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Town addresses appalling odor

Danielle Ryan

(5/10) Most residents in Emmitsburg may have noticed an unpleasant odor lingering in town for the past few months. Town staff has received numerous calls and complaints from residents concerning the odor and addressed the problem during the May 1 Town meeting.

In November, the Emmitsburg Board of Commissioners approved the storage and lease agreement from Enviro-Organic Technologies (EOT) to use one of the townís empty lagoons to temporarily store food process residuals from poultry processing plants. EOT was contracted to use lagoon 3 from Nov 8 to Feb 28. According to the contract, come March 1, EOT would take the material out of the lagoons and spread it on the farmland. The proposal came with an $80,000 rental agreement for the four months.

When this proposal was presented, Phillip Snader, of EOT spoke to the Council about the new nutrient management regulations set in place by the Maryland Department of Agriculture, specifically regarding the spreading of organic material on farmlands. One of the regulations took effect July 1, 2016 and stated that the Eastern section of the state could not have any organic material applied to it from November 15 through February 28. With the storage at their facilities already full, EOT needed somewhere to store some of their sludge material.

Since February 28, residents have noticed an unpleasant smell emanating throughout the town from the Wastewater Treatment Plant. The odor was only supposed to last for about two weeks, as the sludge was being removed from the lagoon. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Residents are dissatisfied and concerned with the lingering odor, which has been present for the past three months. Not only does the odor present an inconvenience, it poses health concerns for those suffering from asthma or other medical conditions.

Resident Mary Ann Wivell spoke during the meeting and wanted to know what the residents are inhaling and if it is hazardous to their health. "The odor is overwhelming," stated Wivell. "People want to be outside enjoying the weather, but the smell is unbearable." The odor has certainly caused a stir among residents who cannot leave their windows open, hang their laundry outside or allow their children to play outdoors without being inundated with the awful smell. Some residents question whether or not the Board and town staff conducted thorough research on the material being stored. Just like the solar farm, residents are beginning to question the townís ability to conduct adequate research prior to agreeing to a substantial project that will have an impact on the town fiscally as well as residentís quality of life.

Paula Lindsay, owner of the property adjacent to the Wastewater Treatment Plant, said, "the odor is truly offensive." "More concerning is that there have been no studies on exactly what the contents of the lagoon are." It is known that hydrogen sulfides are released as a product of anaerobic breakdown in the slurry, causing the awful odor, but how does this affect residentís health?

Snader answered these concerns stating that this type of material is widely used in the area and is a common agricultural practice. He noted that he "canít deny the smell" but assured the community that he would do his best to mitigate the smell as best as he can. However, he canít guarantee that there will never be an odor. Some days, weather dependent, it will be noticeable. He also remarked that they will never be able to get the tanks "squeaky clean."

Everything done, process wise, is based on the weather, so there were days where EOT couldnít spread the sludge due to the rain. "This process has been dragged out longer than expected," said Snader. With residentís concerns in mind, EOT proposed that by May 5 all operations for the spring would be ceased, but operations would begin again this fall. Ceasing operation will significantly cut down on the odor being emitted. Since early March, the slurry has been removed in portions, causing the mixture to be agitated almost daily. Every time the crust on top of the slurry is disturbed and the mixture is agitated, the odor worsens. The cap/crust that forms over the mixture needs to harden and completely reform. This will happen as soon as the slurry is left alone and not mixed any further. Snader also proposed that a straw mat, at minimum of 6 inches thick, be placed under the cap, which will also help to reduce the odor. A chemical odor deterrent will also be added.

As far as health effects, apparently there are none, according to Snader and Steve Davis of Denali Water Solutions. "This is more of a nuisance issue, not a health issue," said Davis. However, it canít be denied that the odor, thus far, has hindered breathability for everyone, especially those suffering from asthma or other pulmonary conditions.

On May 4th, EOT finished hauling out of the lagoon at the Wastewater Treatment Plant, one day ahead of the May 5th deadline. EOT added odor control on Monday, May 8 and a contractor placed the straw mat on the lagoon that same week.

* Update: Most recently discovered, the town did not check with the county to see if they were even permitted to use the lagoon at the Wastewater Treatment Plant for this particular type of storage prior to accepting the contract from EOT. The town only recently, on May 9, reached out to the county, after an inquiry from this paper was made to town staff.

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