GUNTERSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — People in rural Alabama are raising concerns about the use of "chicken sludge" as fertilizer on farm fields as the state considers new rules on how such products can be used.
The sludge from a poultry processing plant left an overpowering stench when it was applied to a neighbor's farm fields, Julie Lay said. Flies also invaded her property in Marshall County, Al.com reported.
Lay said the material had a "crust" and she could see chicken feathers in it
"It was awful," Lay said. "We couldn't have people over. We couldn't even go outside."
Lay was among several residents who spoke out recently at an Alabama Department of Environmental Management public hearing.
The agency is considering new rules on how biosolids can be used as a fertilizer. Biosolids is the umbrella term used to describe solid material left over from both wastewater treatment operations that deal with sewage; and chicken processing plants.
Alabama is the second-leading state in poultry production behind Georgia, processing 21 million chickens per week, according to the Alabama Farmers Federation.
Lay said a Georgia-based company had offered her neighbors "free, food-grade fertilizer," for their fields, and some of them accepted the offer. Since then, Lay said her family has been dealing with the smell, though it has dissipated since late June when the material was initially dispersed, she said.
John Mitchell, who lives in the Mount Hebron area of northeast Alabama, said he's seen and smelled the sludge spill onto roadways from tanker trucks. It then gets caught in the tire treads of cars and trucks, which take the stench with them.
"Everybody knows that you handle chicken carefully, when you buy chicken at the grocery store, you have precautions, you know, you put Clorox on the sink," Mitchell said. "Then they come out here with that all that's left over, all the bacteria and cleaning chemicals, and they put it out here on the land in these huge tanker trucks, one after another, pour it out there on the ground."
It's not clear how the proposed regulations would affect residents like Mitchell and Lay.
The rules would create a paper trail and more public documentation about the companies spreading biosolids in Alabama, but residents worry about loopholes and enforcement, Al.com reported.