BALTIMORE, MD (March 26, 2010) – Following an investigation that included four inspections and surface water and groundwater sampling, MDE today issued an Administrative Complaint and Penalty against Hudson Farm in Berlin, Maryland. In addition to corrective actions already taken, the Administrative Complaint seeks a $4,000 penalty for a violation of State water pollution control laws for placing sludge deliveries in a pile near a drainage ditch on the farm.
Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson said, “MDE’s first job was to immediately ensure the potential source of pollution was controlled. That was done. Today’s Administrative Complaint serves as a reminder that placement of material in a position likely to pollute waters of the State is a violation of Maryland law and threatens the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.”
Ms. Wilson continued, “To maintain an effective enforcement program, and to focus our resources on the greatest threats to public health and the environment, MDE prioritizes enforcement actions. While this case has received extensive media attention, MDE pursues enforcement actions in federal or state court only when circumstances merit that level of action. In this case, MDE did not have strong evidence conclusively linking bacterial pollution to Hudson Farm and is not pursuing enforcement on that issue.”
MDE was first alerted to potential pollution at Hudson Farm through a Notice of Intent to Sue by the Waterkeeper Alliance and Assateague Coastkeeper on December 17, 2009, for alleged Clean Water Act violations from a poultry litter pile. Following an initial MDE inspection on December 18, 2009, on December 21, 2009, an MDE inspector identified a pile of Class A sewage sludge, not poultry litter, stored adjacent to a drainage ditch. The inspector required the owners to move and cover the pile of Class A sludge and to stabilize and seed the original site of the storage pile in order to reduce pollution. A follow-up MDE inspection on January 7, 2010, confirmed the sludge had been moved approximately 155 feet from the ditch and was covered with plastic.
While MDE’s sampling results showed elevated bacteria levels at Hudson Farm, levels in the area immediately adjacent and downstream of the sludge were not as high as levels further downstream. The source of the bacteria was not conclusively identified. Due to the naturally high variability of bacterial concentrations it is very difficult to identify specific causal factors. Possible sources could include wildlife, such as geese or other fowl, raccoons, deer, and/or farm operations. Bacterial source tracking analysis conducted by MDE in developing the total maximum daily load documentation for Dividing Creek, also located in the Pocomoke watershed near Hudson Farm, showed that over 70 percent of the bacteria originated from wildlife sources. MDE is currently working with Salisbury University to develop more robust analytical methods to better identify bacterial sources.
Class A sewage sludge, or biosolids, is an earthy, nutrient-rich material remaining after wastewater treatment that is further treated to destroy potentially infectious pathogens. With pathogens removed, the material can safely be used as a natural fertilizer. When Class A sewage sludge is stockpiled by a drainage ditch, nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen that are intended for uptake for crop production may be lost to the environment and have a detrimental impact on waters of the State.
While State and federal regulations require a permit for wastewater treatment plant operators that produce and/or process Class A sewage sludge, individual users do not need a separate permit. However, individuals who use Class A material remain responsible for its proper storage and application -- the same as any fertilizer -- to prevent runoff and over-application of nutrients, as required under MDE and Maryland Department of Agriculture laws and regulations.