Residents, county officials, and state agencies were all present for the public hearing on the biosolids application permit in Goochland on August 3.
The Virginia-based company NutriBlend has requested a land application permit which would allow the company to spread biosolids onto 1,555 acres in Goochland. There are nine Goochland residents hoping to receive the inexpensive fertilizer, including Goochland resident Paul Lanier who has almost 1,100 acres registered to receive biosolids.
I’ve been using biosolids for over 30 years, Lanier said during the public comment period. I’ve got five grandchildren, and we’ve had no health problems.”
Lanier and other farmers spread biosolids on fields to grow agricultural crops and then feed those crops to livestock like cows and goats. People then drink the milk from those cows or eat the meat, which has Goochland resident Linda Sasser concerned.
“Plants take up nutrients, and animals eat the plants, and we eat the animals,” Sasser said. “We truly are what we eat.”
According to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), biosolids are the treated at municipal sewage treatment facilities, which then pay companies like NutriBlend to remove the waste to be used on farms. DEQ states that biosolids are the materials removed from the municipal sewage that are suitable for use as fertilizer.
According to county records, there are approximately 5,000 acres in Goochland where biosolids are applied by another company, Synagro.
Seven residents spoke in opposition to the biosolids permit application, citing health concerns, lack of ordinance enforcement and lack of regular testing.
“The buffers are inadequate,” said Wendie Roumillat, a Goochland resident, referring to the 10-foot road side buffer for applying biosolids and the 400-foot occupied home buffer.
The original buffer was set at 200 feet, said Neil Zahradka, manager of DEQ’s office of land application programs. “That is based on the best scientific evidence to date.”
DEQ officials told residents that the application process uses the best science available to determine testing and application procedures, as well as the buffers.
“That’s what the government said about DDT 30 years ago,” said Linda Hosay, a Goochland farmer who opposed the permit. “They said it was okay for children, that it didn’t harm anyone. They were wrong about that. They could be wrong about this.”
Zahradka said that government policies are never made based on what-ifs.
“There has to be substantial scientific evidence to prove otherwise,” he said.
Goochland resident Kathy Crockett has a constricted airway which makes her susceptible to choking on air particles potentially discharged by the biosolids.
Crockett expressed concerns about children who ride on school buses, especially asthmatics.
“They’re not allowed to carry inhalers or EpiPens,” Crockett said.
According to Dr. Linda Underwood, superintendent of schools, 194 Goochland students have asthma, and each year the number increases.
“We don’t know what triggers attacks, it’s such an unpredictable disease,” Underwood said, adding that school officials are trained to handle attacks because the students are not allowed to carry prescription drugs.
The science on the issue is in hot debate, with some studies claiming that biosolids cause an array of health problems, and others suggest that biosolids are an environmentally friendly fertilizer.
“We are still researching the best possible options for testing procedures,” Zahradka said, addressing many citizen’s concerns about the frequency of tests.
“We test according to how much a facility processes and how often they distribute the biosolids,” Zahradka said.
County records show that biosolids used in Goochland originates from facilities in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
The current residents included in the NutriBlend application are Paul Lanier, Wendell Flynn, Herbert Pickle, Richard Pruitt, Mary Ellen Pryor, Alfred Pryor, Jr., Ernest Pryor, Andrew Pryor, and A.B. Commercial.
Originally published in The Central Virginian.
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