October 13, 2007

This Just Stinks

Editorial from my down-home newspaper this past week.

Another reason our Constitution stinks: The smell from up north.

Of the many complaints lodged against our current constitutional arrangement, one of the most frequent is the difficulty that local governments face when they want to regulate things in their own back yards.
(Another criticism is the way special interests use that constitutional arrangement to keep local governments, or state government for that matter, from regulating what the special interests don't want regulated.)
Among the many things local governments struggle with is regulating nuisances such as junk yards, dumps, mean dogs that are on the loose, and treated human waste that's being used as fertilizer.
That's right.
While no one was looking — at least no one who would or could do anything about it — a Texas company worked out a deal with New York to take sludge from waste treatment plants up there, ship it to Alabama, treat it again, and then give it to farmers to use as fertilizer. They are doing this up in Limestone County.
Let's not blame the farmers. It is good fertilizer and it's free. Plus, the Environmental Protection Agency says it is not a health hazard.
But it stinks.
Not just that good, old-fashioned farm stink that is more nostalgic than nasty, but a stench that, according to someone living in the neighborhood, "smells 10 times worse than a pig barn."
The farmer is in a bind. For years, farms didn't have neighbors. Farms were way out in the country. But in recent years neighborhoods have encroached on farmland, so now the farmer must be concerned about what the folks next door think about farm smells. On the other hand, the folks next door need to be aware that farming has certain scents associated with it.
Human waste, however, should not be one of them. But what can be done?
Not much, unless the Legislature passes strict environmental standards covering this sort of thing or the Constitution is changed to give local government the power to deal with what is clearly a local matter.
Neither is likely to happen unless a lot of folks raise a big stink — bigger than what is already being smelled.

*I don't know about you, but this kind of makes me feel a little queasy. It's not the smell aspect of it that bothers me, but the thought of eating food grown with the use of human waste from New York. How can they be one-hundred-per-cent sure that it is safe? A million thoughts go bounding around in my head at the thought of that. What are your thoughts on the subject?


Vin De Vine said...

Ok, you got me on this one, I haven't a clue. I remember being told the rice paddies in SE Asia were fertilized with human feces and much of it was shipped to the US, but I think I also read that human waste as fertilizer has been known to cause disease, so wash your veggies before eating them.

As far as encroaching neighbors, we have a similar problem in So Cal where suburbs have crowded around airports and are now complaining about the noise.

The battle has been going on for many years.

The residents claim they have a right to noise abatement and the airport says if they don't like the noise they shouldn't have moved next door to an airport...

The Hermit said...

I don't want any part of food grown with the contents of the "honey bucket." I remember the horrific stench of the rice paddies in korea, where the kids go out every morning and ladel "night soil" on the plants from a bucket. I couldn't live within 100 miles of that. Wouldn't want to get any disease that way, either.

Jan said...

Vin..I wash everything so thoroughly, that there's hardly anything left, already! I can't even imagine eating any veggies grown with that stuff!

About the airport..comes down to the same old thing. When does honoring your civil rights violate mine, and what can be done about it, really?

Jan said...

Hermit..my husband told me about those "honey wagons" in Europe, and how horrible the stench, as they sprayed it on the crops.

I can't understand how anyone could think that the fertilizer from New York is harmless, and free of disease, no matter how many times it is treated.

"You are what you eat," sounds really yucky now!

sue said...

This isn't just happening in NY, Jan. Here in Iowa, just a ways down the road, we have a farmer who has always been touted in publications as being such a great guy and so environmentally friendly because he uses "sustainable agriculture". This is supposed to mean he uses no chemicals or fertilizer on his crops except what his farm produces - he has cattle, and he rotates crops and he has a whole song and dance he does. Unfortunately, his whole argument is a sham. Farmers would love to be able to cash flow "sustainable ag practices" but the fact is, unless you are a very small farmer and are growing your own veggies, have your own cows for milk, chickens for eggs and meat, etc., it isn't possible.

This guy has had magazine articles written about him and he's made the newspaper several times. The facts are, he gets seed GIVEN to him, he inherited his land and equipment (so no cost there) he gives tours of his farm and CHARGES for these tours, and, yes, the reason for this post... he gets sludge from the neighboring town which he uses on his crops. My daughter lived next door to one of his fields and in the summer when he'd put it on she could barely breath... it is 10x worse than any odor I've ever smelled from a large hog lot or cattle lot. It is horrid. Yet? He gets away with it.

Okay, rant over.

Sorry to be so long, but you hit a nerve here (can't you tell?)

Jan said...

Sue..you're allowed to rant here, anytime!

Yep, there are a lot of hypocrites around, from every walk of life.

I can't even imagine how awful it would be, living right next to one of those farms, having to smell it, and breathe it in!

rockync said...

This is why I won't buy foods from South America because I saw an article about them using human waste as fertilizer.
Several problems here besides the stink and the idea of human waste.
Who is going to ensure that the waste is properly and sufficiently processed to eliminate contamination such as communicable diseases?
If it stinks, it can't possibly be processed enough. Ever buy a bag of cow manure? It has been processed and dried until it has little or no smell.
If we are going to start farming like third world countries, why bother? We can get produce a lot cheaper from them.

Jan said...

rockync..I was really surprised to learn that they were actually shipping the treated waste to farmers for use on their crops.

No matter how much it is treated, I just don't see how it could possibly be totally safe.

rockync said...

I'm with you, Jan. Cow manure is one thing, they eat grass but people put all manner of things in their bodies and I just don't want my food grown in human waste.

Jan said...

" and I just don't want my food grown in human waste."

rockync..I hear you!

Granny J said...

So I am going to be the dissident here... thanks to cultural conditioning, we find the use of human waste distasteful. But it can be perfectly safe if it is treated so as to kill all the micro-organisms, which means high heat. Currently the problem might be chemical contamination, specifically the drugs that pass through our systems which are not broken down by the heat treatment. But then we also have similar drugs showing up from our cattle. Living long-term in space, on the moon or Mars will require the recycling (a fancy word) of human waste.

Jan said...

granny j, I understand what you are saying, and as repulsive as it is to think of eating food grown from human waste, the real fear, for me, is the very thing that you mentioned.

If we beome sick and diseased from the antibiotics, etc., injected into, or ingested by cattle, how much worse will it be if, indeed, the chemicals ingested by humans is not broken down by the treatments?

I realize that it is an inevitability that we all must face, but it does not make it more palatable.