- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Malcolm residents made it clear last week during an at-times contentious meeting with representatives of a Baltimore company permitted to apply sewage sludge at a local sand and gravel mining site that anything short of the firm’s exodus from the area would be unacceptable to them.
Tucked inside the corner of Covington Road and Turner Road, the site sparked controversy last summer, when sewage sludge being applied as part of reclaiming the surface mine began emitting a foul stench that kept residents from venturing outdoors and attracted an infestation of flies.
The county notified the Maryland Department of Environment of the problems in September. A week later, MDE issued an indefinite stop-work order after inspecting the site and finding its odor excessive.
The department required Synagro, the Baltimore-based firm applying the sludge, to develop a plan ensuring the site’s odors would be controlled.
In October, residents pulled together in opposition to the use of sludge at the site and formed the Greater Malcolm Community Inc.
Synagro has a state permit to apply treated sludge at the Malcolm site. The permit specifies how the sludge may be applied and in what amounts and requires buffers and odor controls.
Synagro asked the county to arrange a meeting so it could present its plan to the community prior to submitted it to MDE, senior director of technical services Lorrie Loder said during a slideshow presentation to roughly 40 residents at Malcolm Elementary School.
A byproduct of municipal wastewater treatment plants, sewage sludge is commonly used to fertilize agricultural fields and reclaim mining sites by infusing the soil with organic material and encouraging the growth of vegetation, Loder said.
“I understand that this, it doesn’t sound like it should ever happen. I get that,” Loder said. “It’s got a yuck factor, admittedly, but this is the right thing to do with this material. It truly is,”
Loder said she drove by the Malcolm site prior to the meeting and saw turkeys and geese grazing.
“Well, that’s good to know,” a woman said. “So when they come back to my house, what are they bringing with them?”
In the future, the company will provide advanced notice of any sludge delivery and application in Charles County, ensure sludge is applied the same day it is delivered, incorporate all the material within two hours of application and refrain from applying sludge on weekends and federal holidays, Loder said.
The employee who was managing the site last summer did not properly report the community’s concerns to Synagro and no longer is with the company, Loder said.
Steven Herzberg, vice president of Brandywine-based Gudelsky Materials, the company that owns and mined the site, called sewage sludge “the best product for sand and gravel reclamation ... so there is no erosion of the land.”
With much of the area on shallow wells, several residents worried that the sludge could leach into the groundwater they use to supply their homes and stated emphatically that the community’s goal is the permanent cessation of sludge application in Malcolm.
“We don’t want you here. We’re willing to do whatever we have to do to stop this,” Greater Malcolm Community President Ylanda Ford said. “People are angry and scared. We don’t want some action plan to get rid of the smells.”
“Why are you bringing [stuff] from another county and dumping it in our backyards?” Malcolm resident Beaver Wade asked. “You should have kept that [stuff] up in Baltimore.”
As passions rose, Ford and Charles County commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D) repeatedly pleaded for order.
As for the Synagro reps, “To be in their shoes, this is a tough place to be,” Ford said.
One woman said she thought last summer’s odor was coming from her septic tank and paid $600 to have it pumped, only to learn later that the sludge had been the source.
“What do we have to do to get you all to leave? We don’t want you here,” Malcolm resident Curtis Jones said. “Our objective is to get you the hell out of here.”
District 3 commissioner candidate Jim Easter demanded that the community’s wells be tested for bacterial contamination. Fellow District 3 commissioner candidate Kamilah Way and District 1 candidate Sam Graves also attended the meeting.
After the meeting, Ford said several residents near the site have had their wells test positive for E. coli contamination, a bacterium associated with feces, and Malcolm is working with other communities that have successfully sued and stopped sludge applicators.
Malcolm residents want Gudeslky Materials to find another way to reclaim the mine, she said. Herzberg said the company is committed to living up to its mining permit, which requires reclamation.
Ford said the Greater Malcolm Community wrote a letter to the Charles County Board of Education asking for its support but has yet to hear back.