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Company ordered to clean up its waste
Ag commissioner clamps down
on use of human fecal matter

By Seth Burkett 340-2355

What's good for plants may not be good for people.

That's the gist of a statement released Friday by state Agriculture and Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks regarding shipping, storage and distribution onto North Alabama farmland of fertilizer composed of treated human fecal matter.

Sparks acknowledged concessions agreed to by Houston-based Synagro Technologies Inc., but he also said Environmental Protection Agency approval and monitoring of the process Synagro uses doesn't make it OK.

"Although this project was approved by the EPA, obviously some mistakes have been made. I feel that we have to either clean up the process or stop the process altogether," Sparks said.

Synagro agreed to make concessions when Sparks contacted them and stressed public concerns based on a number of complaints his department received about their product.

Synagro has been supplying area farmers with biosolids — commonly called "sewage sludge" — treated at its Leighton plant. The biosolids produced by municipal wastewater plants also include sludge shipped from New York to Alabama by rail car.

"After we looked into what is taking place, we have growing concerns regarding the process for bringing these materials into Alabama and the distribution of the material by the Synagro company," Sparks said.

"In our communications, they assured me that they will no longer distribute the fertilizer on pasture land, will use the product in remote locations, and are making efforts to change their operating practices," Sparks said.

"In addition, any material waiting to be spread on land will be incorporated into the dirt instead of being placed on top of the soil. They have also reassured me that they are going to incorporate a higher standard of processing using more lime to neutralize the odor. They are arranging for better storage and redirecting their routes so they won't be in congested areas or near schools," he said.

The Limestone County Commission voted Thursday to seek an injunction to stop the use of biosolids on county farms until the health risks can be determined.

Common concerns with using human fecal waste as fertilizer include the possible presence of prescription drug residue and more than 60,000 toxic substances.

Limestone residents also complained about the smell and the unwholesome thought of New York poop being spread on Alabama crops.

But some farmers swear by biosolids for crop growing.

Synagro distributed it free of charge to Limestone County farmers who signed up for it. A Synagro spokeswoman said last week that as many as 40 farmers had signed up for the program and the company even formed a waiting list.

Sparks said he hopes to find a middle ground that will be good for the farmers and not a nuisance for the public.

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