November 27, 2014

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Pittsfield Township residents visit sludge pond in Wooster

WOOSTER — George and Cindy Hyatt drove an hour to Wooster on Thursday in hopes of seeing an example of a human waste storage lagoon that a company wants to build not far from their home on Quarry Road.

George Hyatt, left, of Pittsfield Township looks at lab equipment while touring Quasar Energy’s Wooster facility Thursday with Quasar CEO Clemens Halene. (CT photo by Bruce Bishop.)

They didn’t quite get what they wanted — the facility they got to see in Wooster, which is owned by Quasar Energy Group and operated by Ohio State University, was a bit different in that it stores only animal waste. But they said they considered the trip worth the drive and were two of only three Pittsfield Township residents who took up Quasar’s offer to check out the facility first hand.

The couple said they are concerned that the lagoon proposed near them on Quarry Road — it is supposed to hold 6 million gallons of treated human waste — will kill the value of their home and more.

“We have a half-million dollar home, and our property value is going to plummet,” Cindy Hyatt told staff. “We’ll never be able to leave our home.”

Pittsfield residents have filed an appeal to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to halt operations at the storage lagoon, alleging that the facility is an industrial use and not permitted by the township’s zoning laws. A hearing before the Pittsfield Township Board of Zoning Appeals was scheduled Thursday night, but the hearing was continued.

During the tour Thursday, Cindy Hyatt criticized Quasar for placing the facility near many residents’ homes.

Clemens Halene, chief operating officer of Quasar, said the facility was placed in the area because it borders farm fields and less traveling would have to be done to haul the products to those fields. He said the use of treated human waste as fertilizer is not new, and he has never received the backlash he has from the Pittsfield residents.

“The reason we’re in Pittsfield Township is not to aggravate people,” he said.

Mel Kurtz, president of Quasar, said his company should have provided more information up front to the public.

“We want to convey information that will make people understand — maybe not agree — but at least understand the variables associated with this endeavor,” he said. “I want to apologize because we didn’t do a good job at conveying our intentions early on, and we did probably a worse job of communicating after.”

Pittsfield Township residents have said they initially believed the lagoon was merely an irrigation pond until December, when a resident did some research and learned that French Creek BioEnergy, operating under Quasar, had received a permit from the Ohio EPA to build the storage lagoon.

Kurtz also blamed the media, which he said only portrayed a portion of the information to the public. The company has turned down prior requests by The Chronicle-Telegram to tour Quasar’s French Creek BioEnergy facility, and Halene has declined to comment on allegations made against Quasar in the appeal to the Ohio EPA.

Halene did speak to The Chronicle when first contacted about the science of the pond, which he described as beneficial for the environment and the economy.

Pittsfield residents, however, have expressed concerns about possible pathogens in the storage lagoon and whether they could spread.

Bruce Bailey, vice president of technical affairs at Quasar, said sewage sludge is tested for pathogens before it goes into the lagoon. Bailey said those with compromised immune systems “should not” be affected by any pathogens because of the preventive measures put into place at the facility.

While one study completed in Wooster by professors at the University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University noted an increase in stomach ailments and upper respiratory infections by those living near farms that put it on their fields, Bailey countered by saying there are many more studies that show using the sludge is harmless.

Kurtz said 55 percent of biosolids — or sludge, which is what the treated waste is referred to as — are put onto land and have been used for farming for decades.

“If it’s not safe, it’s not safe everywhere,” he said.

Dr. Harold Keener, professor and associate chair in the Department of Food, Agriculture and Biological Engineering at The Ohio State University, said there are multiple studies that have been done on the use of biosolids and the safe level of pathogens, which are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. However, he maintains that not enough research has been done to look into the effect of pharmaceuticals, which may pass through the sewage system into treatment plants.

“They do know that some of these hormonal-type drugs will pass through some of these systems,” he said.

Mike Settles, spokesman for the Ohio EPA, said the EPA doesn’t have any current regulations for the amount of pharmaceuticals and personal care products passed through the waste treatment system because there is no way to monitor it. He said the EPA has established allowable levels of arsenic, copper, lead and zinc.

“Science is just trying to figure out what is passed through these wastewater treatment plants,” he said.

According to the EPA’s website, studies have been shown that pharmaceuticals are present in bodies of water, and certain drugs may cause ecological harm. To date, scientists have found no evidence of “adverse human health effects” from pharmaceuticals or personal care products in the environment, however.

After the tour Thursday, Quasar staff offered tours to George and Cindy Hyatt at its comparable storage lagoons in Columbus or Zanesville. George and Cindy Hyatt said they may take them up on the offer.

Cindy Hyatt also asked representatives of Quasar about the smell at the storage lagoon.

“I don’t want to sit out on my pool and smell like somebody has had gas all day, you know?” she said.

Hyatt plugged her nose during a tour of The Ohio State University’s storage lagoon, but Kurtz said the smell at Pittsfield Township’s facility would present less of an odor.

Bailey said treated human waste forms a crust that masks some of the odor, unlike the cow manure housed at Wooster’s facility. Staff at Quasar explained preventive measures in Pittsfield that would be used to mask “nuisance odors.”

George Hyatt said he didn’t want to take that chance, however.

“If it’s going to happen twice a year, it’s not acceptable. Let’s say you had a one in 1,000 chance that your kid was going to get hit crossing that road, would you let him cross that road?” he said. “I have the same feeling about this.”

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.