Some complain about odor from sewage sludge spread on farmland

by: Greg Suskin Updated:


ROCK HILL, S.C. - For decades, local cities, including Charlotte, have spread sewage sludge from treatment plants on farmland.  

Many people who live near those farms complain about the odor. They worry about possible risks to the water supply and their own health.

Jimmi Atkins hasn't always let her children out to play at her Chester County home.

“It was just unbearable, the smell,” she said.

Last year, in the pasture across the street, a company dumped the leftovers of treated human waste, and the odor lingered.

“How long could you still smell that?” Eyewitness News asked.

“Three weeks,” Atkins said.

Atkins took her kids and left to stay with family.

So-called biosolids, or sludge, come from a sewage treatment plant. In Rock Hill, as wastewater is cleaned, what's left ends up in a pile.

A company called Synagro contracts with Rock Hill and Charlotte to haul it away to farmers who ask for it.

Allen Beer of Chester County is one of them. With 100 head of cattle on 450 acres, for him it's free fertilizer.

“You get to the alternative, what to do with the stuff,” he said. “There's not another good alternative."

It smells bad, but Beer tries to be a good neighbor.

“What I try to do when I know it's going to happen, I go to my neighbors and tell them what's going on,” he said.

Rock Hill spreads 15,000 tons of biosolids on 5,000 acres of farmland a year.

CMUD in Charlotte spreads 90,000 tons on 16,000 acres.

State health officials must permit every site.

Though biosolids are tested regularly, Eyewitness News took our own sample from that pile at the treatment plant, signed the forms and shipped it to an out-of-state lab.

We tested for 10 heavy metals, plus arsenic. Some elements that can cause serious health effects in large amounts.

However, our tests found very low levels, well within what the EPA allows.

Eyewitness News showed Rock Hill Utilities Director Scott Motsinger the results.

Motsinger said by spreading sludge on farmland, the city saves taxpayers $150,000 a year in landfill costs.

“This is fertilizer,” he said. “This is no different than you going out and fertilizing your garden with cow manure, and then picking the tomatoes and eating the tomatoes.”

While some homeowners like Atkins still have concerns, an occasional foul odor seems to be the only downside to fresh country air.