsuspecting residents obtain from the treatment plants and spread on their land.  My neighbor’s flowerbeds and vegetable gardens are not listed as approved sites to receive sewage sludge in any form.  This practice needs to stop.

 And finally,

Organic Farming

Organic Farming is a rapidly growing business.  This is another important reason why the history of the land needs to be easily accessible.  Finding out after the fact that their land had sewage sludge applied may destroy their reputation in a very perception-sensitive business.  The concern is not only for the crops they produce and sell but the tainted dust that they and their hired field workers may breath in.

Thank you for your time.

Janet Black

6651 Post Road

Randolph County

Thomasville, North Carolina 27360