What is sludge?
Whatever you pour down the drain is accumulated in a tank (a septic tank is an example). The material that settles out is sludge. Municipal sludge comes out of private homes, hospitals, businesses and industries, and sometimes the storm drains.
Isn’t sludge treated?
Municipal sludge is typically treated by drying and adding lime before it is land applied. Larger contents are screened out and sent to a landfill. But sludge applied on farmlands may still contain objectionable things.
What is the difference between biosolids and sludge?
Nothing. The word "biosolids" just sounds nicer.
Isn't sludge just fertilizer?
No. Fertilizer contains nitrogen (N), Phosphorous (P) and Potassium (K). Those three elements are the numbers on the bags. So 10-10-10 contains equal concentrations of N, P and K. Sludge does contain N, P and K, but it also contains chemicals and toxic metals like lead and mercury.
Can sludge make people sick?
Yes. Sludge may cause the same kinds of illness as does fresh excrement.
What are some possible effects on our health?
Hepatitis B and allergic reactions to airborne contaminants are some possible examples. Symptoms that could occur are eye, nose, and throat irritation, headache, nausea, diarrhea, hoarseness, sore throat, cough, chest tightness and nasal congestion. There are also many new chemicals for which sludge is not currently tested which may cause health problems.
Doesn’t the treatment process make sludge safe?
Safer, but not safe! Treatment has little if any effect on the concentrations of pharmaceuticals, viruses, industrial chemicals and heavy metals in the sludge. Bacterial concentrations in Class B sludge (the kind that is spread on farmlands) need to be reduced only to 2 million per (dry) gram. A 20-ton sludge truck thus contains over a trillion bacteria.
Doesn't sludge enrich the soil just like mulch?
Yes. The organic content of sludge is good for the soil and the crop. But all the various kinds of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and toxic metals aren't. Many of these substances can build up in the soil over time, and some can go into our groundwater, our shallow water wells, and our waterways.
Is it kept a safe distance from streams and creeks?
There isn’t a safe distance in the Northern Neck. Flocks of birds following the plows can spread bacteria and chemicals into creeks, rivers and the Bay. Family dogs can track it into the house, and the wind can transport dust and allergens for miles.
How close to a water well can sludge be spread?
It cannot be spread within 100 feet of wells and 200 feet of houses.
Isn't that a safe distance from my well?
Probably not if you have a shallow, “bored” or “dug” well! That 100 feet only applies to bacteria which die off in a short period of time. Viruses live longer in the soil and heavy metals and chemicals do not die off. In addition, soil conditions near some wells are very sandy and bacteria can travel fast and much further than 100 feet.
Is there any other way for cities to get rid of their sludge?
Yes. But they are more expensive. It can be converted to fuel, or trucked to more remote areas such as barren deserts, or treated to Class A standards.
Is it fair to ask cities to pay more for sewage treatment?
Yes. The Health Department requires rural homeowners to spend from $2,500 to $14,000 for sewage treatment for a single home.
Why doesn't the county do something about it?
They can't do much because of a Virginia Supreme Court decision which says counties cannot ban sludge and must be careful not to regulate it too strictly.
What can be done?
The General Assembly can pass legislation that will overturn the Virginia Supreme Court ruling and give counties the full right to regulate or ban sludge.
What can I do?
Contact your General Assembly Delegate and let him know you would support a bill that would authorize local elected officials to control the spreading of sludge. Then ask your friends in other areas to contact their delegates because it will take a lot of votes in the General Assembly to get it passed.
Where can I get a petition or further information?
Contact Mike Harwood at 804-580-4801