Sewage Sludge Odor

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Sewage sludge odor is the smell emitted from sewage sludge, which the wastewater treatment industry likes to refer to as "biosolids" (as it sounds more appealing than sewage sludge). When sewage sludge is applied to agricultural land as fertilizer, a dangerous practice that is legally allowed and promoted in the United States, often those nearby complain of issues related to odor as well as health problems.

Complaints About Odor

Here are excerpts of complaints about sewage sludge odor:

Madison County, VA, 2011:

  • "I don’t let her stay outside now that I’ve figured it out... We have very few limited things that we can do and enjoy and that’s making it so we can’t enjoy our house and environment when they put it (sludge) down because it is airborne and the smell is horrific." - Kirsten Kohl, mother of Jessica McCoy who suffers from a rare disease.[1]
  • "The only people that are saying it’s a fabulous resource that we should all be using are farmers and I just don’t understand how anyone can say processed feces is good considering hormones people are taking, antibiotics, anti-depressants that medically comes out of our waste how can anyone say that is good for us? How can they say it drops through the ground into everyone’s water system? Where else will it go? It has to have a long-lasting effect." - Kirsten Kohl[1]

Cottage Grove, OR, 2011:

  • "This is how it is day and night. It smells like all the residents of Cottage Grove are taking a crap in a field right down the road." - Craig Pataky[2]
  • "The stench is unbearable for some of these residents, their daily routines ruined by a strong odor seeping into their neighborhood from less than a mile away... It was so acrid that I had a severe headache. Never have a bad headache. And I was that close to throwing up." - Les Moore[3]
  • "Sickening, nauseating." - Ted Maki." [4]
  • ""Our quality of life has gone down practically to zero. We cannot function outside of our homes." - Sharon Tobiasson[5]
  • ""It smells just like an outhouse to me... Would you want to sit six hours in an outhouse?... I don't think anybody should be living in that kind of a smell for 30 days" - Gary Ordway.[6]
  • "Sickening, very sickening, it's nauseating... I don't know what stuff this does seeping into the ground water with all that kind of junk that's in that sewage." - Ted Maki[7]
  • "The smell has kept us from doing our normal activities. I think this is the first time my wife has sat on this patio because of the smell." Nathan Randal[8]
  • "It smells like a ripe, an over-ripe outhouse...Depending on on which way the wind blows, it's still going out a mile or two... By the time I came in, I had a fierce headache, and I was about ready to heave." - Les Moore[9]
  • "The smell is very nauseating, and it's very strong, and it even burns in your throat." - Peggy Eikman[10]
  • "My kids are trapped in the house in the summertime. We don't have air conditioning in our house. I'm unable to open my windows. I feel like prisoners in our own home." - a Cottage Grove father of four.[11]
  • "I have to wear a mask with peppermint oils when we go outside to work in our fields -- we have a produce farm -- because I cannot work outside." - A Cottage Grove farmer.[12]

Rio Vista, CA, 2010:

  • "It made you feel energy-less... But smell is not a legitimate complaint. No one is tracking illnesses." - Bob Tillisch[13]

Common Health Complaints Following Sewage Sludge Application

A 2002 study that interviewed 48 affected residents near 10 different sludge application sites Alabama, California, Florida, New Hampshire, Ohio, Ontario, Pennsylvania, and Texas found that residents complained of a number of medical problems following sludge application, ranging from trivial to serious.[14] "Residents who complained of adverse effects lived within approximately 1 km of the treated fields. Symptoms were primarily associated with sites where freshly applied, lime-stabilised sewage sludges remained on the surface and were exposed to wind erosion."

The most common complaints were within one hour of exposure:[14]

  • coughing,
  • burning throat,
  • burning eyes, and
  • headaches.

The most common complaints after 24 hours of exposure include:[14]

  • nasal and chest congestion,
  • difficulty in breathing,
  • nausea/vomiting,
  • fatigue, and
  • flu-like symptoms.

According to the study, "In some cases, symptoms of chemical irritation (e.g., burning eyes, burning throat) recurred for over a year after applications ceased."[14]

The study describes some of the more severe issues resulting from sewage sludge exposure as follows:

"Half of the residents reported bacterial, viral or fungal infections within 1 month of exposure (50 %, 8 sites). Most residents also reported symptoms indicating exposure to infectious micro-organisms or microbial products (endotoxins). These included flu-like symptoms (29%, 5 sites), nausea/vomiting (46%, 7 sites), diarrhoea (21%, 4 sites), rashes (25%, 3 sites), and sinusitis (19%, 5 sites).
"The most common infections identified by medical records were caused by S. aureus (14 residents at 3 sites, including the additional patients identified in Robesonia). Records indicated that one infection (S. lugdunensis, Resident 44) was probably hospital-acquired. Affected residents in Greenland, NH recalled that respiratory infections experienced by individuals in several households treated by the same physician responded to erythromycin, an antibiotic primarily used for treating gram positive bacterial infections.
"In Menifee, CA, two family members complaining of chemical irritation developed different staphylococcal infections. Resident 17 experienced recurrent S. aureus infections of the nasal passages and oral cavity. The spouse was hospitalised for an invasive S. epidermitis infection that developed approximately two days after an undressed surgical incision became contaminated with sand blowing from an adjacent field treated with Class B biosolids.
"Mild chronic maxillary sinusitis in one child (Resident 18) living in this household deteriorated into recurrent (unidentified) bacterial infections. The patient responded poorly to oral and IV antibiotic therapy, tonsillectomy, and removal of the adenoids. Rigorous antibiotic therapy, including intramuscular injections of rocephrine, also yielded unsatisfactory results.
"County records showed that Class B biosolids were applied to an adjacent field at the time the above-mentioned illnesses developed. The paediatrician treating patients in the area (author C. Pumphrey) noted that children living near the land application sites appeared to develop abnormally persistent sinusitis."[14]

The prevalence of Staphylococcus aureus infections in participants in the study were found to be 25 times higher than infections among hospitalized patients.[14]

Articles and Resources

Other SourceWatch resources

External Resources

External Articles

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 Marilyn Cox, "Banco mom: Sludge sickens daughter," Madison Eagle, September 14, 2011.
  2. Greg Bolt, "The Big Stink: Cottage Grove’s annual disposal of sewage sludge is putting something nasty in the air," The Register-Guard, July 28, 2011, Accessed July 28, 2011.
  3. Gia Vang, "City Technique Stinks Up Cottage Grove Neighborhood," July 27, 2011, Accessed July 28, 2011.
  4. Gia Vang, "City Technique Stinks Up Cottage Grove Neighborhood," July 27, 2011, Accessed July 28, 2011.
  5. Stacia Kalinoski, "Why the Stink in Cottage Grove and Nowhere Else?," July 28, 2011, Accessed July 29, 2011.
  6. Kate Renner, "Cottage Grove Residents Still Upset Over Smell," KEZI, August 23, 2011, Accessed August 26, 2011.
  7. Kate Renner, "Cottage Grove Residents Still Upset Over Smell," KEZI, August 23, 2011, Accessed August 26, 2011.
  8. Kate Renner, "Cottage Grove Residents Still Upset Over Smell," KEZI, August 23, 2011, Accessed August 26, 2011.
  9. Crystal Price, "City Council called to odor: 'The smell is very nauseating', KVAL, August 9, 2011, Accessed August 26, 2011.
  10. Crystal Price, "City Council called to odor: 'The smell is very nauseating', KVAL, August 9, 2011, Accessed August 26, 2011.
  11. Kate Renner, "Cottage Grove "Stop Our Stench" Group Speaks Out," KEZI, August 8, 2011, Accessed August 26, 2011.
  12. Kate Renner, "Cottage Grove "Stop Our Stench" Group Speaks Out," KEZI, August 8, 2011, Accessed August 26, 2011.
  13. Gayathri Vaidyanathan, "Biosolids Tracking Efforts a Jumble of Research With No Clear Answers," New York Times, August 26, 2010, Accessed July 28, 2011.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 David L Lewis, David K Gattie, Marc E Novak, Susan Sanchez, and Charles Pumphrey, "Interactions of pathogens and irritant chemicals in land-applied sewage sludges (biosolids)," BMC Pubic Health, 2002, 2:11, Accessed September 14, 2011.