State likely to OK sludge for farms

Permits would allow use at 3 additional locations

neighbors concerned

July 17, 2005|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Department of the Environment probably will approve applications by Synagro Mid-Atlantic Inc. to apply treated sewage sludge on three farms near Taneytown, despite concerns from neighbors.

Nazeeh Freij, head of the department's sewage sludge section, conducted an informational meeting at the request of the Carroll County commissioners that drew about two dozen people Tuesday night to the Taneytown Elementary School library.

"We rarely deny an application" just because of complaints, Freij said. His office can increase requirements such as buffer zones, he said, but "it is the right of the industry, the right of the farmer."

The state has approved the use of sludge as fertilizer on 1,921 acres in Carroll under 17 agricultural land permits, Freij said. The three farms on the new sludge-utilization applications by Synagro are at 1880 Myerly Lane and 2115 Burrier Lane in Keymar, by the Frederick County border, and at 2716 Bear Run Road, southeast of Taneytown.

After a slide show by Freij outlining the wastewater treatment process "to turn raw sewage into a clean usable sludge," several residents raised concerns about odor, truck traffic, water protection and health hazards.

Albert L. Liebno Sr., who lives adjacent to one of the farms, wanted to know why he wasn't notified directly. Liebno, a resident of the 2300 block of Bear Run Road for more than 50 years, recalled having "been through this before, 19 or 20 years ago," when there was a disputed and eventually abandoned attempt to build a pit to hold tons of sludge in the area.

"You can smell it" without being notified, quipped Wayne Broadhurst of the 1700 block of Myerly Lane, who shares a driveway with one of the proposed sites.

Floodplain concern

"The first I know trucks are rolling in our common driveway," said Andy Hood of the 1700 block of Burrier Lane. He also wondered about the Monocacy River and why the state would allow sewage in a floodplain. Freij said no adverse effects have been reported.

"What happened to Save the Bay?" asked Broadhurst, who said there is a drain pipe leading into a creek at one site.

Charline Fowler of the 2600 block of Bear Run Road said her health problems could be aggravated by sludge that "is in a pile."

"We don't allow stockpiling," said Freij, an environmental engineer who has been in his position for eight years. The mudlike sludge must be spread on the fields the evening it is delivered, he said, promising that the state or county would respond to any complaint.

Maryland has more stringent sludge regulations than the federal Environmental Protection Agency, he said, requiring plans, reports and periodic inspections by the section's six inspectors. They set slopes and buffer zones, and monitor runoff and metal concentrations.

"No farm in Maryland has ever come close to these limits," Friej said of the metals. The buffer zones - 100 feet or more from surface water, property lines, roads and wells, and 2 feet above groundwater or bedrock - exist because nitrates and pathogens are water-soluble.

"There have been no cases of disease transmission or contamination of water supplies as a result of treated sludge on land," he said. "It has been used at hundreds of farms and land-reclamation sites in Maryland."

Safeguards

Additional safeguards include limiting public access to a site for one year, keeping grazing animals off for 30 days and prohibiting for three years crops such as vegetables that people eat raw, he said.

Farmers receive the fertilizer free from companies such as Synagro, which bid for contracts and are paid by individual waste-treatment plants, including Baltimore's, to dispose of sewage. Some sludge comes from local municipalities.

"Today, we are recycling about 88 percent back to the land," Friej said.

Municipalities otherwise would have to pay to send the waste to landfills, which are expensive and often don't have room. Maryland has regulated sludge since 1974, when at least half went to landfills, Freij said.

Charles L. Zeleski, Carroll's acting director of the environmental health bureau, said his office handles complaints but has received none this year. Five complaints were received last year, none of which involved sludge.

Carroll has at least 17 sites with permits for sludge, Zeleski said, "but they don't dump sludge every day."

Recycling treated sludge for farms became increasingly popular as landfills filled up and costs increased, Zeleski and Freij said, both also noting that it is not spread every year during the five-year permit period.

Benefits for soil

Sludge provides nitrogen and phosphorus, and conditions soil, making it moister and easier to till, Freij said.

He said the MDE gets calls from Carroll and Frederick about odor, usually involving waste from slaughterhouses or food-processing plants. Manure and other fertilizers also "can be a stinker," he said.

"It's an excellent way of recycling a byproduct which is produced every day and has to go somewhere," Freij said. "You contribute, whether you work in the city or if you have a septic system that has to be cleaned out."

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