THURSTON, N.Y. (WETM) – The Town of Thurston, about 20 minutes south of Bath, is considering a law to ban sewage sludge from being spread on farmland to fertilize crops. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation says sludge or “biosolids” that come from treated wastewater is rich in nutrients that can benefit soil. Town of Thurston Supervisor Michael Volino says new worries over PFAS or so-called “forever chemicals” are adding to years of concerns about sewer sludge.
“We are considering adopting a ban on sewage sludge spreading to protect the health and safety of residents,” Volino said. “The town wishes to establish stricter standards than the standards established by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) because we do not believe that the DEC standards are sufficient to protect town residents and the environment from the harms caused by sewage sludge spreading. The residents of our town have experienced many years of sewage sludge spreading and are eager for the town to enact a ban. Recent disclosures about the ubiquitous presence of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in sewage sludge have heightened local concerns.”
The Food and Drug Administration says PFAS – also known as “forever chemicals” – were introduced in the 1940’s. They are called this because of the long time they take to break down.
They were used to make everything from non-stick pans to water resistant fabrics and cleaning products. Some pfas are still allowed today in limited amounts in cookware, food packaging, and food processing equipment. The FDA says widespread use of pfas has led to “increasing levels of contamination of the air, water, and soil.”
The FDA says “while the science surrounding potential health effects of bioaccumulation is developing, exposure to some types of pfas have been associated with serious health effects.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says “scientific studies have shown that exposure to certain levels of pfas may lead to increased risk of some cancers, reproductive effects, and other health effects.”
Supervisor Volino says PFAS were detected in recent tests of private drinking wells near Thurston. Casella Waste Systems says it bought the sludge facility in July of 2022.
In a letter to the New York State Department of Agriculture, Casella Divison Manager Mary Rayeski said the “continued operation of the facility is now being threatened by a newly proposed local law which bans land application of such biosolids from state-permitted facilities.”
Casella says a local farm has depended on biosolids to grow crops since the1960’s due to a lack of manure after it sold off all of its livestock. Casella says spreading sewage sludge on land is a quote “approved practice” that’s supported by the Department of Environmental Conservation.
The DEC says it currently has an “interim strategy” for the control of PFAS until the EPA issues new standards. The EPA says those standards won’t be ready until December 2024 or later.”
At a town board meeting earlier this month, members voted 5-0 in favor of a draft of “Local Law #3” which would ban sewage sludge facilities in the town of Thurston.
The town says it will hold a public meting on the proposed law on Monday, August 28th at 6 p.m. at the Thurston Town Hall on 7578 County Route 333, Campbell, New York 14281. You can also join the meeting on Zoom by visiting the Town of Thurston website.
I reached out to Thurston Supervisor Michael Volino, Casella Waste Systems, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Agriculture. I did not hear back before publication.
You can read the draft of “Local Law #3” below: