"Something stinks south of Mebane"
Late last month, community members, a few farmers and Orange County health officials met to air out concerns that the byproduct of municipal wastewater treatment - sewer sludge - being applied to farmland is contaminating water wells and causing sickness in the community. Though there is no evidence yet that the fertilizer is a health risk, one Oak Grove resident believes there is reason for fear.
-The News of Orange County, 2/4/04

It was my understanding that OWASA does something similar with recycling their waste as fertilizer at local farms. It sounds like these farmers are patronizing Synagrow Industries of Texas and Burlington's treated wastewwater instead of OWASA's crap. Does our shit stink?



Thanks Mark. I figured you'd have an informative answer!

Yes, your sheet stinks!

The short answer is "yes, but..."

Burlington generates Class B biosolids, OWASA's is Class A, a better grade. OWASA's system bebefits from the lack of heavy industry which can potemtially add heavy metals to the wastewater stream. (An aside: Many decry what they call the "anti-business' climate of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Orange County, but often overlook some of the avoided costs and damage of such activity.)

There is currently no policy prohibiting applying biosolids outside a utility's jurisdiction or in another county. In fact, OWASA contracts with a few farmers in Chatham County to apply biosolids.

This issue is in the early stages of consideration by the OWASA staff and board. It was only in the last 6 months or so that it came to our attention that Burlington was applying biosolids in our watershed, so we are gathering information and preparing to address this. What we are hearing now is that all regs are being met & there is no health risk. I look forward to learning more.

A common sense suggestion that mirrors the initial reaction of some OWASA Board members was made by County Commission Chair Barry Jacobs at the meeting ealier this week when OWASA provided some info on this issue. He commented that, since our local biosolids are better quality and since it certainly wouldn't affect the farmers negatively to use it, we should be applyng our own better stuff in the watershed. Along with that approach, we would have better oversight and also develop communications with farmers in the watershed, which can help on a lot of levels.

One question is: Can we bar out-of-county biosolids? My first thought is that surely we can; it's no different than banning out-of-county waste at the landfill. But then, OWASA wouldn't be able to ship biosolids to Chatham. Well, that stuff could go to the farms currently accepting Burlington biosolids.

Another important aspect of this is that land application of biosolids keeps the cost of wastewater treatment down for ratepayers. Alternative disposal is more expensive.

Personally, I'm committed to figuring out if there are any problems with this and making sure we are doing the right thing.

Mark Marcoplos

OWASA Board Chair


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