St. Clair couple calls for more rules for biosolids application

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Janice Clubb goes through the edible lavender on her property in St. Clair Township. She's worried about the affect of biosolids fertilizer spread next door which was carried by the wind over their farm on the product.

As Janice Clubb sits under a tree on her family farm, she can feel her throat get scratchy.

It’s been nine days since a neighbouring farmer applied biosolid fertilizer made from human waste onto his field on a windy day and the distinct smell is still present and still making Clubb unwell.

Janice has lived on the St. Clair farm since she married Rick. His family has been there for 150 years. And the Clubbs say they have never had a problem with neighbours and their farm practices before.

About a month ago, four transports bearing the name Bacres – a division of Buurma Farms – placed the biosolids about 500 meters from their home.

Biosolids left uncovered, particularly when it is humid or raining, stink. A recent Normal Farm Practices Protection Board ordered the Buurmas to make sure the storage on their own farm was enclosed to reduce the odour.

But in St. Clair Township, there are no rules prohibiting the storage of the material on fields, according to Clerk Jeff Baranek.

Unlike animal waste, biosolids made from human waste have always been classified as a fertilizer. In Ontario, farmers follow the Nutrient Management Act to use manure; fertilizers don’t have the same regulations.

Janice says the pile of biosolid fertilizer started to make her ill. “The next day, we were working outside all day and I finally said to my husband, ‘my throat hurts today.’ And he goes, ‘Well, it’s the shit next door.’”

Janice went to the doctor and he gave her an inhaler to help with her breathing.

When the materials were finally spread, about a month after they arrived, it was done on a windy day. Rick says he could see the cloud of biosolid particles down the road when he drove onto Bickford Line. Neighbours called to complain about the stink. Janice left the house for a week to escape the smell.

Even nine days after the fertilizer had been spread, the smell was strong enough to make her throat scratch after sitting outside for a hour.

Clubb, who has farmed her whole life and worked with the Ontario Soil and Crop Association on environmental farm projects, suggested the neighbour simply plow it under. That idea was rejected by the farmer who said he was using the no till method.

The Clubbs approached the Ministry of the Environment which said the fertilizer was being used within the laws. An official suggested going to their politicians.

So the Clubbs called Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey’s office asking them to do something to regulate the use of the material. The couple prepared a letter with nine ways the use of the material could continue without impacting the neighbours.

The Clubbs want more testing of the material so they know what’s in the air. Neighbours should be notified before it’s spread. The piles should be covered to reduce the stink before spreading and farmers should not be spreading it on a windy day and it should be tilled under immediately after application.

The Clubbs are waiting to hear if the MPP can affect any change.

In the meantime, they’re left wondering what the product will do to the food in their garden and the culinary lavender they cultivate. And, of course, their health.

Rick says they’re not alone in their concerns. The farmer has spread biosolid fertilizer in the past and it has made others sick, but they’re afraid to speak up since they go to church with the farmer.

He’s hopeful other people in Lambton will start talking about their concerns. “It will continue until all of Lambton voices their opinion and says ‘You know what – shut them down until they find an application that works.’

“They can do that… But they don’t want to do that, because they are inside the regulations, because our government says we got to make it easy for you (to get rid of the biosolids) so, to hell with your neighbors.”