Steuben County town bans use of ‘sewage sludge’ as fertilizer
A small town in Steuben County banned the use of what is known as "sewage sludge" or biosolids, as a fertilizer.
More than 40 people gathered for the town of Thurston’s monthly board meeting Wednesday evening for public comment and a vote on the ban.
Town officials passed the measure unanimously, due to concerns of "forever chemicals" called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) found in the area’s water and soil.
Biosolids are a byproduct of wastewater treatment plants. They are repurposed in parts of New York and spread on farmlands to help crops grow.
Biosolids, or sewage sludge, had been used in the area for decades. But recent water samples collected from multiple sites in the town show high levels of PFAS in residential water wells where this wastewater byproduct was used.
PFAS are chemicals that last in the environment for an unknown amount of time and can cause cancer, reproductive issues and suppress the immune system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
All of this comes after the recent acquisition of a local sewage sludge-spreading plant, Leo Dickson and Sons, by the multibillion-dollar Vermont-based company, Casella Waste Systems.
Casella opposed the ban and sent representatives to attend the meeting.
Thurston Town Supervisor Michael Volino said the town is stepping in to create higher health standards than what currently exists in the guidelines set by the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
“We have the ultimate say on land-use issues,” expressed Volino. “We can adopt standards that are stricter than the state because we feel the DEC is essentially being derelict in their duty in overseeing this operation.”
Volino said that Steuben County officials could also do more to enact policy on the use of sewage sludge.
“Steuben County could make a county-wide ban on the land application of sewage sludge within the county,” said Volino. “And if towns chose they wanted it for their farmers, or they thought it was beneficial, the town and towns themselves could decide to opt out of that kind of a ban. So [even] I would appeal to county leaders.”
The town of Thurston has a population of 1,253 per 2020 census data.
“It's a big hill—mountain to climb, we have,” expressed Volino. “But I hope that just putting Thurston out there showing we're doing something, I know the town of Cameron is kind of on the edge about [it] and it's just as big of an issue for them as it is for us. I just hope more towns maybe get on to this, and maybe, state leaders will kind of look [and] try to do what Maine did, and just ban this practice outright.”
Earlier this year, the state of Maine passed a law banning the land application of sewage sludge.
Casella has additional waste management operations in the Southern Tier, including Chemung and Allegany counties.
In a statement, a Casella spokesperson said, “We are disappointed that the board chose to enact the law and we are currently weighing our options.”