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updated: 5/12/2014 6:06 AM

Residents complain about human waste fertilizer

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Associated Press

MASCOUTAH, Ill. -- Residents in a southwestern Illinois town are raising questions over the use of treated human waste as a fertilizer in a field near their homes, arguing that the pungent product could spread onto their property and contaminate drinking wells.

Mascoutah residents want stricter regulations on so-called "sewage sludge" after a farmer fertilized his fields with it last year, the Belleville News-Democrat reported in a story posted online Saturday. But state environmental officials say the practice is safe and heavily regulated. Neighbors say the odor is stronger than manure and could be smelled up to four miles away.

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"I came home from work, closed my garage door and thought 'Oh my goodness, there's a dead animal in my garage.' Then I realized it's outside and it's inside," said Sarah Townsend, who lives near a field south of Mascoutah that was fertilized with sewage sludge a year ago.

Using treated human waste as a fertilizer has been legal in Illinois since 1983. Local farmers receive the sludge -- which is treated with chemicals and run through filters -- from water treatment facilities. The result is a clay-like product that farmers can spread over fields. However, not every treatment plant provides waste to farmers.

The Caseyville Township Water Treatment Plant pays farmers to take the sludge as a cost-saving measure.

"If we don't find farmers to put it on fields, we have to take it to the landfill. It will cost even more to take it to the landfill, but we haven't had to do that yet," Caseyville Township Supervisor Bruce Canty said.

The farmer in question received treated human waste from this treatment plant last year.

Permits require farmers to take into account odor-preventative measures such as humidity, wind direction and the day of the week. They must plow the sludge into the ground and cannot use it within 100 feet of a residence.

An Illinois Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman said officials investigated the case near Mascoutah last year and concluded that rules were followed.

"There are strict regulations they are meeting and must stay in compliance with to continue applying this material," Kim Biggs said.

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