July 15 10:24 PM

Biosolid dumping matter of concern

Goodland Twp. to refine new ordinance

August 19, 2009
GOODLAND TWP. — With the help of a resolute resident, township officials hope to enforce a newly-adopted ordinance regarding the dumping of biosolid waste on local farm fields.

Township Supervisor Ron Cischke says he appreciates the efforts of Sisson Road resident Linda Baker, who opposes the general practice of dumping biosolids.

Baker alleges that Bio-Tech Agronomics of Beulah, Michigan recently defied the township's ordinance when the company surface-dumped biosolid waste on a neighbor's farm.

She says her concerns are primarily health-related, though the stench from the most recent dumping of waste adds to her disdain for the process.

"You can't even be outside, because it makes your eyes burn," says Baker. "There is supposedly a benefit in that it acts as a fertilizer and puts nitrogen and potassium into the soil.

"To me this is a health issue and it is kind of kept under the radar," she says. "I question how closely MDEQ (Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality) monitors this."

Bio-Tech representative Phil Hoyt says every effort is made to ensure the public health when it comes to disposing of biosolids. He points out that laboratory testing on fecal coliform includes measuring for metals such as copper, lead, zinc and lithium; among others.

"Everything is subject to testing and we follow the guidelines of the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality," says Hoyt. "There are rules we have to follow or it cannot be land applied.

Some Goodland Township residents are concerned about the dumping of biosolids on area farmland, while MDEQ officials say the process is safe.

"When we get the tests back, the allowable standards are set by the federal government. The State of Michigan has even stricter standards. The biosolids program is very safe and it's beneficial to the farmer."

Ciscke says the township enacted its ordinance pertaining to biosolid dumping last February, with assistance from township attorney Gary Howell. The ordinance now states that any dumping of "septage" must either be injected into the soil or plowed under within hours of delivery.

Township Clerk Mavis Roy says the township is in the process of changing the ordinance's language from the word "septage" to "biosolids," to more specifically address its concern. In the interim, Cischke hopes to stave off any further dumping in the township.

"We're going forward with enforcement of our ordinance," says Cischke. "The problem is the DEQ doesn't respond to our concerns. They claim the process is protected by the Right to Farm Act."

Cischke says the most recent solid waste delivery came from the Romeo wastewater treatment, adding that the material was dumped on the surface rather than injected into the soil.

"They usually 'knife' it into the ground," says Cischke. "Right now it's being dumped right on the surface and it stinks."

Cischke says he has mailed out letters to MDEQ and local and state officials, outlining the township's concerns and its position related to the ordinance. Baker fears that any amount of correspondence could fall on deaf ears in Lansing.

"Some of these government agencies are so big they are very hard to fight," Baker says. "Exposing things to the public is our only option.

"They violated our ordinance," she says. "The ordinance is there to protect our community. My focus is to avoid health risks to me, my husband, my neighbors and the residents."

Cischke says he is worried that the most recent surface-dumping occurred near a ditch that carries rain water through portions of the township.

"Nobody really knows what's in that stuff," he says. "We want it proven that this is safe and it's not getting into our wells and water supplies."

Cischke says he is also concerned about the possible introduction of pharmaceuticals or pathogens into the soil that may not be subject to testing.

"They tell us it's safe," Cischke says, "but I say prove it."

Mike Person, an environmental quality analyst for MDEQ, says the proof has already been presented.

"Unfortunately, this program suffers from public perception issues," says Person. "First and foremost, we are here to ensure that the rules are followed. If you look at the big picture, the alternatives to this situation are land fills and incineration."

Person notes that regardless of the language in Goodland Township's ordinance, the state maintains authority over the legality of dumping biosolids.

"There is a provision about how townships can preempt the state," says Person. "It sets forth a formal process if a township wishes to regulate differently than what state law permits.

"They would have to petition the department (MDEQ) and provide justification. The state is the governing authority."

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