Human waste from New York is creating a stink in rural north Alabama. A Texas company has opened a plant that treats sewer sludge from New York and turns it into fertilizer that is spread on Alabama farmland. It's a great deal for farmers, who get the fertilizer for free, but some in northwest Limestone County say they can't stomach the stench.
Bill Daws, a county commissioner, called the odor "the worst smell that I've ever smelled. But we've checked everything out and it all appears to be legit," he told The News Courier of Athens, which first reported the flap.
Synagro Technologies Inc. of Houston, Texas, has a contract to dispose of human wastes from New York. The company treats sludge from wastewater plants in New York and ships it to Alabama by rail car by the ton.
The sludge is treated again at a plant in Leighton before it is spread on fields for farmers who sign up for the program, said Rodney Jackson, who investigated the arrangement for the Limestone County Commission after complaints started coming in Friday.
People don't like the idea of New York poop being shipped to Alabama for disposal, he said, and they were worried about the possibility that the fertilizer contained e-coli bacteria.
"According to the (Enrivonmental Protection Agency) it is not a health hazard, it is just a nuisance because of the smell," he said.
And what a smell it is, according to some. "I've described it as chicken litter and a little more," said Jackson, an enforcement officer with the county revenue department.
Synagro spokeswoman Lorrie Loder said as many as 40 farmers in the area have signed up to receive the shipments and another 15 are on a waiting list.
"It is a safe product and it does produce an odor like most good fertilizers do," said Loder.
Farmer Gary Peek said the free fertilizer is saving him a lot of money and enriching pasture land.
"I want to be a good neighbor," he said. "I'm not looking to harm anyone. I'm just trying to make a living."