Sludge On Farm Causing "Stink" With County Officials

John Pless
2009-07-21 17:49:58

A Meigs County farmer is facing a very expensive proposition -- plowing up his cornfields and removing the soil.

It's all because of the fertilizer he used earlier this year.

"A citizen's complaint came into my office," Meigs County Mayor Ken Jones said.

The complaint came to Jones back in the winter and centers around tons of sludge from Knoxville's sewage treatment plant being dumped on David Stewart's farm north of Decatur. It was tilled in the soil months before the current corn crop was planted.

A company called Synagro contracts with Knoxville's Utilities Board to remove what's left over in the sewage treatment process, called biosolids, and then dumps the treated material somewhere else. Often times it's dumped on farms and forests.

The problem is biosolids aren't allowed in Meigs County.

"Meigs County has a zoning regulation that prohibits any land in Meigs County from being used for the disposal of commercial waste," Jones explained.

Biosolids are made of human waste mixed with commercial and industrial waste. The EPA and other agencies say biosolids can pose a small risk of exposure to disease-causing pathogens. A January 2009 EPA study shows biosolids also contain up to 27 metals like lead, pharmaceuticals, steroids and hormones.

Of course we wanted to get the other side of the story by talking with the farmer, Mr. Stewart. We're told he's out of town Tuesday. We called his cellphone and he said he has no comment.

But Mayor Jones said he and the County Commission want the biosolids and contaminated soil removed from Stewart's property.

"Meigs County's position is that were are going to enforce our zoning regulations by whatever legal means we can go by," Jones added.

The Meig's County attorney is researching the issue and will advise the County Commission what it can and can't do.

We did call Synagro to find out why they dumped the biosolids in a county that doesn't allow commercial waste. We were told a member of their legal department will call back.