Sludge talks fall on ‘deaf ears’

There is a French phrase that describes the Department of Environmental Quality’s public meeting Wednesday regarding several applications to spread sludge on Northumberland County fields, “dialogues de sourds”, or dialogues of the deaf.

The meeting was attended by several county residents who have opposed the use of sludge, also known as biosolids or treated human waste, on the county’s fields. They, and representatives of the DEQ, made points at each other, but, as DEQ’s Anita Tuttle said, officials and objectors have been talking to each other for seven years with nothing changing.

The concerned Northumberlanders first wanted to know if the meeting was legal since local advertisements were different.

One spoke of a draft permit hearing and another spoke of a meeting about the applications. Tuttle said the notice had been corrected in the second and the meeting was legal.

Tuttle emphasized that the gathering was a meeting, not a public hearing, with the purpose to gather information about the lands that the applications cover.

If the applications misrepresent the nature of the fields, or leave out pertinent facts, the meeting was the place to point that out, she said.

Most of the meeting consisted of Tuttle using a slide show to describe the sludge permitting process and how sludge is created in the treatment process.

Several times members of the audience interjected disagreements with her statements.

When Tuttle noted that a technical advisory committee had studied the use of sludge and found it was not dangerous, Dr. Lynton Land interjected that three members of the committee had resigned.

Later he said the committee members had called it a fraud.

Land also disagreed with Tuttle’s assertion that sludge creates no more nitrogenous pollution than chemical fertilizers.

Land explained that if a crop uses 80 pounds of chemical fertilizer, 120 pounds is spread. With sludge, 400 pounds has to be spread to get the same effect, he noted. Thus, with the chemical fertilizer 40 pounds will become pollution and with sludge 320 pounds will become pollution. Tuttle said that the land uses the initial excess in years subsequent to the application.

Later, Land said that the ground would only use the remaining nitrogen if no additional fertilizer is applied.

Mike Harwood wanted to know why waterfront land, such as Northumberland’s, has the same discharge requirements as inland lands.

Tuttle said that the differing nature of the land is taken into consideration when best management plans are prepared for the properties.

Tuttle said that once a draft permit is written for the applications, a public hearing may be held if it is requested and meets certain requirements under DEQ’s regulations.

The farms subject to the meeting have been permitted to use sludge as fertilizer in the past.

After the meeting, Land noted that DEQ really hasn’t any authority in the matter of sludge except that given it by the general assembly.

Posted on Wednesday, December 26, 2012 at 9:28 am