Ontario farmers annoyed by sludge storage odours

FLORENCE, Ont. — A controversy over municipal sewage sludge has been heating up near this rural community in southwestern Ontario.

Farmers Harry Lawson and Bev Bodkin and other area residents have complained about a foul odour originating from tonnes of pelletized material piled on a neighbouring farm field.

They’re also concerned about the potential of groundwater contamination and dismiss the idea that using a plastic cover will solve the problem.

“A partially covered pile: that’s like putting a raincoat on a skunk,” Lawson said. “Southern Ontario has be-come a dumping ground for Toronto’s waste.”

David Buurma, a farmer and owner of Lasalle Agri Bio-Solids, said the waste originates from Toronto and admitted to the odour problem, especially when it rains.

Ontario’s environment ministry classifies the material as fertilizer. It has been dried and heat treated to eliminate pathogens.

Agriculture Canada scientist Ed Topp from the Southern Crop Protection and Food Research Centre in London said 120,000 dry tonnes of bio-solids are spread on Ontario farmland annually.

Topp agreed with Buurma’s assertion that the nutrients contained in the bio-solids pellets are stable until they come into contact with soil life.

Buurma said bio-solids pellets have not been popular on farms surrounding his storage site, perhaps because the area’s sandy soil has higher levels of phosphorus.

However, it has been popular in other areas.

“Farmers typically want to put it down before corn. There are about 100 pounds of nitrogen and 100 lb. of phosphorus and 1,400 lb. of organic matter per metric tonne,” he said.

“All the good stuff you get with manure is in this.”

The 1,400 lb. of organic matter is equivalent to three year’s worth of wheat straw residue, he added.

Lawson and Bodkin said they have never approached the Lasalle Agri owner with their complaints.

They did call the environment ministry, and Lawson planned to approach the provincial agriculture ministry to say that the storage is not a “normal farm practice” under the province’s Farming and Food Production Act.

Buurma said his father, who owns the farm where the storage is located, also wants the material cleared out. He plans to secure another storage site in a more remote area before the end of summer.

“This is the time of year when it ships out. Once the wheat comes off, it will all move out,” Buurma said.

A distinct odour was noticed during a visit to the site on a sunny day, but it wasn’t overwhelming. There was also the taste of the material in the air, and the material appeared to be smouldering at one corner of the bunker, wisps of smoke rising.

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