Letter to Editor: Biosolids Nutrient Pollution and the Chesapeake Bay

The article “Local Officials Say biosolids safe to use” published April 15 ends on the right note, offering one way to use the waste for its contained energy.

The article completely ignores one of the biggest problems using animal waste as fertilizer, namely the massive nutrient pollution it causes. Conventional chemical fertilization is rarely more than about 2/3 efficient, meaning that if 150 pounds of nitrogen are applied to an acre, only 100 pounds are removed with the harvested crop.

In the case of sludge, only 30% of the nitrogen is “crop available” so 500 pounds of nitrogen is applied (30% of 500 is 150) to grow the same crop. What do you suppose is the fate of the remaining 350 pounds of nitrogen? It certainly does not accumulate in the soil because farmers fertilize every crop.

Inefficient agricultural fertilization is the largest source of Chesapeake Bay nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and sludge is the least efficient of all “fertilizers.” Obviously, Clarke County Officials are more concerned with “free fertilizer” for a very few farmers than they are for water quality improvements in Chesapeake Bay.

Dr. Lynton S. Land
www.VaBayBlues.org

Comments

  1. Lynton you are correct….pretty much everything in this county is graded by it’s effect on farmers…they are on a sort of pedestal for some reason. If we were talking about sludge being used by business or contractors or some other non-farming related task it would probably be thrown out tomorrow.

  2. Thank you Dr. Land. Now if we could only get our Supervisors to read and educate themselves on this stuff!
    It doesn’t seem important enough to them and of course they just pass the buck and say it’s out of their hands.

    http://www.shenandoahriverkeeper.org/updates/blue-plains-upgrade-could-produce-farm-fertilizer-whats-plan-keeping-it-out-our-rivers

    In today’s Washington Post, Ed Merrifield, president of Potomac Riverkeeper, said biosolids (sludge) contain the same nitrogen and phosphorous that creates fish-killing dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay.

    “But people who oppose using treated sludge as fertilizers aren’t sympathetic, and are suspicious about the safety of Class A biosolids as well as the lower-grade product.

    Ed Merrifield, president of Potomac Riverkeeper, said biosolids contain the same nitrogen and phosphorous that creates fish-killing dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay. “The basic issue is it’s supposed to be kept out of our rivers,” Merrifield said. But “it’s applied improperly and goes right back into our rivers.”

    Henry Staudinger is also not convinced that he wants to see any kind of biosolid used as fertilizer. Staudinger, a retired lawyer, said he became ill when sludge was spread on land next to his farm in Shenandoah County, Va.

    “I ended up in the emergency room with an allergic reaction, difficulty breathing, vomiting,” he said. “I had a pond near my house, and there was a fish kill . . . But I couldn’t get anybody to investigate it or do anything about it.

    “I don’t have most of my sense of smell, but this stuff was overpowering,” Staudinger said.”