Subject: sludge story
Date: Wed, 2 Aug 2000 16:20:30 -0700
From: John Borgmeyer
Sludge hits the fan in Culpeper
by John Borgmeyer
On a steamy June afternoon, Doyne Schrader lugs ragged armchairs, exercise ecquipment, and a baby stroller into his gravel driveway, arranging them in a yard sale display. He's cleaning out his house, one of four modest dwellings surrounded by cornfields on Highway 663 in Culpeper County. Schrader says his life has turned inside out in the past six months; his health has declined, his girlfriend left him, and he no longer feels comfortable in the house he's inhabited for the past five years.
The downward spiral started last December. Schrader was making a pot of coffee in his kitchen, when he got a phone call from his neighbor,Mable Harlow. "Does your water smell funny?" she asked. Schrader sniffed his faucet. "It smelled like dead crabs," he says. "It smelled, just like that shit they put on the fields-a couple weeks before."
Schrader meant that expletive quite literally. In November, a company called Bio Gro had spread truckloads of sewage sludge on the cornfields just uphill from the four houses. Sewage sludge is composed mostly of human waste, but it also contains storm water and contaminants from homes, businesses, industries-- anything that makes the clockwise swirl down America's drains and passes through wastewater treatment plants. Comsequently, sludge also contains disease-causing bacteria and viruses, pathogens and heavy metals like lead and arsenic.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates sludge. One oftne cheapest methods to dispose of the stuff is to treat it, rename it "Biosolids," and give it to farmers as free fertilizer. Hundreds of rural councies in America embrace urban sludge as a way to help farmers'survive a slouchinq agricultural economy. In Virginia, Fauquier County has done it _for 17 years. Orange, Louden, Prince William, and Louisa counties also Last year, Culpeper County decided to lift its ban and jump aboard the biosolids gravy train.
While farmers welcome 18-wheelers full of free biosolids, others in Culpeper eye the trucks suspiciously. What's in that stuff? they wonder. The only thing they know for sure is that it smells terrible. Health-officials say people have nothing to worry about; their vague but supremely confident tone has lead some to speculate a coverup is afoot.
- "People make all kinds statements, but they can't back things up with facts, says Culpeper resident Bill Chase. "It's hard to get the facts."
Chase has been doing his research. As Supervisor for Culpeper's Stevensburg District, where Schrader and Harlow live, Chase helped make the -decision that allows truckloads of sludge to be dumped all over his district, where agriculture dominates. Culpeper considered lifting its sludge ban several times over the years. As farmers heard stories of lush crops swaying in sludged Fauquier farmland, they asked the Board of Supervisors to revisit the issue.
"We started looking at biosolids mainly because of a sour agricultural economy," says James Bowen, a farmer who sits on Culpeper's Agriculture and Forest Advisory Committee. He says fertilizer costs between $ 80 and $100 per acre, and fields typically cover hundreds of acres.
'People were telling me they 'couldn't stay in business without it," Bowen says. "If a farmer can.get free biosolids, it's a real savings."
The County invited speakers from two sludge application companies: Recyc systems, based in Remington, Virginia, and Bio Gro, a national corporation from Millersville, Maryland. They also heard praise and reassurance about biosolids from Virginia Tech faculty, the EPA and the
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