Latest War Begun Over
Human Sewage Used
To Fertilize Crops
By Tom Charlier - Scripps Howard News Service
BURLISON, Tenn. - Secluded off a dirt road at the remote northwest corner of Tipton County, Tenn., Add-Van Farms & Co. is just about as far away from it all as you can get.
It might not be far enough.
Despite recent improvements, the company, which applies sewage sludge on fields for crops, continues to draw odor complaints from neighbors and remains a focus of state and federal environmental regulators.
Officials at a national wildlife agency are expressing concern about the operation.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collected samples of creek water and sediments after receiving complaints from users of the Lower Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge that adjoins the Add-Van property.
Randy Cook, manager of a group of refuges for the service,said officials discovered "tremendously offensive" odors and noticed some runoff from the sludge-farming process.
The samples have been sent to a laboratory for analysis.
Add-Van Farms owns property across Tennessee where sludge from cities and industries is injected into fields in a process called "land application."
About half of all cities and towns nationwide use land application to get rid of their sewage sludge.
At the site in western Tipton County, the company applies municipal sludge from Covington, Tenn., and industrial sludge from food-processing companies, including the makers of whipped cream and brand-name products such as Slimfast.
Company president Van Bringle said Add-Van has done its best to comply with environmental regulations.
"I think we have a top-notch operation," he said.
But government files show the company has had trouble complying with environmental regulations during the past year and a half.
In March 1999, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation investigated the site after receiving complaints. Officials found discolored runoff leaving the property into a tributary to a creek that flows into the Hatchie River. Two months later, inspectors found a levee had been breached, allowing malodorous, discolored liquids to flow into ditches and wetlands that eventually drain into the Hatchie.
As a result of the water-quality violations, the state assessed Add-Van a $5,000 civil penalty that the company has appealed to the Tennessee Water Quality Control Board.
In January, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an administrative order requiring Add-Van Farms to correct problems identified in a May 1999 inspection.
Federal inspectors saw liquid sludge discharged from trucks and spread with a front-end loader. The concentrated sludge pooled on the surface, according to EPA.
Add-Van had overapplied sludge - putting down more than the soil can absorb - on some of its property, according to government inspectors.
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