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Wexford residents in battle over 'obnoxious' sewage sludge odour

Residents say the smell was so bad last summer that they could not leave their homes.

RESIDENTS IN THE Adamstown area of Co Wexford have spent the last year battling for action to be taken about the odour produced by a local sewage sludge facility which they say is sometimes so strong they can’t leave their homes.

Biosolids, also known as sewage sludge, are the byproducts of household wastewater after it has passed through a treatment plant. This substance, once treated with lime, is considered a nutrient rich fertiliser and is spread on farmland across the country.

This material is collected at the country’s numerous wastewater treatment plants and brought, by the truckload, to the countryside for use by farmers.

At the site in Misterin, Adamstown, waste services company Enva was granted a certificate for the treatment and storage of sludge from urban wastewater in 2015. Locals say the stench emanating from the facility has been bothering them ever since and they are frustrated with how slow progress has been in addressing the issue.

“Last summer we went through hell, locked in all the time. The smell was so bad,” local woman Catherine Hanley, who lives a quarter of a mile from the storage facility, told TheJournal.ie.

“The odour is worst when the sludge is being unloaded from the trucks. When the load is being tipped and having anything done with it, you’re getting a blast of the odour.

You could get it maybe twice a day, you could get it all day long. I can’t say there is a certain time of the day when it’s there and a time when it’s not. The May hank holiday last year, we were locked in all weekend.

“It would be a kind of sweet, sour smell, very much like amonia, that kind of penetrating odour that goes up your nostrils. A heavy odour that stays with you.”

Hanley said the problem started two years ago. This coincides with the granting of a permit by Wexford County Council in early 2015 to Enva, which allows it to store biosolids in a nearby farmyard and treat the sludge with lime to stabilise. It was only in the last 10 months that residents connected the bad smell to the sludge spreading.

Another local woman, who lives about four fields over from the facility, said: “You’d get it the minute you open the window, you can smell it straight away so it’s pretty bad.”

She said “on a bad day” her laundry would pick up the nasty scent if she left it outside to dry.

‘Obnoxious’

Local Labour councillor George Lawlor visited the area while sludge was being spread on the land at the end of January on foot of complaints from locals. He told TheJournal.ie that the smell was “overpowering and obnoxious”.

Source: George Lawlor

“It was the worst odour I ever experienced – a smell that caught in your nose and throat and was basically unbearable.”

While he was there, he contacted the council and asked that an official be sent to join him. ”They experienced the smell as well,” he said.

Source: George Lawlor

“People are well used to smells in rural Ireland. I’m used to them myself, I live in close proximity to farms, even though I live in Wexford town, and this is beyond anything I’ve ever experienced,” he said.

This is grossly unfair to residents. These people don’t have special antenna in their noses that allow them to smell things other people can’t smell.

Lawlor also described a recent visit organised for local representatives to a storage shed: ”It was like a phantom inspection. There was no sludge on site that day, they just wanted to show the shed they store it in.”

Complaints

A total of 22 complaints have been made about the issue and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told TheJournal.ie that it has opened an investigation file regarding the council’s enforcement response.

In response to these complaints, the council conducted its own investigation last year and published an interim report in December which was submitted to the EPA. The report details complaints mainly in relation to the stench, though one referred to the storage of the sludge causing “vermin, flies and odour”.

At a random inspection in August last year, an agricultural scientists for the council observed a “faint odour” at the junction of the lane to the facility and the public road and a “moderate to strong odour” in the yard adjoining the storage shed.

The site was observed to be clean, with no vermin. A second random inspection in October detected no odour.

Inspections

At a meeting on 19 January attended by residents, council employees and Enva representatives, it was revealed that five further inspections had taken place since Christmas.

“No odour was detected on any of these five occasions,” Gerry Forde, senior engineer in Wexford County Council said, according to the minutes of the meeting.

Those in attendance were, however, informed of a number of changes the company had committed to in an attempt to address the issue including signage and a wind sock. The processes of tipping the sludge from the trucks and adding the lime to the sludge had also been moved indoors.

Forde told residents and local representatives at the meeting that Enva “accepts there is an issue with odour” and that the company had been engaging with the council from the first odour complaint.

Enva had also committed to notifying the council when the next reasonable quantity of sludge was arriving at the site so an odour assessment may take place.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the council said a further report to the EPA will be issued towards the end of March or early April. It said the majority of the 22 complaints were from one neighbouring property owner with whom council representatives maintain “weekly telephone contact” to record their concerns.

The council also said that the relocation of the treatment process to an enclosed facility on site has “resulted in a significant reduction in odour issues, with a corresponding reduction in complaints”.

While residents have acknowledged an improvement since operations were moved indoors, they worry that this may just be a temporary situation.

“If there is no proper monitoring of this, it could end up back the way it was. It’s taken months to even get to where we are, fighting with the council and if we release the pressure will we end up back at square one?” Catherine Hanley asked. “Eventually we’re going to be deemed as nuisances.”

She believes legislation needs to be introduced so companies across the board are required to minimise disruption to local households. She also called for regulations to ensure these facilities are located at an adequate distance from homes.

Lawlor is adamant the sludge should be treated at source at wastewater treatment plants, “as opposed to dragging it through the countryside to be treated in large quantities”.

In a statement to this website, Enva said “land-spreading of biosolids (treated sewage sludge) is the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended best environmental practice.

It is a valuable and sustainable source of nutrient rich fertiliser and is in high demand among productive farmers.

The company said it is fully in compliance with all legislation and codes of good practice.

A recent determination from An Bord Pleanala found this type of sludge treatment is no longer exempt from planning. Enva has since lodged a planning application with Wexford County Council and is awaiting a decision.

Read: Community thanked for patience as ‘temporary’ boil water notice is lifted after seven years>

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