By Aaron Lake Smith | Al Jazeera America
October 23, 2013
ORANGE COUNTY, NC —
Berry-Jo Farms, a hay and beef-cattle operation, is run by Berry Andrews, a genial 74-year-old farmer. In the late 1980s, he was struggling to make ends meet when the Orange County Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA) came around and bought up much of his property. OWASA offered to lease Andrews his land back for $1 an acre if he agreed to use municipal waste as fertilizer. After making his deal with OWASA, he sold his dairy operation and bought beef cattle. "I wouldn't be in business today if it wasn't for sludge," he said. "I may be a dumb farmer, but that sludge works better than regular fertilizer and is free."
Each year, the US produces eight million tons of dry sewage, referred to as biosolids, roughly half of which is processed and applied as a free fertilizer. Every year, Orange County, NC, alone produces and spreads about 18 million gallons of it. This mucky civilization by-product contains human excrement and has been found to include industrial runoff, oil, household chemicals, funeral-home waste and drugs. A recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) survey found heavy metals, PCBs, flame retardants, cocaine, antidepressants, birth-control medications and silver in treated sludge. EPA regulations for the land application of biosolids are some of the most lenient in the world, requiring wastewater-treatment plants to check for just nine of some 80,000 pollutants that can make it through processing and into sewage sludge.