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Sludge concerns

Published September 03. 2010 05:00PM

Two local lawmakers are reacting strongly to a report of the potential use of sludge, or biosolids, in a proposed mine reclamation project six miles west of Tamaqua.

State Senator David G. Argall (R-29) and state Representative Jerry Knowles (R-124) today expressed strong concerns regarding the use of biosolids, also referred to as 'treated sewer sludge,' in the reclamation of abandoned strip mines in Schuylkill Township.

Their concerns were prompted by a proposal Wednesday evening of an Elizabethtown-based consulting firm to the Schuylkill Township board of supervisors to use Harrisburg city sewer sludge around the communities of Mary D and Tuscarora in Schuylkill Township.

"Throughout my professional career I have heard the pros and cons for the use of biosolids on abandoned mine lands and I am well aware of the potential for damage to our local environment," Knowles said.

"I was shocked when I read the newspaper and learned of the proposal. I will do everything in my power to ensure that the health and welfare of our residents remain a top priority, and nothing less."

Knowles told the TIMES NEWS that public safety cannot be gambled.

"I will not trade the long-term quality of life for local residents in order to reclaim abandoned mine lands," Knowles added.

Argall said the issue needs to be looked at in-depth.

"This is the first time many local residents have heard of this proposal, and they are very concerned about the future of their community. What sounds like a simple proposal may, in fact, have significant ramifications on the health of our entire region."

"State and local officials need to carefully evaluate this matter and its potential impact to area residents," added Argall.

The story announcing the project appeared on the front page of Thursday's TIMES NEWS.

News of the project was made public Wednesday when two representatives of an Elizabethtown consulting firm asked to be placed on the agenda at this week's Schuylkill Township board of supervisors meeting.

During the session, Trudy Johnston and Jennifer Callahan of Material Matters, Inc., distributed literature which presented a highly favorable perspective regarding the use of biosolids when, in fact, the use of such sludge is seen as controversial and a potential threat to health and safety.

The local project would be handled by the Michael Coal Co. of Williamstown in conjunction with the Harrisburg Wastewater Advanced Treatment Facility.

Critics have called the land application of sewage sludge a life or death gamble manipulated by the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection. In fact, the Pennock family of Mohrsville claims that sludge led to the death of their son Danny. Another youth, Tony Behun, also died after riding his dirt bike through sludge which had been applied at a strip mine in Osceola Mills.

Widespread dumping of sludge is especially insulting, say critics, because the same waste matter was placed into the ocean with disastrous results.

"It created a dead zone the size of Connecticut," said Ben Price during a public forum held in 2006. Price serves as project director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, based in Chambersburg. He offered his expertise to local municipalities when the sewage sludge issue first surfaced in the local area.

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