YORK COUNTY, S.C. -- LeeAnn Gregory has lived on Fishing Creek Church Road in rural Rock Hill for 19 years, and while she enjoys her quality of life, there are times she can’t stand to even be outside after farms use fertilizer made from human waste.
“Turkey and cow stuff is natural, but whenever they start putting down the human waste, the smell, it a different odor.” Said Gregory.
Gregory and others who live near farms in York and Chester counties have complained for years that sludge used on nearby farms is making them sick.
“The smell is like nothing you’ve ever smelled,” said Gregory, who said when the farm gets its sludge each month, she has had to pull over her car and gets sick.
“We have a thing [to see] who hits the re-circulate button the fastest,” she joked, referring to the button that re-circulates the air inside the vehicle.
Gregory also said that she and other neighbors will warn each other when the sludge is put down and sometimes the awful odor can last as long as a week-- especially in the summer, LeeAnn’s daughter Ariel says.
Now a report from the University of North Carolina backs up residents’ health concerns. The study was done by interviewing about 40 residents who live within a mile of farms that use sludge. In part, the report says: "More than half of people interviewed reported acute symptoms such as burning eyes, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea after sludge had been sprayed or spread. People who live near fields in which industrial swine operations spray waste have reported similar symptoms."
Farms use the human waste because it is cheaper than other fertilizers and at a time when farms are struggling to survive they know that the product is vital to staying afloat.
The Environmental Protection Agency regulates about nine metals that could be harmful if too high an amount is found inside sludge, but the EPA does not regulate such materials like steroids and some medicines.
As for one of the prime suppliers of sludge-- Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities, they say that they understand the concerns of residents but make sure that the product they ship meets federal standards.
“One of the things that is great is that we follow the guidelines of the EPA in both the states of North Carolina and South Carolina,” said Karen Whichard of Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities.