LINCOLN COUNTY –– It’s a pickle, to say the least.
In a Newport City Council work session Nov. 5, the city’s wastewater treatment plant supervisor Andrew Grant pushed back against accusations the county, as well as the cities here, are spreading what amounts to processed poop on otherwise clean land in the most rural parts of Lincoln County.
“Biosolids are not poop,” Grant said during the work session. “When you think about what happens in the bathroom ... fecal bacteria becomes a large constituent of feces and they’re very small.”
City and county officials, despite defending the spread of biosolids on farmland in areas in the east part of the county, are openly and loudly criticized by locals in the county’s eastern communities who protest against the use of biosolids on rural county lands.
“DEQ Bio solids program is so out of touch with the caring public,” the manager of Save Our Siletz River Facebook page said in a Facebook post on Oct. 19. “They don’t get that we the people want a clean river. We want clean municipal water.”
The battle between city and county officials who defend the spreading of treated sewage sludge, or biosolids, and the local activists who want an outright ban on the spreading of biosolids is an ongoing one. The Facebook group was created in May, although the fight to stop the spread of biosolids might go even further back than that. Members of the Save Our Siletz River Facebook group have shared links to scientific studies, photos of stretches of the Siletz River and updates about trucks hauling treated sewer sludge to spread on agricultural lands near the river.
The defense of using treated sewer sludge on Lincoln County’s fields involves a lot of science. Fecal bacteria are two microns large, Grant said, and 25 can fit in the width of a human hair. Fecal bacteria are then fed to stock ciliates, which are 50 times larger than the fecal bacteria themselves. The stock ciliates also feed on dissolved solids, and they, in turn, are fed to protozoa in an aeration tank. As the food chain progresses, the protozoa are moved to a cellar tank where they are “thickened up,” as Grant called it, and the thickened-up protozoa get moved to an aerated sludge tank. The end result, after a couple more rungs up the ladder, is a treated product.
In Newport, the treated product is stabilized with lime before being pasteurized, and every batch is tested. According to Grant, organisms, or fecal bacteria from the treated sludge, has never leaked through the system.
“Last year, we made four and a half million pounds of biosolids,” Grant said. “That was all Class A biosolids.”
Class A biosolids are safe for human contact, according to a PowerPoint presentation Grant put together for the Newport City Council, and Newport’s biosolids don’t have diseases. Class A biosolids also have fewer restrictions on land application. These are distinct from Class B biosolids, which aren’t processed to the extent of Class A biosolids and are pathogenic, making them unsafe for spreading.
The biosolids produced by Newport, according to Grant’s presentation, are not only Class A but are considered “EQ,” or excellent quality.
“[These are] biosolids that meet Class A standards and have low metals,” Grant’s presentation reads. “Newport meets this standard and has permission from Oregon DEQ to market our biosolids as EQ.”
The good word and backing from government agencies like the state Department of Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency might not be enough for the locals in Toledo, Siletz and other communities in Lincoln County, however.
“We in Lincoln County need to show up in numbers and tell the DEQ not in our county,” the page manager of Save Our Siletz River said on Oct. 31.
Steven Linder, a local man whose Facebook profile says he’s self-employed and from San Diego, shared the sentiment.
“Not so pristine now,” said Linder. “The farmland effluent has been leaching noxious fertilizers and pesticide residues for years into the Siletz River. Now, this sewage tanker mix is adding insult to previous injuries.”