MARSHALL COUNTY, Ala. - The combination of chemicals and chicken byproducts called "chicken sludge" is raising concerns in North Alabama.
Some Marshall County residents are saying the foul odor from that "chicken sludge" is invading their properties. The problems with this "sludge" are much more serious than just a bad stench.
Bio-solids is the waste industry term for the solid material left over from modern wastewater treatment operations. That includes both municipal wastewater treatment plants that deal with sewage, and industrial operations like chicken processing plants.
Julie Lay lives in Guntersville. In June, two neighboring properties had sludge from a poultry processing plant spread on them. Her neighbor said they were told by a company that it was “free, food grade fertilizer."
"Poultry facilities are using multiple chemicals, cleaning compounds, they use chlorine in their chiller water to reduce salmonella counts they also use a citric acid product on a bird pre-rinse," said Lay.
Lay said she was concerned that the sludge is harmful. She made calls to the company spreading the sludge, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) to get answers.
She quickly learned those answers aren't easy to find.
"Well finally I realized that there were no regulations on poultry processing waste," said Lay.
She stresses that the sludge that was applied to her neighbors’ fields was not the dry, chicken litter from coops commonly used as fertilizer, but the remnants from a poultry processing plant, which could include organic matter from the chickens as well as chemical solvents used to clean the facility.
Lay said she could see a “crust” that included chicken feathers and fat left behind on land where the sludge had been applied.
Lay is not the only one who wants answers from environmental regulators. Corriene Mitchell has been fighting the battle against sludge since 2011.
"I think if we can send a rocket to the moon that there's somebody smart enough in this country to figure out how to handle this waste without putting it on land," said Mitchell.
Mitchell grew up on a farm and said this is not regular chicken litter. She believes its much worse.
"We have chicken liter put on our own property, that's not a problem. This is entirely different. And if you live in the country and your use to those smells you can tell the difference," said Mitchell.
Mitchell and Lay both have concerns that this sludge can ruin the soil and tamper with local water quality.
ADEM is currently looking at strengthening regulations on how bio-solids and other by-product materials are managed in the state.
A public hearing was held on the issue in Montgomery on September 5. ADEM's website indicates that the topic is up for commission consideration on October 18th.
Lay and others are worried the proposed rules won’t do enough to prevent putrid and potentially harmful waste sludge from being dumped on rural communities.