Bio-solids: Responsible recycling or danger to health? -

Gilmanton voters must decide whether to allow waste, including human feces, to be used as fertilizer



GILMANTON — Depending on who one speaks to, using bio-solids as fertilizer is the greatest thing since sliced bread or the the most dangerous thing since nuclear fission.

According to the 2016 Random House Dictionary, the definition of bio-solids is "plural noun 1. nutrient-rich organic materials obtained from waste water treatment and used beneficially, as for fertilizer: The application of bio-solids to land improves soil properties and plant productivity, and reduces dependence on inorganic fertilizers."

To bio-solid detractors, even the basic definition is skewed to paint a rosy picture, while those who use them would likely agree with the above definition.

In Gilmanton, there is a group of people who petitioned to ban the use of the bio-solids against the wishes of many farmers and their supporters who say the science shows that when applied and managed correctly, bio-solids are perfectly safe for the food they raise and the neighbors who can occasionally smell their fields.

A "yes" vote on Article 3 means a voter wishes to ban their use. A "no" vote means the voters wish to continue the use of bio-solids in town.

According to Michael Rainey of the state Department of Environmental Sciences, the use of Class A and Class B bio-solids is based on science that was settled in the late 1980s, which is that "if you treat bio-solids in a certain way, you are going to kill certain pathogens."

When asked about some of the common complaints about bio-solids, including many specific concerns raised by letter writers offering their thoughts and observations, Rainey said they do smell. He said if properly applied, the smell should last about two to three days, which is about the same for animal manure.

He said that some people are especially sensitive to smells. For example, he fielded a complaint from a few people who live across the Merrimack River from the wastewater treatment plant in Franklin who were getting headaches from the odors. He said he took a few of them on a tour of the plant and while most of them, including himself, felt fine, one woman looked like she was going to vomit.

Other opponents have said they have found needles in areas where sludge or bio-solids were applied. Rainey and Sandwich bio-solid opponent Dr. Carolyn Snyder said this is likely not true because needles are metal, which sink and would be removed by the filtering process at the wastewater treatment plant.

Snyder said she has been working for years trying to debunk what she calls the myth that bio-solids are not dangerous. She also said that the money communities and states recognize in savings in wastewater management is far too great to trust them for any reliable information.

"Our concerns are that there are toxic chemicals in bio-solids but only nine metals are regulated," Snyder said. She added that in New Hampshire every load is different, that it is impossible to tell when industry will dump their toxic waste, and that the state has a high and variable water table.

"We're turning good soil into long-term cleanup sites," Snyder said.

She said one problem is that the pH factor or acidity of the soil is managed only when the bio-solids are applied. She said lime must be applied to make a naturally acidic New Hampshire soil less acidic or metals will leach into the soil.

Snyder said with New Hampshire's cool and moist climate, "The state should absolutely not allow stockpiling." In New Hampshire, users of bio-solids can only stockpile up to two years, but she said many other states don't allow it. She also said it's not strictly enforced here.

But Rainey said there are multiple safety factors built into the state's standards surrounding bio-solids. As for metals, he said a person would have to be walking in the newly spread field for any exposure risk.

He said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency looked at 14 different pathways that somebody could be harmed. He said they involve the direct human consumption of plant material eaten by a child or the strictest standard. He said that once the base safety levels were established, the state took that number and multiplied it by negative 10 times 10 or 100.

"It's safety factors, safety factors, safety factors," he said.

Farmer Tim Towle has used bio-solids in his farm that is partially in Loudon, Gilmanton and Pittsfield for about eight years. He said he uses Class A bio-solids mixed with cow manure and fertilized a corn field for silage. His 150 dairy cows don't graze, so he doesn't use it with a hay crop.

Towle said he loads the mixture into his manure spreader. He described the consistency of the bio-solids as being like the child's toy Play-Doh.

"It's not soupy and it's not a brick," he said.

As for the smell, he said it's about the same as the cow manure and within a day or two the aroma evaporates away. Towle said he uses lime or wood ash as a buffering or anti-acidic component.

He said he wants people to know that the state of New Hampshire has some of the strictest requirements in the county regarding bio-solids. He also said farming and his cows are his livelihood and it wouldn't do him any good at all to do something that could harm his cows, the milk they produce or the land he uses to grow his corn.

But Snyder takes the opposite position. She said there is a case with a court ruling in Georgia where two herds of prime dairy cattle were wiped out by the use of bio-solids.

According to an Associated Press story published by MSNBC's online edition in 2000 and in his 45-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Anthony Alaimo said that along with using the questionable data, "senior EPA officials took extraordinary steps to quash scientific dissent, and any questioning of EPA's biosolids program."
Alaimo ordered the government to reimburse Andy McElmurray because 1,730 acres he wanted to plant in corn and cotton to feed his herd was poisoned.

She also noted that prions, minuscule abnormal proteins associated with mad cow and Creutzfeld-Jakob disease in humans, were picked up by plants and fed to hamsters that came down with brain disease. She said there is a possibility that prions, which are "absolutely indestructible," are not always killed in Class B bio-solids. Other scientists studying the same thing say "not so fast" and that the research is in it early state and not to be relied on at this point.

A recent Newsweek article cited a publication in the journal Scientific Reports that "something about sewer sludge was messing with the reproductive systems of the next generation of sheep while they were still in the wombs."

"There is a concern that by eating the meat from the sheep, we're taking onboard these chemicals," said the woman interviewed by the author of the article. While the article didn't say that the scientific investigations were conclusive, it did say that  more research needs to be done into bio-solids.

Four candidates for one selectman spot in Belmont (945)


BELMONT — With the late entry of write-in candidate Kevin Sturgeon, the race for one open three-year term as selectman has expanded to four candidates – all of whom were on hand for a candidates night held earlier this week.

The names voters will see on the March 8 ballot are Jim Spiller, a retired Navy veteran with quality control experience in the private section, George Condodemetraky, a retired engineer who founded two businesses he has since passed on to his three sons who are also engineers, and incumbent Jon Pike, a local business owner who was born and raised in Belmont and who has served for six years as selectman and on many others on various town boards including the Planning Board. Pike was also involved in the development and planning of the automotive program at the Huot Technical School in Laconia.

While most of the candidates tried to tell the 35 voters who came to the forum why they wanted to be elected for a term that begins after the election, Condodemetracky, who in recent years has run every year for the office but has been defeated, kept bringing the conversation back to the aquifer, regardless of what was asked of him. In the past, Condodemetraky has served two separate terms as selectman, served on the conservation commission, and was an engineer with the state during the planning and construction of the Winnipesaukee Basin Project. He has also served on the School Board and the Sewer Commission.

As for the aquifer, neither Sturgeon, Pike or Spiller support eliminating the expansion of industrial uses over the aquifer, as does Condodemetraky.

Sturgeon and Pike are avid supporters of pressuring the department of transportation to widen and resurface Route 140 from the Northfield line through to Route 106 because they believe the greatest threat to the aquifer comes from trucks going off the road and spilling their cargo and or diesel fuel.

Sturgeon, who owns undeveloped industrial property along Route 140, said that if Article 2 passes it will prevent further development along that strip and the first thing he will do is apply to the town for a rebate of his property taxes and a reassessment going forward.

Pike said that passing the aquifer ordinance has the potential to cost the town a lot of money in tax rebates initially and will severely hamper the ability of the economic viability of the town moving forward.

Spiller said that his primary reason for running is to bring a new set of eyes to the selectboard. He noted that Pike suggested he run a few years ago but didn't realize he would be running against him.

He said he didn't agree with much of what Condodemetraky said while noting he lives in Solar Village, which was designed by him. But, like Condodemetraky, he also said he doesn't think the role of selectman should be a "semi-permanent position."

"Resentments build and personalities clash," Spiller said, promising that if elected he would serve one term and be done.

Spiller said that the Belmont Mill is a "very historical building" and he wants to find a creative solution for rehabbing and using it. As to the former Northway Bank Building, he said the town needs to find a use for it like the mill because the longer they sit, the more they decay.

Last year, Pike was one of three selectmen who presented a $3.3 million renovation package that would have repaired the floor on the fourth floor and converted the mill into 17,000 square feet of office space for the town's use. Condodemetraky opposed the measure.
The warrant article failed by about a 3-to-1 vote.

Aside from pushing the state Department of Transportation to widen and pave Route 140, Sturgeon said one of his goals if elected selectman is to try to get more young people involved in the community by running for board positions and serving on public committees in town.

He feels that passing the petitioned Warrant Article 2 on the this year's ballot would change the entire economic structure of Belmont.

Pike said he is running for a third term because under the direction of the current board, the town has cultivated some very good committees and employees.

He spoke extensively about the Tri-Town Aquifer agreement between Belmont, Northfield and Tilton and that at the most recent meeting, the most informed person in the room was the Belmont town planner.

He noted that Casella Waste Systems recently upgraded its existing facility and sent out 28 abutter notices but nobody showed at the hearing. He said if Article 2 passes, it would have a "tremendous impact" on Belmont, noting that the Belmont industrial zone is near to the interstate and that's where many companies want to be for trucking and efficiency purposes.

"We have had some businesses come in and we need to generate a tax base," he said. "Spill contamination is far scarier that business."

He noted that Tilton complains but since they have already built up their portion of Route 3 near the interstate now is when they want "to cry wolf." He also said that Northfield just put a sewer company next the the wellheads they use for potable water for their community.

He said the EPA and the DES both carefully monitor all of the industrial businesses along that section of road and the town has agreed to increase the level of inspection along the corridor to its highest possible inspection rate.

Pike also said the first three years as a selectman is a learning curve because there is so much procedure to learn. He said he agrees that people should hold on to officer for ever but said some level on continuity on a board is wise.

Moderator Sisti rails against SB2 at Gilmanton candidates night


GILMANTON — Although running without opposition for his 13th term as moderator of both the town and school district, Mark Sisti delivered the fieriest speech when voters filled the gym at the Gilmanton School to hear from candidates this week.

Not for the first time, Sisti sought to rally support for a petitioned warrant article to rescind official ballot voting, better known as SB2, and restore the traditional Town Meeting form of government where votes are taken at the meeting rather than on the town election day. Gilmanton adopted SB2 in 2012 after three previous efforts in 2003, 2004 and 2005 failed.

Branding SB2 "a nightmare" and "abject failure," Sisti said that "We're just not going in the right direction."

He said that earlier this year only 25 voters, less than 1 percent of the electorate, attended the deliberative session of School District Meeting, while 122, less than 5 percent of the electorate, attended the deliberative session of Town Meeting.

"I don't even known why we called these meetings," Sisti said, noting the meetings took just 20 minutes. "It's ridiculous."

Sisti said that voters cast ballots without knowing what they are voting for or against. A year ago, he remarked, voters rejected a warrant articles authorizing the town to accept a $350,000 federal grant for the purchase of a fire truck should the grant be awarded. "It didn't cost a penny, but they voted no without even knowing what they were voting for." Likewise, voters scuttled the budget only to find that the default budget that replaced it spent more. "Most people don't know that our budget can go up by voting no," Sisti said.

At a traditional Town Meeting, Sisti said, town officials, including members of boards and commissions, can explain warrant articles and answer voters' questions. With SB2, he warned, "When you read articles you have no idea about, don't come to me. When you step into the booth and close the curtain, you're on your own."

Sisti urged voters to question candidates on SB2, which he called "a farce, a proven farce in this town" and "a disaster waiting to happen," then said if they favor it, "I'll be voting against them" to thunderous applause.

Sisti faces long odds. Last year, in an effort to undo SB2, which requires a supermajority of three-fifths to pass, 561 voted against and 402 voted in favor. Since 1995, when SB2 was enacted, there have been more than 70 attempts to rescind it, but only three — in Dorchester, Orange and Enfield — have succeeded and none in the last 15 years.