State says mound on Berlin farm is treated sewage sludge

Groups had said manure was polluting waterway

December 23, 2009|By Timothy B. Wheeler

A state inspection has determined that the mound on a Berlin chicken farm that environmental groups said was polluting a nearby waterway is treated sewage sludge rather than poultry manure.

Maryland Department of the Environment spokesman Jay Apperson e-mailed Tuesday that an inspector found the pile on the Hudson farm was "Class A biosolid," a form of sewage sludge that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria and is only lightly regulated by the state.

Jim Parsons, deputy chief of public utilities for Ocean City, said Tuesday that his agency had delivered a load of "biosolids" from Ocean City's wastewater treatment plant to Alan Hudson's farm in August. The sludge was "heat pasteurized" to kill disease-causing bacteria and stabilized with lime to neutralize acidity, he said.

The Assateague Coastkeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance last week formally notified Hudson and Perdue Farms, for whom Hudson raises chickens, that they face a lawsuit for allowing runoff from Hudson's farm to pollute a nearby waterway. The environmental groups released an aerial photograph purporting to be of Hudson's farm, with a large pile of material by a drainage ditch that ultimately feeds into the Pocomoke River. The groups said the pile was poultry litter, a mixture of manure and wood shavings.

Perdue promptly denied that the mound could be poultry litter, saying Hudson hadn't cleaned out his chicken houses in 20 weeks. The Salisbury-based company later asserted that the mound was sewage sludge and demanded an apology from the environmental groups. Calls to the Hudsons have not been answered or returned.

Kathy Phillips, the Assateague Coastkeeper, refused to apologize, saying that water samples taken by the groups downstream from the farm showed high levels of bacteria and other pollutants. "It's not about the pile," she said. "It's about what's coming off the farm. It's about what's polluting the water."

MDE's Apperson wrote that biosolids are "considered fertilizer and you can buy it at Home Depot, etc." However, even treated sludge is not supposed to get into the water, he said, adding that the state continues to investigate conditions at the farm.

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