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B.C. biosolids maker denies claims its products harmed Texas farmers

Synagro says treated sewage end-products met requirements and benefit agricultural lands
Synagro, which built and operates a CRD facility that helps produce the region’s biosolids, has responded to a lawsuit brought on by Texas farmers who said the company’s product made them sick. Pictured is the CRD’s residuals treatment facility at Hartland landfill. (Courtesy of Synagro)

The company that helps produce the Capital Regional District’s (CRD) biosolids rejects claims its similar products made Texas farmers and their animals sick.

Synagro Technologies is the majority equity holder of the contractor that built the regional district’s residual treatment facility at Hartland landfill. It also has a 20-year contract to operate the facility that makes the dried treated-wastewater granules.

In a civil lawsuit brought forward in February, five Johnson County, Texas, plaintiffs claim their farms were polluted by toxic chemicals in a biosolids-based fertilizer produced by Synagro after a neighbouring property spread the product on its crops. The farmers allege the fertilizer contained high levels of PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkl substances) that made them sick with various illnesses, led to their animals dying, polluted their water and rendered their properties worthless.

Synagro responded to the claims in a statement that was presented to the CRD board last week.

In the statement, the company said it will be contesting the lawsuit as it denies the allegations, calling them unproven and novel. The company added that plaintiffs have amended their initial complaint to “drastically reduce” the concentration of PFAS that was alleged to come from the Synagro product.

A lawyer for the farmers said they quickly amended the complaint to fix decimals that had been misplaced due to an inadvertent conversion error, but emphasized the PFAS values in the lawsuit are still excessively high.

“Our clients are still seeing impacts we attribute to these PFAS levels, including another cow that died on the property this week,” Mark Guerrero told Black Press Media in a statement. “Synagro’s products have not ‘benefited’ our clients in any way, but have impacted every aspect of their lives.”

PFAS are considered forever chemicals that are linked to cancer, several diseases and other harmful impacts on humans and animals. The farmers’ lawsuit cited the company’s own public reports that acknowledge its products may have PFAS present in them.

“One of our industry’s challenges to move toward a more circular world, is the potential of unwanted substances in biosolids, like per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS),” the company’s 2022 sustainability report states.

The biosolids applied to the land neighbouring the plaintiffs’ properties met all the necessary requirements, Synagro’s statement said.

“USEPA (Environment Protection Agency) continues to support land application of biosolids as a valuable practice that recycles nutrients to farmland and has not suggested that any changes in biosolids management is required,” the company said.

The company defended the practise of applying biosolids to the land to supplement growth. Synagro called biosolids a nutrient-rich end-product of the wastewater treatment process that are safe for agricultural land application.

“Biosolids provide multiple benefits to overall soil quality and health, including improved moisture absorption ability, recycling of micro and macro nutrients, carbon sequestering, reduced nutrient leaching, and lower use of industrially produced chemical fertilizers,” Synagro said.

Guerrero, the farmers’ lawyer, called Synagro’s position that its products present little risk to human and environmental health blatantly false. He pointed to the EPA’s move last week to set legally enforceable contaminant levels for several PFAS compounds known to occur in drinking water.

The CRD doesn’t allow agricultural land application but has been spreading biosolids at its Hartland landfill site in recent years. It’s also been burying much of the treated sewage pellets in the dump itself, which goes against provincial requirements.

Those practises have been criticized by local coalitions – made up of residents, farmers and businesses – that are concerned about biosolids containing PFAS, pharmaceuticals, microplastics and other contaminants.

READ: CRD’s biosolids maker sued by Texan farmers over illnesses, animal deaths

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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