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Clear Spring residents oppose sludge spreading

April 17, 1997

By MARLO BARNHART

Staff Writer

CLEAR SPRING - Many of the people who attended a informational meeting Wednesday about sludge being applied to nearby farmland signed a petition asking the landowner to stop the practice.

"In March, James Harp, the landowner, told me he would pull the plug if there were objections to the sludge on his land,'' said Jack Manuel, who lives adjacent to the farmland in question.

There were objections from many of the approximately 20 people at the meeting, despite studies from several Maryland Department of the Environment officials which they said showed sludge application is safe and effective.

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Manuel lives at 12803 Cohill Road, just east of Clear Spring and north of U.S. 40.

Harp, who doesn't live at the site, didn't attend the meeting. Attempts to reach him at home were unsuccessful.

Manuel and his wife, Nancy, said the odor from the sludge on the Harp farm over the past two weeks has been unbearable.

"We live just 100 yards away,'' Manuel said. "But more importantly, we have questions about what this will mean down the road, say 30 years from now.''

Martha Hinson, the state official who issues sludge application permits to designated farmland, defended the program as the safest and cheapest way to get rid of tons of the treated sewage byproduct.

"Right now there are 880 farms in Maryland - 76,000 acres - receiving sludge,'' Hinson said. The programs are carefully monitored and Hinson insisted there hasn't been one documented case of human illness linked to sludge in 15 years of operation.

After the sludge is spread on farmland, crops such as corn and soybeans can be planted and harvested for human consumption, Hinson said.

Al Rezik, who operates the wastewater treatment plant at the Maryland Correctional Institution, said his operation saves about $20,000 a year by not having to take sludge to landfills.

"And the farmer saves about $40,000 by not having to purchase fertilizer - it's a win-win situation,'' Rezik said.

Much of the sludge destined for the Harp farm is coming from the MCI treatment facility.

But Manuel and several other neighbors were unconvinced that saving money was worth any potential health threat.

Area resident Betty Renner said she worries about health problems.

"It scares me because soybeans are the main ingredient of many baby formulas now and many children are sick,'' Renner said.

"We have health concerns for our families,'' Arthur James, a Draper Road resident, said. "There are too many unknowns.''

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