"He died from poisons in the water he was drinking..."says Dr.Francis Graves, the veteranarian who treated the animal.
A couple weeks later, Mrs. Settle's stomach started feeling funny. ""It got excruciating one night, and my daughter took me to the hospital," she recalls. "The doctor said it was some kind of bacteria problem in the intestine." But she never suspected sludge might be the cause until she read a newspaper article about biosolids a month later. "Then the lightbulb went off," she says.
Settle noticed a rash developing.on her skin after she took baths. A test of their well water by Joiner Laboratories revealed it was contaminated with coliform bacteria. The Settles started drinking bottled water and taking hurried showers. They asked the Health Department to help them figure out what was contaminating their well.
"No one from the Health Department would return our call. They're more interested in covering things up," she says. She says sludge-bearing trucks rumble through her neighborhood at all hours of the night, and she's heard rumors that farmers get paid to stockpile sludge beyond county limits.
'They say we have to prove the stuff made us sick. How can we prove it? I've given up on them. Here lately I think the best thing to do is move. When it causes problems down the road, they'll just say 'Oops!l Just like DDT or Agent Orange."
Such stories were big news in Culpeper. But sludge supporters, like landowner Wayne Lenn, who found himself vilified in the reports, dismisses the furor as hype.
"We had a newspaper reporter riding up and down the road on a white horse, trying to save everybody," he says. "I can't help but think they were interested in a story that would sell newspapers, and in the process a lot of people got hysterical.'
Lenn says the whole mess could have been avoided if Bio Gro fixed Schrader's right away. Instead, he says, they played right into critics' hands by trying to cover up the mistake and deflect responsibility..."They say they can't make a mistake,' Lenn says.
He says most of the sludge critics are gentleman farmers,"
ex-urbanites who buy forty acres in Culpeper with idyllic visionsof peace, quiet, and fresh air.
"They're a pain in the ass,' Lenn says. "If they aren't willing to put up with a few days of odor, they should move back to the city.
Biosolids are the best thing to come along for farmers in a while, and the county should be taking care of farmers who make a living from the land." Pains or not, those gentleman farmers are a growing force in Culpeper, demanding to be heard. The person who hears most of their complaints is Desiree Lopasic, an Environmental Engineer in the Department of Health's Culpeper office.
She stands in a field with Steve Foushee, president of Recyc Systems. They watch a semi truck crawl down a rutted path into the flat field where corn and soybeans will eventually sprout. The trailer rears up off its frame, and a heap of black muck slides onto the dirt. The truck lumbers away from the steaming mound like a cow sheepishly abandoning a giant patty. Then a machine called a "spreader" flings the sludge in a neat layer across the field. The air is punctuated with a smell somewhere between dog poop on your shoe and a loaded baby's diaper.
Tiny pink flags-- the kind that mark underground television cables-- show how close the biosolids can get to a nearby stream. Lopasic's job is to make sure today's application agrees with all the state and federal regulations. She eyes the spreader, making sure chunks don't fly past the pink flags.
Foushee picks up a tar-black chunk of biosolids. "Most of this stuff is just nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash. Crops need it," he says.
"Putting this stuff back into the soil is just completing a natural cycle. If this stuff were dangerous, the people handling it every day would be the first to notice it. I've never heard of any workers getting sick."
Nothing is 100 percent risk-free, Lopasic says, but Virginia's "biosolid policy is based on years of EPA science. Any claims against sludge
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