Sludge suit trial draws near

Sludge suit trial draws near

Source: Muskogee Phoenix (OK), September 27, 2012
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A lawsuit alleging the city and two local companies negligently disposed of treated sewer sludge appears to be headed for trial next month.

The lawsuit was filed by three families who own property near a site where biosolids from Muskogee’s wastewater treatment plant had been applied. Heavy rains that fell in September 2010 washed the sludge from the application site across adjacent properties.

Plaintiffs allege that Sludge Technologies Inc. and Tonto Construction applied more than 415 tons of the sludge during a nine-day period before the heavy rains began. The plaintiffs’ petition describes the sludge that spread across their land as “an oil slick or blacktop road, and it emitted an overpowering smell of sewage.”

City Attorney Roy Tucker said efforts to mediate a settlement collapsed despite the findings of a report indicating that the “residual materials” at the application site “do not represent an ongoing source of contamination.”

The lawsuit was filed Dec. 27, 2010, by lawyers for Thomas and Faustina Greuel, Marvin and Teresa Holdridge, and Joe and Brenda Flusche. They seek damages for loss of value and the use of their properties and personal injuries.

Defendants initially named in the petition include Sludge Technologies Inc., Tonto Construction, the city of Muskogee, the Muskogee Municipal Authority, and a number of city employees and elected officials.

Tucker said in anticipation of the Oct. 15 trial date, the lead lawyer representing the Oklahoma Municipal Assurance Group, the city’s insurer, provided city councilors with an update of the litigation. Any damages that might be awarded should the plaintiffs prevail on their claims, Tucker said, would be covered by the city’s liability insurance policy.

Sewer sludge is a byproduct of the wastewater treatment process, the disposal of which is regulated by permit. It consists of solids from which wastewater has been removed, treated and reintroduced into nature. Regulatory options for disposal include land applications, landfilling or surface disposal, and incineration.

A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that biosolids from wastewater treatment contained metals, pharmaceuticals, semivolatile organic materials, antibiotics, hormones, steroids and other pollutants. The agency’s most recent study, conducted in 2008, was part of an effort to “obtain information on whether certain contaminants of emerging concern may be present in sewage sludge and at what levels.”

Although the city’s experts contend biosolids “can be beneficially used as a soil amendment,” some advocacy groups have questioned the practice of land applications as a public health issue.

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