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Farmer seeks permit to use treated sewage on land

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    Owners of the 123-acre Cunfer Farm in East Penn Township are hoping to get municipal approval to use nutrients from treated sewage as fertilizer. JARRAD HEDES/TIMES NEWS

Published February 19. 2018 02:42PM

Owners of a 123-acre East Penn Township property are hoping to use nutrients from treated sewage as fertilizer on their farm in an effort to cut costs.

Baltimore-based Synagro submitted an application to the township in mid-January, requesting approval to provide the biosolids land application services to the Cunfer Farm, owned by Dennis Cunfer and Wanda Crostley.

According to the application, Synagro notified surrounding landowners, 27 of which were listed on the documents provided to the township, as required by the state.

“Biosolids are treated and stabilized wastewater treatment residuals, which are land applied as fertilizer,” wrote Peter Price, Synagro technical services manager. “The material is applied to crops based on nutrient needs.”

The biosolids are regulated by the state Department of Environmental Protection, which has a 300-feet buffer zone from a dwelling or water source unless the property owner signs a waiver.

Houses, wells and streams are required to be buffered from nonexceptional quality biosolids land application activities, according to the application.

The buffer zones will be measured and marked with visible flags in the field before any land application on the farm.

Synagro’s submission lists the materials as coming from wastewater treatment facilities across Pennsylvania. None of the facilities are located in Carbon County.

The application also notes that Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory records indicate no known impact to threatened or endangered species within the application area.

Dennis’ wife, Deanna Cunfer, is an East Penn Township supervisor and was asked about the application at the board’s February meeting.

“Are the buyers of the farm’s end product OK with this?” fellow Supervisor Steve Heckman asked.

“It has nutrients added and it has been treated,” Cunfer said of the materials. “It’s not stockpiles.”

The biosolids would be used on corn, soybeans, wheat/barley, oats/rye, orchard grass and alfalfa.

Cunfer said the process saves thousands of dollars on fertilizers.

East Penn Chairman William Schwab said the township would forward the application to its solicitor for review and the board would consider it at its March 5 meeting.

Treating biosolids

On its website, DEP Pennsylvania’s regulatory program focuses on setting strict standards for biosolids quality before land application and requiring generators to be more responsible.

The material, DEP said, has proved to be a valuable resource, when controlled and safely applied, as a fertilizer to help rejuvenate farmland, forests and minelands.

Once the wastewater reaches the plant, the Environmental Protection Agency website states, the sewage goes through physical, chemical and biological processes which clean the wastewater and remove the solids. If necessary, the solids are then treated with lime to raise the pH level to eliminate objectionable odors.

The wastewater treatment processes sanitize wastewater solids to control pathogens and other organisms capable of transporting disease.

On the issue of odor, the EPA states biosolids may have their own distinctive odor depending on the type of treatment it has been through.

“Some biosolids may have only a slight musty, ammonia odor. Others have a stronger odor that may be offensive to some people. Much of the odor is caused by compounds containing sulfur and ammonia, both of which are plant nutrients.”

No stranger to eastern Pa.

Synagro has proposed a facility in Plainfield Township that would convert sewage sludge into Class A biosolids for resale as fuel or fertilizer.

According to media reports, the company wants to use methane gas from the landfill to fuel ovens that will dry out the sludge, which will be shipped in from sewage treatment facilities.

Plainfield’s planning commission was slated to begin looking at the updated plans in November.

Kelley Andrade contributed to this report.

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