The first time most people in Lawrence County became aware of biosolids being spread on county fields was last summer when residents in the Mount Hope area complained.
Biosolids are by products of human waste and come from sludge in waste water (sewer) treatment plants.
People in Mount Hope were upset about the smell and concerned about the possibility of their lands and water becoming contaminated. The biosolids being spread in Mount Hope came from New York City.
When contacted last year about the biosolids in Mount Hope, Ronnie Murphy, deputy director of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, said the state had no authority to regulate the use of biosolids however his department does monitor its use.
When the Clean Water Act passed Congress in 1993, the states were given the option of regulating the use of biosolids or letting the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) do the regulating. Since the state regulation meant following a number of unfunded federal mandates, Alabama opted to let EPA regulate biosolids. Murphy said Alabama is the only state in EPA Region 4 that does not regulate biosolids.
“There wasn’t a recommendation passed by the state legislature to opt out,” Murphy said. “I don’t know where the decision was made.”
At the time, Murphy was worried about pharmaceuticals getting into the land and water systems through biosolids.
Concerns about biosolids are again being raised after perfluorinated compounds were found in biosolids being spread on land in Lawrence County.
The compound now causing concern is PFOA, which is a chemical used in making Teflon and Telfon related products. The sludge containing PFOA is coming from Decatur Utilities sludge being spread by its contractor Synagro. PFOA is apparently coming from 3M which produced FPOA until 2001, Daikin America and Toray Fluorofibers.
EPA has tested wells and ponds in the areas of Lawrence, Limestone and Morgan counties where biosolids from Decatur Utilities were spread and found over 80 percent of the tests were showed contamination from PFOA including six wells in Lawrence County. All six well-owners were able to hook onto city or county water systems.
The cost of running water lines to the six well-owners was covered by Decatur Utilities, Synagro and companies which produced or used the PFOAs.
All the contamination is in the eastern area of the county. None of the land in Mount Hope where biosolids were spread last year are involved.
EPA is planning to hold a public meeting in June to answer the public’s concern about biosolids. The date has not been set.
In the meantime, State Representative Jody Letson managed to push a bill through the Alabama Legislature that will allow people in Lawrence County to vote on whether or not biosolids may be used for fertilizer in the county. That bill is awaiting Gov. Bob Riley’s signature.
Synagro has stated that the company did not test sludge from Decatur Utilities for PFOAs because it did not know the sludge contained the compounds.
PFOA compounds are not naturally occurring. Once in the human body, it takes a long time for the body to eliminate them. More PFOAs accumulate over time.
According to the EPA Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as “C8,” is a synthetic chemical that does not occur naturally in the environment. It has special properties that have many important manufacturing and industrial applications.
EPA has been investigating PFOA because it:
• Is very persistent in the environment
• Is found at very low levels both in the environment and in the blood of the general U.S. population
• Remains in people for a very long time
• Causes developmental and other adverse effects in laboratory animals.
Major pathways that enable PFOA, in very small quantities, to get into human blood are not yet fully understood.
PFOA is used to make fluoropolymers and can also be released by the transformation of some fluorinated telomers. However, consumer products made with fluoropolymers and fluorinated telomers, including Teflon® and other trademark products, are not PFOA. Rather, some of them may contain trace amounts of PFOA and other related perfluorinated chemicals as impurities.
It wasn’t until January of this year that EPA’s Office of Water (OW) developed Provisional Health Advisories (PHA) for PFOA and PFOS to protect against potential risk from exposure to these chemicals through drinking water. Provisional Health Advisories serve as informal technical guidance to assist Federal, State and local officials in response to an urgent or rapidly developing drinking water contamination. They reflect reasonable, health-based hazard concentrations above which action should be taken to reduce exposure to these contaminants in drinking water. The PHA values are 0.4 µg/L for PFOA and 0.2 µg/L for PFOS. These values may be used to assess contamination and exposure at other sites.
Provisional Health Advisories are not to be construed as legally enforceable federal standards and are subject to change as new information becomes available.
Even though Decatur Utilities stopped land application of sludge in November, Lawrence County is still a repository for the sludge. It is shipped to Morris Farms Landfill in the county. The runoff from Morris Farms finds it way to Moulton’s waste water treatment plant.
The Morgan County Area Landfill has refused to accept the sludge.