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Concerns raised about sludge spreading

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A group of Spotsylvania residents made it clear this week that they want to know more about a company’s plans to spread treated sewage sludge—also known as biosolids—on more than 6,200 acres on 146 parcels across the county.

About 100 residents turned out for a Virginia Department of Environmental Quality information session Wednesday night to discuss the sludge application by Synagro Central LLC.

Seth Loveless, who lives along Partlow Road in eastern Spotsylvania, was among those who received a letter of notice of Synagro’s plans as an adjoining property owner. He said he was concerned after doing some research about biosolids online.

“It looks to me like there’s not a lot of regulation. It sounds like something to me that should be banned outright.”

Glenn Hyatt, who lives in Stafford County, and his brother Dan, own property along Courthouse Road in Spotsylvania next to a tract where Synagro wants to apply biosolids.

“This is going to impact us, the property value,” Dan Hyatt, a biochemist, said as the pair waited to check DEQ maps showing exactly where the sludge would be placed. “But look at how all this flows into the Po River Plain. … This stuff is full of heavy metals.”

He went on, “We had a neighbor who used biosolids on his lawn. And every day, for two years, when you had a humid day, you could smell it. It just makes Spotsylvania like New Jersey.”

As they were talking, Robin McLeod, who lives along Brock Road near Todds Tavern, chimed in, “I know all about it. We went through this five years ago.

“Honestly, I didn’t know what they had done, and it smelled so bad. I said, ‘My God, this smells like a dead body.’ All summer long, you couldn’t sit outside or by the pool.”

She got a letter too and wanted to know if Synagro wanted to spread it on the same tract of land.

“I’d like to find out what the procedure is. I mean, is this already a done deal?”

Linda Alsop, who lives on Alsop Town Road and works at The Free Lance–Star, said the format of the meeting didn’t allow the group to ask questions collectively to save time.

She also has concerns. “How’s it going to affect our land? We’re on well water, is it going to seep down [into the well]?”


Representatives of DEQ, the Health Department and Synagro were on hand to answer questions from the crowd.

Beth Biller, a biosolids permit writer with DEQ ,was busy explaining to those queued up around maps and permit documents that the meeting was for information only as part of the agency’s draft permit process.

“They’ve been asking about anything and everything,” Biller said. “They can look to see where the tracts are and review the [permit] materials one-on-one with staff, and request more information if they prefer to have it electronically.”

Once a draft permit is prepared, she said, it will go to public notice for 30 days. Residents’ comments will be gathered, along with requests for a public hearing. Twenty-five written requests are needed to trigger a hearing.

“I didn’t expect this many people, but I’m glad they came out to learn about the program,” she said.

At another table, Dr. Brooke Rossheim, health director with the Rappahannock Area Health District in Fredericksburg, fielded questions as well.

“People are concerned about whether biosolids are going to affect their health,” he said. “We’re getting questions regarding the permitting of biosolids. Those are probably the two biggest issues.”

For years, the health department has a process in place to address biosolids health concerns.

“We try to answer those questions as best we can with the science we have.”

Mike Parrish lives off Guinea Station Road near one of the parcels to be fertilized by Synagro. He also told several neighbors about the plan and they came with him to the meeting.

“I’ve done a lot of research, so I know about biosolids. What I want to know is, how can I stop dumping from happening within 100 feet of my house?” he said.

Synagro representative Steve McMahon said he wasn’t getting many questions from the crowd, which was clustered around the DEQ table.

“I think most folks are wondering where the potential sites are in relation to their property.”


McMahon said the company has been land-applying in the area since the early 1980s. He said odor is a common complaint.

“It’s an organic material, much like most manures. Even though it’s stabilized and treated, it does have some odor associated with it.”

Land can be treated once every three years; how much depends on the nutrient needs of the crop.

“It’s good for the municipalities and the taxpayers because there are only so many options for this material,” McMahon said. “You can landfill it, incinerate it or land-apply it.”

Biosolids are what’s left after the treatment of human wastes. Companies such as Synagro are paid by municipalities to dispose of the material, which is given free to farmers as fertilizer, though some is sold where there is high demand, such as in Arizona.

It has been used on tens of thousands of acres of farmland in the Fredericksburg area, and has been controversial in some areas, especially when there have been problems with odor and runoff.

Opponents say the material is harmful to the environment and human health. Supporters and the industry contend it is a safe method of disposal that is cheap and provides farmers with fertilizer. Synagro was fined in February 2012 by DEQ for improper storage and handling of treated sewage sludge on farms in Fauquier, Essex and Goochland counties.

There was a similar information meeting last month, Synagro Central LLC’s application for a modified permit to add 3,831 acres in Carolina County where its current permit allows it to apply biosolids on 5,617 acres.

Rusty Dennen: 540/374-5431


Biosolids are solid, semisolid or liquid materials removed from municipal sewage and treated to be used as fertilizer.

This sludge is divided into two categories: Class A, in which nearly all disease-causing organisms are eliminated, and Class B, which has less restrictive standards and more stringent permit limitations.

In 2006, the latest figure available, about 263,000 dry tons of biosolids were applied to nearly 56,000 acres in Virginia.

More at: qa.cfm

—Virginia Department of Environmental Quality