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Clearfield County residents' stand against biosolids pays off

By Chris Togneri

Published: Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, 10:55 p.m.

Clearfield County residents got their wish, at least for now, when state officials agreed on Friday to stop spreading biosolids, or treated sewage sludge, on game lands near their homes.

“We feel really good,” said Allison Gould, who was among Bell Township residents who met with a state Game Commission official at her home. “They're going to stop; they're not going to spread here anymore.

“But this is not over,” she said. “This is a national problem, (and) I will always let people know how I feel about biosolids.”

The meeting happened six days after about 100 angry residents confronted state officials at a town meeting in Mahaffey. They were angry with the Game Commission's decision to spread biosolids at two sites on State Game Lands No. 87 — among hundreds of sites statewide approved for such spreading.

Residents complained that the sludge stinks and makes them ill.

Spreading began in the fall and was set to resume in the spring. But Colleen Shannon, the commission's North-Central Region land management officer, told residents that the project will not continue.

“There were no hard promises made ... but at this point in time, I can't see any reason to go in and do any more spreading,” said Cliff Guindon, North-Central Region land management supervisor.

Guindon did not rule out future spreading projects on State Game Lands No. 87.

Statewide, biosolids are commonly spread on agricultural and game lands, officials said.

There are 700 sites statewide approved for biosolids spreading, said Daniel Spadoni, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection. Over the past 20 years, more than 1,500 such sites have been approved, officials said.

Not all sites are active, but DEP officials said they do not track where and when biosolids are spread.

“The only way, currently, to get an accurate idea of the sites in Pennsylvania that were used during a particular period of time is to go to each regional office and compile annual report data by scheduling a file review with the regional office,” DEP spokeswoman Lisa Kasianowitz wrote in an email.

For the Clearfield County project, the Game Commission issued special use permits to WeCare Organics, a waste management company based in Jordan, N.Y., to spread sludge on about 50 acres, records show. WeCare planned to finish about 8.5 acres of spreading in spring.

WeCare President Jeffrey LeBlanc did not respond to emails or phone calls seeking comment.

Michael Nicholson, WeCare's senior vice president, wrote in an email on Tuesday that a company official would respond to emailed questions from the Tribune-Review. On Friday, he said the answers were not ready.

“I assure you, we are taking (this) very seriously and want to provide a detailed response,” he wrote.

Gould, who said she was hospitalized with bronchial spasms on the day spreading began near her home, said she and others are working with anti-sludge advocates nationwide.

“No matter what the DEP, the EPA or WeCare says to us, we will never, ever feel biosolids are safe,” she said.

Supporters say the sludge contains organic materials that promote vegetation growth in otherwise barren areas. Critics worry about long-term health issues because biosolids can contain heavy metals and pathogens.

“We don't think they should be spreading this stuff anywhere,” said Dawn Smith, who attended the meetings. “This stuff is not healthy.”

WeCare does not pay the state to spread sludge, officials said. Instead, when spreading on game lands, officials ask the waste management company to agree to conditions aimed at improving the site.

Under WeCare's permit, the company was contractually required to follow 21 conditions. Among them, WeCare must spread a seed mixture, remove rocks and debris from seeded areas and help remove invasive species.

WeCare agreed to the conditions “in lieu of an annual rental fee and a per ton tipping fee,” the permits read.

Chris Togneri is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5632 or ctogneri@tribweb.com.

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