Farm Bureau rejects protest over pollution Convention refuses to back boycott against waste used as fertilizer

December 10, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

HAGERSTOWN -- Delegates to the Maryland Farm Bureau convention rejected a controversial proposal yesterday to boycott the use of sewage sludge from municipal waste treatment plants on their fields.

A boycott would have forced waste treatment plants across the state to find other ways to get rid of the sludge. That likely would be more expensive and result in higher water and sewage bills.

Also affected would be the cost of pumping out home septic systems since those wastes are sent to the treatment plants.

The proposed boycott stimulated the most heated discussion during the three-day convention of the bureau, the state's largest farm organization representing 14,100 farm families.

Bob Jones, a retired University of Maryland Cooperative Extension agent for Carroll County, sought to change the bureau's written policy to allow the sludge boycott as a way of showing that agriculture was not the only source of nutrients blamed for polluting the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. He said that every time a toilet is flushed it adds to the problem.

Jones admitted that communities would have difficulty getting rid of sludge if farmers refused to take it, but he said he wanted others "to share the pain" with farmers. "If we share the pain, perhaps the state would have more reasonable [environmental] regulations" concerning nutrient management, he said.

Quentin Banks, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said that waste treatment plants produce more than 600,000 tons of sludge a year. He said 82 percent of the sludge is recycled, most of it spread on farm land as fertilizer.

Pamela F. Gratton, director of technical services for the Bio Gro division of Wheelabrator Water Technologies Inc., in Millersville, told the convention that about 70 percent of what the company calls "bio solids" are spread over farmland.

The company contracts with waste treatment plants to dispose of about half the sewage sludge created in the state.

Gratton said the company transports and spreads the sludge on farmland at no cost to the farmers. "It would be difficult for us to find other ways to recycle it and this would probably increase everybody's water bill," she said.

Jerry Ditto, a Washington County farmer who supported Jones' boycott proposal, said: "It's time that city folks realize they have a nutrient management problem, too."

Earl "Buddy" Hance, a Calvert County tobacco grower, opposed the boycott, saying farmers needed the sludge to grow crops. Without it, he said, they would have to buy more chemical fertilizer.

Raymond Harris, a Talbot County farmer, said that while he does not use sludge on his fields, he didn't want his right to use it taken away.

Pub Date: 12/10/98

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