— By CHRISTIN COYNE
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality took action Tuesday to begin evaluating possible restrictions on using treated and processed sewage as fertilizer because of numerous odor nuisance complaints from populated areas in North Texas.
Responding to a recent outcry by dozens of Parker County residents, Parker County Judge Mark Riley spoke Tuesday at an Austin meeting in favor of the move to consider changing state regulations.
Local officials have been bombarded with complaints over the past three weeks after Renda Environmental Inc., a company contracting with the City of Fort Worth for the removal of wastewater product, began applying treated sewage sludge to pastureland southwest of Springtown.
Residents say their quality of life has been affected by a foul stench, many saying the odor has kept them from going outdoors or made them feel sick. Many are also concerned about possible health and environmental effects, as well.
No permit is required to use Class A biosolids as fertilizer, though the sludge must be treated to reduce flies and other vector attractions and tested to ensure it’s non-hazardous, according to the state.
TCEQ responded to the complaints and has an open investigation but took no action to stop the application of the biosolids in the neighborhood. However, the City of Fort Worth has halted the application of biosolids by their contractor in Parker County after officials in that county were contacted by Riley.
TCEQ has opened enforcement action against Renda Environmental in relation to similar complaints in Wise County last month. Complainants in that case documented the affects of the odor issue, according to a TCEQ representative.
“I believe it is a quality control issue with the product, but it is also a common sense issue,” Riley said. “The company knew there was a problem with the product. TCEQ knew there was a problem with the product when they ordered the company to stop using it in Wise County last month.”
Riley said he has requested additional information from TCEQ regarding Renda Environmental and the use of the “biosolids.”
Local officials, including State Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, hope to find a longer-term solution to the issue by pursuing changes to state regulations.
“A petition was filed with the TCEQ on May 13, 2013, by an individual landowner in Ellis County,” TCEQ spokeswoman Andrea Morrow stated. “The petitioner requested that the commission amend 30 TAC Chapter 312, Sludge Use, Disposal and Transportation, in order to prohibit the land application of sludge in, or within, 3 miles of a city limit in a county with a population of 140,000 or more that is located adjacent to a county with a population between 2 (million) and 4 million.”
“It turns out the Ellis County petition is based on actions by Renda Environmental Inc., the same company that is using this human waste fertilizer in Wise and Parker county,” Riley said.
Though the proposed rule wouldn’t apply to Parker County, that could change during the rulemaking process, according to TCEQ.
Stakeholder meetings are expected to be scheduled for interested parties to provide input into development of the rule. Riley requested Tuesday that Parker County be considered a stakeholder, according to the judge’s office.
“Additionally, once a draft rule is approved, the proposed rule would be published in the Texas Register for public comment,” Morrow stated. “TCEQ will respond to all comments and then propose the final rule for commission adoption.”
Several entities have come out against changing the regulations, including the Trinity River Authority, which also contracts for removal of biosolids in the DFW area. In a letter requesting the commission dismiss the petition, the TRA argued that current regulations already address the issues of odor nuisance and fish kill allegations and that the adoption of proposed rules threatens to needlessly burden a practice already adequately regulated.
The land application of biosolids is a proven practice with many environmental and economic benefits, saving taxpayers money and hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of landfill space each year in DFW, according to the TRA.
Those who’d like to participate in the process can find more information at www.tceq.texas.gov/rules/participate.html.