MOUNT AIRY — Maybe it was the bitter cold weather, or maybe it was that people around here know all they care to know about sewage sludge.
Whateverthe reason, no one showed up Thursday at a meeting where state administrators were set to explain how sludge is used as a fertilizer on farmland.
The meeting was arranged by the state because a Mount Airy landowner applied to the Maryland Department of the Environment for an expansion of his permit to apply sludge to his property.
Sludge is thebyproduct of processing sewage at treatment plants. Because the material is rich in nutrients, it makes a good fertilizer.
When a sludge application is filed, the state will, upon request, conduct a public information meeting so people who live near the site can learn about the process and the application.
The meetings often are well attended, said Martha Hynson, section head of MDE's sewage sludge division, who was to conduct Thursday's session.
But aside from two county officials, a Mount Airy official and Commissioner President Donald I. Dell, no one turned out at Mount Airy Elementary School.
"This is the shortest meeting I've been to in some time," Dell quipped.
The topic of the meeting was to be a request by Mount Airy residentEmmett Full to expand a sludge application permit he already holds for his 115-acre property off Twin Arch Road.
Full's current permit, which the state granted in 1987, allows him to spread sludge on about 41 acres. The application seeks to increase that by about 14 acres.
Using sludge as fertilizer is the least expensive and most desirable way to dispose of sludge, Hynson said. Alternatives include putting it in landfills, burning it in incinerators or dumping it in the ocean.
But with landfill space in short supply and environmental concern on the rise, local governments increasingly are turning to land application as a means of sludge disposal.
Mount Airy is a case in point. All of the sludge generated by the town's plant is disposedof through land application, said Tom Robeson, plant supervisor. Theplant produces about 55 dry tons of the material each year. The amount of permitted land in town could handle about 620 dry tons a year.
For Mount Airy, land application is about the only viable method. Sludge must be dried before it can be placed in a landfill. The necessary "de-watering" equipment for that process would cost the town about $100,000, Robeson said.
Sludge can be applied only to land usedto grow feed crops for animals. Putting sludge on land used to grow crops for human consumption is prohibited.
Hynson said Full's application appeared to be in order and that the modification likely would be approved within several days.