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Wales board plans to draft biosolids law

Another local community plans to pass a local law regulating the use of biosolids such as sewer sludge.

Wales Town Councilman Michael Simon said he will draft a law that would ban the material.

Biosolids – especially “sewer sludge” – are the byproduct of a process in which anaerobic digesters convert solid waste into methane gas and fertilizer.

Marilla and Wheatfield already have questioned the safety of biosolids and passed laws restricting its use and manufacturing, but didn’t pass a total ban; they simply used zoning laws to limit its use. “This is not a zoning issue, this is a health issue,” Simon said.

Residents in Wales have more at stake, Simon noted, because the town relies on groundwater for drinking water and cannot risk the material leaching into its water table.

“If we were on public water, my thinking would be vastly different,” Simon said. “But we don’t. We have one water supply and that’s groundwater. We cannot take a chance with it.”

The decision to adopt a ban wasn’t made lightly, Simon said, noting the Town Board and a biosolids committee dedicated considerable time last year investigating the product.

Board members visited a biosolid plant in West Seneca and also toured a treatment facility where many biosolid manufacturers purchase their raw material.

“The safeguards at these places are very impressive,” Simon acknowledged. “I think the people who work at those places do what they can to make their product safe. But there’s no guarantee.”

Simon also noted that supporters on both sides of the issue have produced their own research supporting their respective positions over the safety of the product.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation have said that the state’s regulations for ensuring the safe use of biosolids are adequate.

In the end, the deciding factor was the town’s reliance on groundwater.

“The only way to 100 percent protect our groundwater is to 100 percent stop it from even happening,” summed up Councilman Donald Butcher.

Supervisor Michael Venditti agreed, pointing out it’s easier to prevent a disaster than to mitigate it once it happens.

“What do you do, five, six, 10 years down the road and you do start having problems?” Venditti asked. “You can’t say ‘whoops.’ It’s too late then. We can’t jeopardize our groundwater.”

Simon pointed out that the law won’t interfere with local farmers spreading manure or with how they conduct business; the law will only prohibit manufactured biosolids.

The town’s farming community does not support the use of biosolids, but Simon said there are farmers serving on the committee who don’t support an outright ban, believing that state regulations are already a deterrent for them to consider using biosolids.

A law restricting biosolids was passed in neighboring Marilla last year and is currently being challenged by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, but that’s not deterring Wales officials.

“Some will say the DEC’s regulations are so stringent that nothing bad will happen,” Simon said. “Look at Flint, Mich. Look at what happened there when everyone trusted the state’s process. Now we’re shipping them bottled water.”