Neighbors complain that animal waste used as fertilizer smells and is a potential health hazard

Shortly after a town hall meeting held in Antes Fort in January by state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy in which a citizen questioned the spreading of animal waste as fertilizer on Nippenose Township farmlands, the Sun-Gazette questioned the state Department of Environmental Protection on the practice.

Several residents who live close to farmland operated by William R. Camerer and farmed by Brett Bowes, of 305 Nippenose Road, Jersey Shore, have complained to public officials and state regulatory agencies about the smell and potential negative health effects from spreading liquefied animal waste.

Residents said they have spotted waste runoff pooling near roadways and making its way into local streams.

The fertilizer is a byproduct of operations at Nicholas Meat Packing, 508 E. Valley Road, Loganton.

On Jan. 18 the Sun-Gazette asked DEP’s North Central Regional Office in Williamsport about any investigations or violations that may have taken place at the farms in question.

Dan Spadoni, DEP community relations coordinator, replied on Jan. 22 that the agency received four citizen complaints since Jan. 11.

In a follow-up email from Spadoni dated Jan. 28, he wrote that “the department has completed its investigation and no violations were discovered. Both the Camerer and Bowes farms have nutrient management plans approved by the county conservation district.”

Spadoni also wrote that the spreading of the animal waste on the fields during winter was an approved activity.

The Sun-Gazette subsequently sought records from DEP through a Right to Know request on April 10. Information such as the number of investigations, results of investigations and information on fines, warnings or corrective actions issued.

DEP invoked its right to review the request longer than the standard five business days – taking a full month – citing legal reasons and additional time necessary to provide the information.

The information provided shows there have been additional citizen complaints since late January. From the provided documents, complaints were on file as early as Oct. 20, 2011.

DEP documents also show that Solid Waste Management Act violations concerning “improper management of food processing waste” were recorded for both Bowes and Nicholas Meat on April 2.

That investigation revealed that the animal waste from farmlands collected in a drainage area and pipe under Nippenose Road and that the spreading took place within 100 feet of a stream. The investigation also showed that the waste was spread on fields that were not included in any nutrient management plan, which neither Bowes or Nicholas Meat Packing said they were aware.

The inspection report notes that waste was spread “without a permit since best management practices were not followed.”

Several complaints were reported to DEP on April 27, according to the Right to Know documents, including one person who said he was having respiratory issues and having trouble breathing because of the stench. Another person reported that her well water was contaminated with surfactants and coliform bacteria from the spreading.

A DEP investigator wrote in a report that he saw no problems with runoff, but detected a “slight odor.”

In a Jan. 29 letter to Everett from DEP Regional Director Marcus Kohl, he wrote that “permits are not required for the land application of food processing waste in the course of normal farming operations.”

The spreading does require a nutrient management plan, however.

“The department observed that a nutrient management plan has been developed and submitted to the county conservation district for the fields where the slaughterhouse waste is being applied.

“During department inspections of the various fields, no violations of the nutrient management plan or other department regulations have been observed,” Kohl wrote.

Everett recently said he was satisfied with DEP’s efforts, but “things are still being looked at.”

He said the January town hall meeting was the first time he was made aware of the issue, and asked DEP to look into it afterwards.

Everett said he plans on holding additional meetings in the township this summer to discuss the issue

“I’ve heard from people it’s not a pleasant odor, and I think I understand that,” he said. “It’s a part of agriculture; it always has been and it probably always will be. I’m not making light of their issue.”

He added that he encourages residents to document their problems.

“There is a process that needs to be followed. DEP will be the one that will be carrying the ball,” said Everett.