Sludge Application in Albemarle County, VA

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Sludge Application in Albemarle County, VA describes Albemarle County's policies and practices for applying sewage sludge to farmland as fertilizer. Albemarle County, home to the city of Charlottesville, receives treated sewage sludge from Washington, DC's Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant. The county received an estimated 12,000 dry tons of sludge that were applied to farmland between 2008 and 2010. In June 2011, sludge application became a local controversy when tons of sludge were applied to a Carrsbrook, VA farm that borders the Rivanna River.[1] These "applications" were continued through November 2011, totaling "nearly 1,900 dry tons of treated waste. . . through the end of November," according to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). "The county applications were all conducted by one company — ReCyc Systems of Remington."[2]

Complaints From Residents

Albemarle County residents have complained about health problems caused by the application of sewage sludge to farmland. For example, Ray Caddell, "a Carrsbrook resident whose home borders a field on which biosolids are applied, said his family has suffered health impacts from applications in the past." In July 2011, Caddell said, "My wife and daughter have had issues breathing and with infections in the past, and they’ve survived this [latest] application well... Me, on the other hand, I’ve been sick for three weeks."[1] He later explained, "Immediately after the spreading, I developed a hoarse cough that continued, even after repeated doctor visits, well into the fall.” He said his "symptoms only stopped after the first frost."[2]

Updated DEQ regulations, pending approval as of December 2011, would "give added protections to those who are concerned about the potential health effects of biosolids. For instance, a provision will be available to allow concerned citizens to ask for increased setbacks if a doctor certifies their health may be affected by exposure. . . . Other changes to the DEQ’s biosolids regulations include increasing the minimum setbacks for hospitals and schools to 400 feet, requiring notification signs to remain at treatment sites for 30 days after application, and increasing the setback from surface waters to 100 feet."[2]

Caddell told the Charlottesville Tomorrow, "I do not believe they should be able to apply in growth areas, next to existing neighborhoods, and especially on land in flood plain or adjacent to rivers and streams."[2]

Virginia General Assembly Declines to Protect Residents

In December, 2011, according to Charlottesville Tomorrow, "Albemarle County staff . . . told the Board of Supervisors that legislation to further restrict land application of treated human waste, known as biosolids, is not likely to be passed in the near future." The article, added, "The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is in the process of adopting new regulations to govern biosolids. They were approved by the State Water Control Board in late summer but have not yet taken effect. . . . Albemarle County, as with all Virginia localities, cannot pass ordinances to prevent the use of biosolids. The county does have authority to perform inspections of treated land to verify compliance with state regulations."[2]

Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce Supports Sludge Application

In July 2011, the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce issued a statement supporting the “regulated use of biosolid agricultural fertilizers on agricultural lands within our region that meet all applicable scientifically-based federal and state environmental and health standards and ‘community-friendly’ voluntary environmental management systems practices.”[1]

“We have a number of agribusinesses in the community and businesses that serve them and they seldom weigh in on political topics,” said Timothy Hulbert, chamber president and chief executive. “This is important to them, however.”[1]
The chamber also supports reviewing and adjusting regulations of the waste applications “as scientific evidence is confirmed by appropriate federal and state environmental and health agencies.”[1]
“The public comment has been that, through anecdotal evidence, [biosolids] are causing illness, but there’s no scientific evidence of that,” Hulbert said. “We want them to be available for agricultural purposes on agricultural land, providing that they meet standards and the standards are reviewed."[1]

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  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Bryan McKenzie, "Chamber supports applying biosolids to farmland," The Daily Progress, July 29, 2011, Accessed July 30, 2011.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Sean Tubbs and Kurt Walters, Biosolids legislation not likely in coming General Assembly session, Charlottesville Tomorrow, December 21, 2011
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