NC DENR ISSUES CHARLOTTE WATER PERMIT TO SPREAD SLUDGE; RIVERKEEPER AND CW REQUEST MODIFICATIONS
Includes provisions for PCB testing and public notification
For Immediate Release: August 5, 2015
(Charlotte, NC) The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) renewed Charlotte Water’s (CW’s) permit to land apply sewage sludge in North Carolina. The permit incorporates some of the changes requested by the public in written comments and a public hearing earlier this year. However, DENR has received at least two requests – from CW and the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation – to modify the permit.
“While DENR could have issued a better permit, this permit recognizes two of the key problems with spreading sewage sludge,” said Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins. “We will continue to monitor this issue, but the state listened to its citizens when it added public notification and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) testing requirements to the permit. Nonetheless, CRF has requested clarified and improved language so that public notification is clearer and that PCB testing is performed by the nationally recognized best method.” PCBs are durable carcinogenic contaminants and the source of multiple fish advisories throughout the region.
The land application of sewage sludge can cause significant air and water quality issues. CW is permitted to spread sludge under a non-discharge permit, which is renewed every five years. Concerns with this permit grew in fall 2014, when CW proposed spreading on new fields near Gold Hill in Cabarrus County. Citizens responded at a November 9, 2014, meeting, as well as at draft permit hearing on March 24, 2015. A vast majority of participants opposed sludge spreading, especially given that a vast majority of sludge generated in Mecklenburg County is spread outside of Mecklenburg County. Local legislators even sponsored a bill in 2015 to allow local control of the quality of sludge spread in a county.
In 2013, CW (then Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Department) experienced significant opposition to its permit renewal to spread sewage sludge in South Carolina. Following permit challenges, CW agreed to provide public notification prior to its spreading of sewage sludge. However, CW does not feel it should provide notification in North Carolina.
Testing in 2013 and 2014 – including after a major illegal dumping incident in 2014 – revealed CW has significant problem with the dumping of PCBs in its sewer system. CW would prefer to test by an older method, which has been abandoned as an option in states with a history of PCB problems and actively pursuing cleanup and prevention. “If you do not use the right method, you miss a lot of PCB varieties. Given the history of illegal PCB dumping, CW should be utilizing the best method available to ensure that it can vouch for the safety of what it spreads on farm fields,” said Perkins.
DENR is currently considering the requests for modification. “We are grateful that DENR implemented requirements to help ensure that citizens can adequately prepare for spreading events and that farmers will know whether their fields are being contaminated by PCBs,” Perkins added. “Still, DENR needs to regulate pharmaceuticals and phosphorous in sludge. This starts with at least testing for pharmaceuticals (currently not required of what are common contaminants in wastewater systems) and limiting oversaturation of phosphorous in the soil and ultimately water.”