Kudos to the New Kent County Board of Supervisors for voting Monday night to urge the State Water Control Board (SWCB) to deny a Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) sludge permit that would allow Synagro, LLC to apply industrial residuals to 16,173 acres of forestland and farmland in King and Queen, King William, New Kent, Goochland, Hanover, Prince George and Surry counties. The sludge would come from Smithfield Packing, Tyson Foods in Glen Allen, and the RockTenn paper mill in West Point.
If the permit were approved, Synagro would spread sludge on a 1,200-acre Lanexa farm that sits on the Pamunkey River, a main waterway in the tidewater area that feeds into the Chesapeake Bay.
This is concerning.
Like New Kent District 5 Supervisor W.R. “Ray” Davis Jr. said, no one really knows for sure what effects industrial sludge will have on land, and more importantly, in the local waters. We haven't seen any recent studies showing the long-term impact.
You don't have to look far into country's environmental history to find examples of products that were used before anyone knew the toxic effects. Remember DDT? The once-popular insecticide was used for generations until a biologist found a link between it and cancer. Even today, scientists attribute its ban to the resurgence of the bald eagle population.
Both biosolids and industrial residuals are produced by the treatment of wastewater; they're both sludge. The critical difference is that biosolids comes from human waste (sewage) and industrial residuals are the result of a specific industrial process. In this proposed case, it's the byproduct of chicken or hog slaughter and packaging or paper manufacturing.
DEQ currently does not have any industrial application regulations and is planning to use the biosolids regulations instead.
The problem is, they're not the same.
Industrial sludge contains blood, feathers, skin, fat, tissue, chemicals and heavy metals, and receive little treatment. Biosolids come from human waste and are heavily treated. Not that it's a whole lot better.
We agree with the King and Queen County Board of Supervisors that “the commonwealth has never created the necessary regulatory and monitoring framework to support land application of industrial sludge,” and we think they need to take more time reviewing the harmful effects and developing regulations specific to industrial sludge before recommending it.
DEQ should withdraw the application and its approval, and spend the next few years getting a handle on industrial sludge.
Last year when biosolids were used in King William, several residents voiced concerns about the smell, which they said often made them ill, and spillage on the roadway that was being scraped into the ditches. They said they felt that their complaints fell on deaf ears.
Is this going to happen again?
Although biosolids and industrial sludge are not the same, it could be an indication of what residents throughout Virginia can expect to experience if industrial sludge comes to town.
Synagro's checkered past is reason enough to pause and take notice. Coupled with the potential hazardous metals that could go into the groundwater and soil, there's even more reason for concern.
The next SWCB will be on Sept. 29, but the agenda has not been set. The SWCB is not bound to follow the DEQ staff recommendations.