by: Greg Suskin Updated:
CHESTER COUNTY, S.C. - Al Wherry has a gorgeous view from his Chester County back yard.
"I love it out here," he said.
However, the smell often doesn't match the scenery. Some of the farmers near Wherry are accepting free fertilizer from the cities of Charlotte and Rock Hill. That fertilizer is sludge, which is what's left over after human waste is treated at a sewage plant.
Known as bio-solids, cities around the country can save money by contracting with a private company to haul the sludge away and dump it on farm land, instead of paying to carry it to a landfill.
For example, the city of Charlotte contracts with a company called Synagro, which hauls 90,000 tons of sludge a year, and spreads it on 16,000 acres of farm land in local counties in North and South Carolina, including Chester County.
That saves Charlotte Utilities customers about $300,000 a year in landfill fees.
For Wherry, it's more than a nuisance. It's destroying his quality of life, and he does not care what CMUD customers are saving.
"We couldn't bear to be outside here. I'm going to fight this with every breath I have in me," he said.
However Wherry knows it's not an easy fight. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said this is a very common practice.
About 50 sewage treatment plants statewide also dump their sludge on rural land across the state. Health officials consider it safe, and CMUD officials echoed that on Thursday.
"This process is highly, highly, highly regulated," said CMUD spokeswoman Karen Whichard. "The state of North Carolina or the state of South Carolina comes in and checks these applications to make sure it's meeting regulatory requirements. Then we go in behind Synagro, our contractor, and check on top of that."
Whichard also said the city of Charlotte has not had an odor complaint in the last five years.
The city of Rock Hill spreads about 1,200 tons of bio-solids per year on about 10,000 acres. The cost savings to taxpayers is about $40,000.
Wherry has spoken out about his concerns at Chester County Council meetings and to the Rock Hill City Council.
"I haven't heard anything back from them. It's just a shame we have to go through this out here," he said.
Neighbors said their only hope now to stop the spreading of sludge may be a lawsuit.
"I've got faith something's going to be done," Wherry said.
Charlotte has been shipping out its bio-solids for more than 20 years. Rock Hill has been doing it for at least 15 years.
Officials with DHEC said they grant the permits, inspect each site and respond to complaints, but they cannot regulate the odor.
They said the local cities and private contractors, who spread bio-solids in the Charlotte area, are all in compliance with state environmental laws.