Use of biosludge on fields angers and scares residents
By Kris Stadalsky For The Herald-News October 8, 2012 7:58PM
Pat Budd displays a photo of runoff of liquid waste fertilizer known as bio sludge after it was applied on nearby farmland last September as seen Friday, Sept. 28, 2012, in Channahon Township. Budd is concerned about runoff into residential wells. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
County board panel to discuss biosludge
The pros and cons of the spreading of human biowaste on farms is on the agenda for Tuesday’s Will County Board Land Use and Development Committee.
Residents in unincorporated Will County, near Channahon, say they have been trying to get their story heard in various venues for more than two years.
Channahon Trustee Debbie Militello and District 6 county board member Don Gould made the announcement at last week’s Channahon Village Board meeting.
The residents have said the spreading of the biosludge from Chicago sewage treatment plants has been making them ill. The smell also is horrendous, they say.
Updated: November 10, 2012 6:03AM
Experts say it’s a good fertilizer, but a small group of Channahon Township residents are crying foul over the use of biosludge on farmland surrounding their homes.
The residents, who live along Canal Road, say the biosludge that comes from sewage treatment plants, well, stinks. And, they worry whether its use can make them sick or worsen some existing health problems.
When it’s being applied, about 70 trucks line Canal Road waiting to dump their sludge, resident Pat Budd said.
“It makes a mess of the road and it smells horrible,” Budd said.
Wastewater treatment plants produce a sludge made up of waste products, mostly human excrement, but can also include whatever is flushed into the system. It’s then treated, processed and partially dried. The result is a nutrient rich organic material that can be applied to farmland or land reclamation projects as a fertilizer, say proponents.
The biosludge is used on about 280 acres surrounding these residents’ homes.
Applying biosolids is not a new practice, said Jeff Hutton, an Illinois EPA environmental protection specialist. The EPA began regulating sludge in 1975, with the most current updates in 1984.
“It’s probably been going on before the agency was in existence,” Hutton said. “It’s a good fertilizer. There are micro nutrients in sludge that are not found in other fertilizers.”
Stewart Spreading, which handles the application of biosolids on Canal Road fields, does so at a rate of five to 10 tons per acre, said company owner Michelle Stewart.
Stewart said Spirit Farms leases the land, and uses the organic nitrogen found in biosolids for fertilizing corn crops. The traditional source of nitrogen that farmers would use in Illinois would come from commercially sold chemical nitrogen, Stewart said.
While the EPA requires the spreader to immediately mix the material in with the soil to reduce the smell, there still will be an odor, Hutton said.
The smell keeps Pearl Addington housebound during and after application, and during subsequent rains when the odor returns. Addington claims it causes her asthma to flare up.
“I am scared because I can’t breathe when they do it,” Addington said.
Budd had pancreatic cancer, diagnosed before biosolids were used in the area, but worries about her susceptibility to toxins that could remain in the material.
“I am doing amazingly well,” she said, “but I don’t want to chance it.”
Biosolids do contain trace levels of chemicals, such as copper, cadmium and arsenic, Hutton said.
But the treatment and processing of the sludge reduces them to non-toxic levels. Whatever level is deemed toxic for plants, the IEPA arbitrarily reduces its allowable level by 50 percent more, he said.
Some residents fear their wells could become contaminated from runoff from the fields.
Resident Mary Lou Bozich lives next to one of the fields where the soil contains gravel and rocks, making absorption more difficult. Just recently the IEPA decided to reduce the amount of biosolids that can be applied on that same field by half, said Hutton. The decision was made after it looked at the infiltration rate of the soil.
“The idea is to limit the amount of nitrates going into the ground water,” Hutton said.
Although Stewart Spreading hadn’t been notified of the change, it is fully prepared to make any changes the EPA enacts, Stewart said.
“We are continually watchful of, and strictly compliant with, all IEPA standards,” she said.
After an application of biosolids the road is scraped clean with front-end loaders, but remains alongside the road can be tracked on feet and car tires, she said.
Nearby the farm fields are the Channahon Junior High, Channahon Park District and Galloway Elementary School. Track students run along Canal Road and have been seen running through the fields, said Budd.
“I don’t think walking through it is any more risk than animal manure,” Hutton said.
The biosludge applied on Canal Road comes mostly from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District in Chicago and could include other toxins such as industrial and pharmaceutical waste.
Studies done by state and national EPA agencies have detected such small amounts of those chemicals they couldn’t hurt anyone, Hutton said. Other studies have found no leaching into water supplies.
Spreading biosolids on agricultural land is a win-win situation from a business standpoint. Chicago pays companies such as Stewart from $10 to $15 a cubic yard to haul the sludge away. Farmers get free fertilizer, saving them thousands of dollars every year. It also keeps the sludge out of landfills.
The residents, however, intend to keep fighting, Budd said.
“These people don’t live here, they have no connection to this village other than making money,” Budd said. “Let them dump in their own neighborhood. They are making a toxic dump of our area.”