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Letter to the Douglass Township Supervisors

October 14, 2008

The information below was provided to the Douglass Berks Township supervisors in the spring of 2008.

While some efforts had been undertaken by the supervisors to correct this situation, little has changed. While we are fully aware that this violation may occur again next spring, our community has been educated as to the seriousness of this practice and our township officials have been informed accordingly. As a resident of Douglass Berks Township for over 20 years, I truly understand the balance we must maintain between industry, agriculture, development, etc. While the diversity of our township is essential to promote a stable community we must maintain a consistent level of expectations for all. When any area of our community threatens to violate the expectations of our residents, we have the responsibility to address the problem.

Today, we are challenged with a new and very dangerous situation. A process known as biosolids application or better known as sewer sludge spreading is occurring in our township. At present, we estimate that upwards of 400 tons of sewer sludge has been deposited on private land in our township in the vicinity of South Sunrise Lane. Through some detailed research with the PA DEP, we have learned that the sludge is being delivered to this property by a company by the name of Synagro. Synagro, based in Houston TX is in the business of hauling sludge from sewer processing plants to farms throughout the country. The sludge in our fields is purportedly generated by the Valley Forge Sewer Authority. The farmer responsible for the application of the sludge is Robert Richard, an Oley Township Resident. This information was provided by PA state representative David Kessler.

Representative Kessler addressed this and other issues at a town hall meeting held in Boyertown on 05/16/08. While I was unable to attend this meeting due to my travel schedule, I was able to contact Mr. Kessler at a later date and discuss the sludge issues. Mr. Kessler indicated that he was fully aware of the issue and had committed to contacting Mr. Richard and explaining our concerns over the practice of spreading sludge in our neighborhood. As of today, I have not heard back from Mr. Kessler.

During my discussions with Brian Moore of the PA DEP I learned some interesting facts about the sludge being spread on the fields. The sludge on this particular site is what is considered to be a Class A biosolid. Being a class A material, no requirements pertaining to setbacks, community notification, etc. are required. I’m told that the biosolid material is verified for quality at the sewer plant source before it is transported to the dump site. I was also told that the dump site is evaluated for a variety of features to determine if it is acceptable to receive the sludge. There are some additional guidelines that are supposed to be followed but I do not have the time or the resources to research them and try to verify that they are being followed.

What I find most disturbing about this so called “practice” is that the entire program is endorsed and deemed acceptable by both the DEP and EPA. Also, the PA Right to Farm Act protects the interests of the farmer to a degree that places unfair hardship on adjacent properties and the community as a whole. The Right to Farm Act should protect the farmer’s right to farm, not the right to pollute! The practice of dumping sewer sludge in the oceans and rivers was discontinued some years ago for being environmental unsafe. Today however it is acceptable to dump this sludge on our land where we actually live!

Another disturbing issue with the sludge dumped on the land next to South Sunrise Lane is that we are told this will continue as long as the farmer wishes to proceed with it. Forget about the horrendous odor and the flies, the long term affects regarding the application are the biggest threat.

While there is conjecture among the experts regarding the long term effects of this practice, I can personally attest to the fact that burning eyes, sore throats, runny noses, etc. have been experienced in my household and that of my neighbors. Just a coincidence?

As a final desperate measure I contacted the PA DEC. The discussion was similar to that which I had with the DEP in the sense that I was informed that there is really nothing I can do about it and just except it for what it is. I explained that hundreds of tons of the sludge had been stored in the field (piles above ground) for almost two months without any effort to disperse it. I was told to contact the farmer and ask that he become more efficient in the delivery and usage process. I never made that call! The EPA cites on their web site which is dedicated to sludge, that odor problems are the number one complaint with sludge applications and the farmer should follow “best practices” for reducing the problem. Apparently living far away from the dump site is the “best practice” for this farmer!

In conclusion, I feel we have a very serious issue facing our community. When the actions of a few inconsiderate individuals impact an entire community, the situation becomes desperate. I am hoping that with the commitment of Douglass Township and our residents we can develop a method to end this type of violation and prevent future incidents from occurring. Other communities have banded together to resolve these issues, we can do the same!


Dave Beidler

93 S. Sunrise Lane Boyertown, PA 19512