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Spreading sewage sludge right before a hurricane!

September 5, 2008

Fox 8 News reveals outraged Alamance County citizens asking, “Why is Alamance County’s recent environmental hazard being kept very quiet?”

On Thursday, Fox 8 News was alerted by outraged local citizens that sewage sludge from Burlington’s Waste Water Treatment Plant was being spread in Alamance County on a steep hill just above the Cane Creek. Why on God’s green earth would anyone decide to spread human sewage sludge on a steep hill above Cane Creek, right before a hurricane is scheduled to arrive? This is happening right before Hurricane Hanna arrives! It is extremely likely that high winds and rain from the hurricane will transport runoff from sludge into nearby surface waters.

The hurricane issue is yet another shortcoming of the sewage sludge permitting process. The state’s current rules don’t require that sludge spreading ceases before a hurricane hits. The potential for sludge runoff into groundwater, drinking water supplies, surface waters, adjacent properties, and additional exposures to the public from sludge spreading increases dramatically before a hurricane hits an area. Another concern is that no one knows when and where sludge is being spread.

People have a right to know about what’s being dumped next to their backyards that might hurt them. Right now, residents have no knowledge about when and where sewage sludge is being spread because the public is not required to be notified. Would you want to know if your neighbor plans to spread tons of sewage sludge next to your property? Might you be worried about the smell, the flies, and the potential health risks of sewage sludge? Don’t we owe it to our friends and neighbors to alert them to the potential risks of sludge before they are exposed to this hazard? Visible signs should be posted limiting public access to fields receiving sewage sludge with information on how to contact NC Division of Water Quality in the event of an illness, accident or potential violation. Although regulations say that public access to sludge applied fields must be limited for 30 days, this is not being adequately addressed.

The News 8 story showed no-trespassing signs were posted with the words: NO TRESPASSING: Residuals being spread. The signs failed to list the name of the applier, origin of sludge, permit number, and a number to call for questions, complaints, and/or emergencies. Furthermore, the use of the term “residuals” may be unclear to most people who may not know that it means sewage sludge. The sewage sludge appliers, including Synagro and the City of Burlington’s Wastewater Treatment Plant, are not disclosing the potentially toxic ingredients found in sludge that may affect the long-term sustainability of farmlands, our health and our environment.

It is the responsibility of the NC Division of Water Quality to inform farmers, adjacent property owners, and citizens of Alamance County that sewage sludge has made people sick, and contaminated groundwater, private wells, and surface waters in NC. The state should also disclose that chemicals in wastewater effluent found to concentrate in sludge damage the reproductive systems of fish and other aquatic animals.

Only a handful of toxic metals, nutrients and pathogens in sludge are tested for leaving thousands more that are unregulated and untested. To our state government: we ask that you make citizens aware of these “other” contaminants in sludge that include pathogens, pharmaceuticals, hormones, antimicrobials, toxic metals, dioxins, fire retardants, and radioactive contaminants – to name a few. Make sure everyone knows that phosphorus in runoff from sludge can choke the life out of a river or stream. In the name of all that is right and reasonable, don’t give sewage sludge away for free just to get rid of it, without considering and disclosing all of the risks involved.

Disposal of sewage sludge is a problem, but dumping it on those who are unaware of the risks is neither an honest or acceptable solution. Local citizens should unite and demand that the spreading of sewage sludge on our precious farmlands stop. Stop contaminating our land, our water, our air. Stop hiding the facts of this environmental hazard. Find a safe and clean alternative method to dispose of sewage sludge without endangering our health and environment. This problem is not going away and citizens are not going to keep it quiet any more.

Call our Alamance County Offices at (336) 570-4040 and tell them to stop the spreading of sewage sludge on our farmlands.

Beverly Kerr, Alamance County Citizen, Graham, NC 27253