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SLUDGE VICTIMS

May 2001 update - compiled by Helane Shields - prepared for WWW by ESRA

CULPEPER (VIRGINIA) NEWS - AUGUST 2000

Subject: sludge story
Date: Wed, 2 Aug 2000 ; John Borgmeyer
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closely with members of Congress.

"We just want to see good science," Blatt insists. 'The science behind the 503 regulations is sound, and if you follow it, you're okay."

Bonnie Smith and Nancy Blatt have tough jobs, trying to convince people that, hey, flinging sewage sludge all over your yard is a great idea. But to critics they end up sounding like Shakespeare's lady who doth protest too much.

So, who to believe? Even the EPA admits people should be wary when the goverment comes into town, smiling like a car salesman, saying Trust us. You have nothing to worry about .... But in Culpeper, people are hearing what they want to hear.

Some sludge critics sacrifice their own credibility by spreading rumors of conspiracy. And while some sludge proponents criticize people for blind faith in crusading journalists, they faithfully defend biosolids with one-sided arguments supplied by EPA press releases and Bio Gro public relations.

As long as farmers like Lenn and Bowen, who survey their vast estates from impressive hilltop homes, have faith in biosolids, Doyne Schrader and Sherri Settle, who live downhill from Lenn and Bowen's sludged fields, possess neither the money nor the politica1 clout to affect Culpeper's policy.

In Gouchland and Amelia Counties, vocal opposition led to bans on land application. But in Fauquier County, Supervisor Atherton says sludge protest tapered off long ago. At first, gloom-and-doomers shook their fists and wailed at public hearings. But the County kept applying biosolids. There were no mass poisonings. No high-profile stories of children with cancer. Then, like millenialists who shrugged and left their bunkers on January 1, 2000, many of the opposition just forgot about sludge.

'In Culpeper, sludge opponents who can afford to move are gone. The Harlows moved to another neighborhood, the Handshys to another county where biosolids are still banned. Schrader hasn't spoken to any of them in a while.

"I'd move too, but I don't have the money," he says. "I've about given up." He says he's keeping his eyes peeled for an affordable place to live.

But as long as company trucks rumble into town brimming with God-knows-what from the sewers of Washington D.C., some people will stay suspicious-- and publicly vigilant.

"Except for a few people complaining about the smell, we've had zero problems as far as I know," Atherton says. "But there's always the underlying concern of long-term, unknown damage from chemicals we may not even know are toxic."

If the Center for Disease Control and other credible scientists continue to warn about pathogens and metals in sludge, Doyne Schrader says he has a right to something more substantial than vague assurances or perky cheerleading before Bio Gro dumps another load of biosolids in his neighborhood.


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