The Echo reported a new web site promoting the land application of sewage sludge, www.virginiabiosolids.com. This is yet another attempt by the disposal industry and agricultural lobby to misinform the public to keep the profits flowing (see www.sludgefacts.org). Among other things, they claim that sewage sludge is good for the Bay. You be the judge. Setting aside the effects of the disposal of municipal sewage sludge on citizens’ health, and the fate of the toxic substances and pharmaceuticals applied along with the organic material, the land application of sewage sludge and all other forms of animal waste (manure, poultry litter) cause similar, massive nutrient pollution, compared to conventional fertilizers. As a specific example, I observed the most recent land application of sewage sludge in Northumberland County. I believe that the property owner and spreader adhered strictly to current policies of the Virginia Department of Health, albeit in violation of Virginia Statute.
Based on the submitted Nutrient Management Plan, 24,770 pounds of nitrogen were spread on 72.4 acres in accordance with Table 9-1 in the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s “2005 Nutrient Management Standards and Criteria,” or “Standards.” If chemical fertilizer had been used, 7,431 pounds of nitrogen would have been applied. Lime-stabilized sewage sludge is applied on the basis that 30% of the nitrogen is presumed to be crop-available the first year (24,770 * 0.3 = 7,431), 10% the second and third years, and 5 % the fourth year. This means that 55% of the nitrogen is presumed to be crop-available over four years and the remaining 45% is pollution. If the nitrogen is not removed from the field with the crop, it is ultimately released to the environment. This specific application caused at least 11,000 pounds of nitrogen pollution.
In the case of phosphorus, 5 fields encompassing 55.9 acres tested “Very High” in phosphorus. This acreage should have received no phosphorus according to Virginia Statute 12VAC5-585-550.A “The applied nitrogen and phosphorous content of biosolids shall be limited to amounts established to support crop growth” and “Standards.” According to “Standards” the remaining 16.5 acres, based on soil tests, should have received no more than 1151 pounds of phosphorus. In fact, 10,912 pounds of phosphorus were disposed on the 72.4 acres.
Sadly, even the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) signs on to this practice. In “Assessing the State of Chesapeake Bay Agriculture in 2005” under item 8, Fertilizer Efficiency, it is stated that “…… farmers are managing commercial fertilizer more efficiently and substituting manure for commercial fertilizers, a smart move if manure is applied based on careful soil testing.” In Virginia no soil testing is done to determine nitrogen application rates and the phosphorus soil tests are ignored. What is CBF thinking? What are they (and our politicians) protecting, the Bay, or special interests? CBF has been strongly criticized, deservedly, for not playing “hard-ball” with polluters. Perhaps the fact that Jim Perdue, chairman of the board of Perdue Farms Inc. is a member of the CBF “Blue Ribbon Finance Panel” has bearing on CBF’s priorities? Inefficiencies involved in the land application of poultry litter are similar to municipal sewage sludge, and it could be argued that the 13 Million pounds of nitrogen pollution in 2003 from the land application of poultry litter in Virginia makes Perdue Farms Inc. the single largest corporate polluter of Chesapeake Bay.
Dr. Lynton S. Land, Ophelia VA