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Posted October 17, 2012 | 7 Comments
Supervisors want say in expanded biosolids use
By Alex Bridges
A sludge supplier's request to spread biosolids on more land in Warren County sparked concern among elected leaders this week.
Virginia-based Recyc Systems Inc. submitted an application in July seeking to expand the amount of land to which it spreads biosolids in Warren County by 386.5 acres, according to Keith Showman, senior water permit writer for the DEQ. Permits with the state agency allow Recyc to apply biosolids on 1,106.2 acres in the county. The gross acreage includes buffering areas which do not receive biosolids application, Showman explained.
But supervisors on Tuesday expressed frustration that the locality holds no authority over the practice of spraying sludge on farmland. Members also voiced concern about biosolids spread on land close to the Shenandoah River and its tributaries. Jill Keihn with the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission reported to the board on the DEQ's public meeting last week, at the request of Supervisor Tony Carter.
"With the [Chesapeake] Bay Act and runoff and as tight as things are going to get, how is this going to affect it?" asked Supervisor Dan Murray. "I lived on the Eastern Shore and I know what the center of the shore in Maryland smelled like when we got a little bit of rain with the leaching out. So I have a concern, one, about odor and, two, the Bay Act, are we gonna hurt ourselves with the Bay Act?"
DEQ documents show additional sites sought for sludge application lie in proximity to Passage Creek. Environmental regulations require at least a 50-foot buffer between waterways and land applied with sludge. A review of satellite imagery indicates a 400-foot, wooded area acts as a buffer between the creek and the proposed sites, according to Showman.
Keihn had attended the DEQ hearing at which some residents made comments about the permit request.
"The bottom line is even if you have a strict ordinance like your neighbor to the north in Clarke County, where they have stringent setbacks, it really is not enforceable because it's legal to apply Class B biosolids," Keihn said.
Public concerns about biosolids focuses on whether sludge contains chemicals such as heavy metals, pathogens, personal care products, pharmaceuticals and antibiotics. Sludge is rendered pathogen-free after 30 days of application, Keihn told the board. Nutrients in biosolids release slower than in other fertilizers, thus providing a greater benefit to the crops, according to Keihn.
"There's still odor issues and that was on the DEQ slide of frequent biosolids concerns, and the odor is a nuisance and it is a reality and there are some new standards for that, that they have to have an odor management plan," Keihn said.
Supervisor Tony Carter attended the public meeting and asked Keihn to report to the board.
"Part of it is self serving, too, letting people know we can't do anything no matter if we wanted to or not," Carter said. "This is taken out of the locality's hands, like a lot of things are by the state, and the place to start the discussion would be like Jill said, the General Assembly and talk to our legislators."
Keihn explained that biosolids are seen as better for the environment than other fertilizers. Biosolids application remains regulated by the DEQ, which requires users of sludge develop and submit a nutrient management plan approved by the agency. Such a plan regulates the amount of nitrogen in the sludge and limits how thick the biosolids may be applied on the land, Keihn explained.
DEQ shall take the public comments and determine if the agency needs to hold a hearing on the request, Keihn explained. But the DEQ is not required to hold another hearing on the matter. DEQ was asked at the meeting to come back to Warren County and revisit the issue, but Keihn said agency officials expressed hesitation because such action could set a precedence. DEQ plans to meet with representatives of Recyc to discuss concerns raised at the public meeting, Showman said.
"If people have concerns they can go to the [general assembly]," Keihn noted.
Counties may adopt resolutions pertaining to biosolids spread, though Keihn reiterated any local regulations would be unenforceable.
Carter recalled recent efforts by Shenandoah and Clarke counties to regulate biosolids application on farmland which met with indifference at the DEQ.
Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, sponsored a bill in the 2012 session of the Virginia General Assembly which sought to give local elected bodies more power over whether property owners could apply biosolids on farmland. A subcommittee tabled Gilbert's bill.
Gilbert stated by email Wednesday he plans "to keep revisiting the issue until we have some good scientific data that these applications are safe for people and the environment."
"I have been convinced so far that they may not be so safe due to all the substances that find their way into municipal waste systems," Gilbert states. "Unfortunately, the members of the sub-committee through which these bills must go have shown a reluctance to act on this issue or move the bill forward for further consideration. I may instead be pushing state environmental and health officials to finally do a sound study to determine the potential public health implications of these applications."
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org