The Smell of Excess? HOWARD COUNTY

July 12, 1993

When the wind blows, the nose knows. Just ask Gil Wildes, whose Mount Airy property abuts land being used for a test site in waste disposal. Mr. Wildes claims the stench from the compost has been so bad it's like sticking one's head in a dirty garbage can on a humid Maryland afternoon.

Turning trash into compost is a good approach to lessen society's reliance on dangerous landfilling and incineration. But it's unclear at this stage whether composting must be done at the expense of one person's comfort while serving the greater good of the majority. That's because the process of large-scale composting remains essentially unregulated in the state. The Maryland Department of Agriculture is just now working on regulations to address the issue of odor.

In the meantime, it is incumbent upon F&E Resource Systems and Technology Inc., which provides compost for the test site and about 50 others around the Baltimore region, to be a good neighbor. The company appears to show a willingness to move in that direction. It has stopped stockpiling compost on the property and has started tilling the material immediately into the soil. It should also investigate the possibility of using lime to further mask any odor problems.

What the situation does not need are comments such as those of Donald Stirn, who owns the farm being used as a test site: "These people are going to bellyache no matter what new thing comes around," he said.

Composting trash may yet prove itself as a back-to-the-future response to waste disposal. It will be a few more years before farmers determine the efficacy of trash-derived compost. For those who are banking on this process to succeed, a great deal is at stake. All of us should share in the hope that this type of recycling works.

There are real concerns in the county -- and elsewhere -- that existing landfills will pollute the ground water with toxins; the county recently decided to bring public water to households whose wells are threatened by the leaking Alpha Ridge Landfill. A regional incinerator is years in the offing, if it's ever deemed politically feasible. Composting and recycling represent hopeful remedies to the waste disposal dilemma. But one environmental problem shouldn't be created in at attempt to solve another.

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