Alabama neighbors meet Thursday to oppose spreading sewage sludge on farms and fields

MARSHALL COUNTY, Alabama (WIAT) – Landowners in central and northern Alabama plan to organize against the growing practice of applying treated waste to farms and fields across the state.

A group of concerned citizens have formed Alabama Sludge Awareness and are planning to hold a meeting Thursday night in Guntersville.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management began regulating the industry through a biosolids program that was passed in April 2020.

Most Alabamians became familiar with biosolids after a controversy in 2018 when it was discovered that railcars filled with treated sewage had been shipped to Alabama for application at a Jefferson County landfill.

Railcars full of supplies lay idle along the tracks in Jefferson and Walker counties. Neighbors complained about the smells and flies and dubbed the cars “crappy trains”.

Neighbors who live near application sites continue to complain about odors and impacts to surrounding land and properties.

“We’re not talking about animal manure or chicken litter from poultry farms, it’s industrial solid waste that they use as fertilizer in the fields,” said Julie Lay, who helped form Alabama Sludge Awareness .

Industries and businesses have approached landowners statewide with offers to apply the material as a fertilizer for free or at a reduced cost compared to traditional fertilizers.

While some farmers have said there is a cost saving benefit, landowners have concerns.

“There are potential fertilizing abilities to this, but there are also dangers to this that people need to be aware of,” Lay said.

Treated sludge or wastewater from sewage treatment plants is often spread over fields. Although the practice is regulated, many are concerned about the content of the material and the rigor with which the rules and regulations are applied by ADEM.

“The smell, the smell, and that’s what everyone says, but what really worries me is what’s going on in the ground?” What is happening in our water, and what do we breathe? Lay asked.

Lay has been against this practice for several years. She is particularly concerned about wildlife such as deer, which may come into contact with or consume the material.

Lay and other citizens traveled to Montgomery to speak out against land enforcement at an ADEM public hearing in 2020.

While ADEM said it developed policies based on feedback from neighbors and industry stakeholders, conservationists said the policies appeared to favor businesses over citizens.

“It’s happening in Blount County, Marshall County, Cullman County, Morgan County, Jefferson County, Walker County, Clay County. This is happening in several counties in Alabama and the problem is getting worse, ”Lay said.

It has been difficult to find spray promoters willing to publicly support the process, as it often irritates surrounding neighbors.

At the ADEM 2020 hearing, Joe Saxon, of Saxon Environmental Service Company in Gadsden, told CBS 42 that he believes it is possible to find common ground.

“Whatever regulatory base we need, whatever testing protocol, whatever to get it right, that’s what we need to do. Let’s do it right. Protect the environment, help industry, help Alabama’s economy, and make sure our kids are healthy at the end of the day, ”Saxon said in 2020.

CBS 42 contacted Saxon to obtain an updated statement for this report, but he could not be reached.

Lay also believes that there are tradeoffs for both parties. She understands that spreading biosolids can lower the cost of poultry products and help eliminate waste, but she would rather people support local farmers and producers than big business.

At Thursday’s meeting, Lay hopes to hear from a variety of affected neighbors.

“We need farmers, scientists, citizens. Even if you think your voice isn’t important, we need you to show up to this meeting to learn what you can do and how you can protect Alabama’s water, soil and air ” , Lay said.

According to ADEM, the agency is gathering comments to possibly revise the policies. The Chief of External Affairs, Mr. Lynn Battle made the following statement to CBS 42:

In 2019, ADEM developed rules for the beneficial use of by-products for spreading, which came into effect on April 13, 2020. Since that time, the Ministry has devoted considerable resources to the regulation of this application. industry and recognized the need to update these regulations based on the knowledge gained during their implementation. Over the past few months, ADEM has met with various stakeholders to discuss the necessary updates to the regulations. Currently, the Ministry is using the information obtained through this interaction to complete the development of proposed updates, which will be made available to the public for comment and subject to a public hearing to be announced in the coming weeks. . ADEM welcomes and encourages public participation in this revised regulation.

– Head of External Affairs of ADEM, Mr. Lynn Battle.

The Alabama Sludge Awareness Meeting will be held at the Guntersville Rec Center at 6 p.m. on Thursday, December 2 in the MP Room. Doors open at 5.30 p.m.

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