The biosolids are going to hit the fan on Oct. 18.
After hearing passionate cries for help from Lucketts-area homeowners like Chuck and Lee Ann Boyd about the nightmare they are having with biosolids being dumped on the property adjacent to their homes, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors was informed at its business meeting Oct. 2 that there is very little that can be done at the county level.
According to Loudoun County Health Department Director Dr. David Goodfriend, responsibility for issuing permits and monitoring the application process falls with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. After hearing Goodfriend refer question after question to the DEQ, Chair-at-Large Phyllis J. Randall decided it was time to hear directly from that state agency.
“Why didn’t we invite someone from DEQ to come to this meeting today?” Randall asked. “We are going to bring this back on the 18th, and I would like to have the DEQ in the room with us.”
At issue is the application of biosolids – defined by Virginia code as “a sewage sludge that has received an established treatment and is managed in a manner … that it meets the standards established for use of biosolids for land application, marketing or distribution in accordance with this regulation.”
If you live next to a site where biosolids are being applied, you might have a much shorter definition.
“They are dumping poop literally 25 feet from the outside of my property,” said Chuck Boyd, who lives on Spinks Ferry Road. “The DEQ says they don’t see anything wrong and they don’t smell anything. In the meantime, we have sewage sludge in our front yards.”
According to information provided by county staff, the Virginia Department of Health and county health departments had authority for regulating land application of biosolids until 2007. In 2008, that authority was transferred to the DEQ.
Biosolids are divided into two classes, depending on the level of treatment and pathogens they contain. Class A biosolids are considered safe enough that they are often sold as fertilizer. Class B biosolids have much less treatment and are allowed to contain maximum amounts of known pathogens, such as heavy metals and fecal coliforms. Disposal of Class B biosolids requires an application and permitting process.
DEQ requires setbacks of 100 feet from property lines and 200 feet from dwellings for application sites, with the provision that DEQ can double those setbacks upon a request from a resident’s physician based on medical reasons.
According to Goodfriend, the only role the county health department serves is it can request even larger setbacks if a physician states that is necessary in a particular case.
“I respond to everyone who has brought a complaint or request to me,” Goodfriend said. “All I can do is forward them to the DEQ. They are the authority for permitting and monitoring oversight. Unless the board wants to establish local monitors, there is nothing else I can do. Even if we had local monitors, they would then forward their information to the DEQ.”
In 2016, a Philadelphia-based company called Synagro Central received a permit from DEQ to apply Class B biosolids at six sites in Loudoun County. Synagro began applying the sludge to a site at 43660 Spinks Ferry Road in Leesburg in August and September. Residents in that area immediately began to complain to the DEQ about non-compliance with the application guidelines and adverse effects to neighbors. Chuck Boyd even provided photos to DEQ of biosolids left on roadways or on the sides of roads.
“I feel like a science experiment right now,” Lee Ann Boyd said. “I could not go outside without a mask for three or four weeks. I have a daughter with specials needs and she can not even go outside to play. She said, ‘Will I ever be able to go outside again?’ What do you tell your children?
“We do not live in a third-world country, yet we are being dumped on by pollution and hazardous chemicals.”
The supervisors were ready to take action, but they have only two options – neither of which will bring a swift resolution to the problem.
One is to appoint and pay for local monitors to help residents document and forward their complaints to the DEQ. The second is to seek legislation in the Virginia Legislature to return more control to the local governments.
“If I lived where these folks live, I would be among the speakers here tonight,” Broad Run District Supervisor Ron A. Meyer said. “It is shocking to me that this is permitted behavior.”
Randall’s sentiments were even stronger.
“I am appalled,” Randall said. “We can work with the legislature, but that is a long-term solution. We need something short-term.
“For those of you who came and spoke tonight, your statements, your concerns, your health problems are not lost on us. I heard every word that was said here tonight.”