Sludge issues, Lebanon
Following is one in a series of four articles dealing with sludge
published in the Lebanon Daily News of December 14, 1997
"Debate rages over sludge as fertilizer"
by Michael Race
LEBANON -- Lebanon County farmers have been applying treated sewer
waste, or sludge, to their crops for at least 17 years under the noses of
local and state elected officials.
Now, some local officials are raising a stink over it.
The Lebanon County Association of Township Supervisors strongly
opposes the use of sludge on Lebanon County farms, based on a survey of
township supervisors completed last month.
The county supervisors say they are particularly angry over the
lack of local control. Land application is self-monitored by the farmers,
who apply to accept the sludge. No local permits are necessary.
Lebanon County supervisors plan to raise the issue of sludge
application at their state convention in April. They hope to change the
law to either give municipalities more of a say or ban sludge application
"We're really going to push for it," said Gerald Strickler,
Millcreek Township supervisor and president of the Lebanon County
Association of Township Supervisors. "The fact they can jam it down your
throat without us having any say is why we’re opposed t o it and we hope
to get some kind of legislation to change it."
Up to 30 farms in Lebanon County spread sludge -- the solid
residue of sewage treatment -- each spring and fall. In all, about 2,300
acres are involved. Depending on the nutrient content of the soil, as much
as 10,000 gallons of sludge can be applied per acre.
The state revised its regulations earlier this year, reducing the
Department of Environmental Protection's role in monitoring sludge
applications. The changes raised anew questions about the health
implications of sludge as fertilizer.
Clouding the issue further are applications by sewage treatment
plants in places like Lancaster and Philadelphia to bring their treated
wastes to Lebanon County farms.
Currently, the only sludge imported to Lebanon is from Lancaster
waste facilities. But Philadelphia Water Company has filed permits to
import sludge to other counties, including Lebanon, while a New York City
treatment plant already sends sludge to a Lan caster County farm.
State Rep. Peter Zug, a Republican from Myerstown, has authored
legislation aimed at giving local governments more control over sludge
use, particularly if it's going to be imported from outside the county.
The decision whether to apply sludge shouldn't be taken away from
elected officials who are responsible for the welfare of their
communities, Zug said.
"We don't know what we're getting out of Philadelphia," Zug said.
"(Local elected officials) are the leaders of their respective communities
and we need their input."
His interest, Zug said, grew out of attempts earlier this year by
Philadelphia Water Company to bring treated sludge to farms in Heidelberg
and Millcreek townships, and over concern for existing water and
geological problems in the southern part of the c ounty.
Meanwhile, the City of Lebanon Authority has been applying the
sewage sludge it generates at its North Cornwall Township treatment plant
to farms across Lebanon County since 1980.
James B. Fraytic, superintendent of the plant, said participating
farmers have welcomed the sludge, which is offered free as a fertilizer
and organic conditioner, and for its moisture retention qualities.
Studies done by Fraytic's staff show that sludge, when applied
properly, has been as effective as traditional fertilizers. There have
been no reports of illness as a result of its use, he said.
"The story of sludge is a happy one, provided it's used correctly
and with keeping nature, soil and the public in mind," Fraytic said.
"Farmers have been very happy with what they've gotten from it."
Opponents say sludge contains dangerously toxic levels of
chemicals and heavy metals. Fraytic, though, said the sludge is rigorously
tested for harmful amounts of chemicals, and that the concentration of
heavy metals is no higher -- and sometimes lower - - than the levels
present in the soil before application.
He said fear of the unknown is the real enemy against using sludge
as a fertilizer.
"The real problem is not with the sludge. That's the safe part.
It's with the people out there. Public perception is the real area of
concern," Fraytic said.
Indeed, a survey of all township supervisors in Lebanon County
last month came against using sludge as a farm fertilizer. Of the 45
surveyed, 28 responded with 26 saying they did not want it.
"We're totally opposed to it, but once permits are issued there's
not much we can do about it," said Millcreek's Strickler.
Land Resource Recycling Management of Pottstown started applying
sludge from Lancaster waste water treatment plants to Robert Mumma's West
Cornwall Township farm in September over strong opposition by the
supervisors there that it could harm the local wa ter supply.
The Lebanon County Conservation District issued a statement in
July supporting the use of biosolids -- provided the farm has a soil
conservation and nutrient management plan and the sludge is "of good
quality, determined by lab analysis."
The position statement reads: "It is the opinion of the board that
land application is, at the present time, the best available alternative
for the use of biosolids. It is recycling at the most basic level of human
life and will improve soil organic mate r and tilth..."
The statement does not distinguish sludge from local treatment
plants or those outside the county, said Charles Wertz, director of the
Conservation District. The main concern is if it is safe and meets
requirements for content.
first version: April 13, 1998; reorganized: January 8, 1999 ...BLO
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