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Michael Anderson, Deseret News
Residents in Corinne, Box Elder County, are concerned that a farmer is using biosolids to fertilize his field. They say the smell is awful, and the black-colored material isn't safe.
They're putting our family at risk, and they're telling us that the pathogens have been significantly reduced. They're not gone. They're not eliminated. —Alan Riser

CORINNE, Box Elder County — Jana Young can’t stand to be in her backyard.

“The smell is awful out here,” she said. “We’re used to the manure smell, but this smells nothing like manure. It’s human poop, and it stinks.”

Families in Corinne are complaining about a sewage smell in their yards. They say a nearby farmer is using compost made from human waste, and they are concerned for their health.

The compost the Ferry family farm uses comes from a wastewater treatment plant in Salt Lake County. It starts as raw sewage but undergoes more than a monthlong process before it becomes fertilizer. The farmer says it’s safe, but homeowners aren’t convinced.

People in Corinne say they first became alarmed when they saw the black-colored material show up. And then there was the smell.

"My wife's already complained a couple of times about the sewer smell, and it's just something you don't expect,” farmer Delwin Mills said.

Joel Ferry and his family maintain several thousand acres in Box Elder County.

“We’ve been farming here in the Bear River Valley for 115 years,” Ferry said. “We love this community. It’s a beautiful place.”

Nearby homeowners say when the breeze picks up, the smell is unbearable.

“It stinks,” Young said. “It’s a terrible smell.”

Alan Riser said that odor pushed him to study what are known as class B biosolids.

"They're putting our family at risk, and they're telling us that the pathogens have been significantly reduced. They're not gone. They're not eliminated," Riser said.

He's right that not all pathogens are destroyed in such chambers, but they're reduced to safe levels, according to Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

"I would never do anything to hurt or harm the health and well-being of others in our community,” Ferry said, adding that his family follows strict regulations for use of the compost.

"I use a special machine that meters all of the biosolids that we apply,” he said.

Ferry said the biosolids are very nutrient rich. They have a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus that’s beneficial for the crops, he said.

“So these are crops that go for animal feeds,” Ferry said. “They don’t go for direct human consumption.”

When treated and processed, sewage sludge becomes biosolids that can be safely recycled and applied as fertilizer to sustainably improve and maintain productive soils and stimulate plant growth, according to the EPA website.

“After taking courses, looking at the EPA’s guidelines, it’s been proven time and time again that land application of biosolids poses no significant risk to the public’s health,” Ferry said.

Still, considering where it comes from and its unusual smell, people can't help but worry.

"We have a grandparents' yard here,” Larraine Riser said. “It makes it so I don't dare have my children over to enjoy those things that I have a right to enjoy."

Ferry said he has heard from very few members of the community about the smell.

“Most of the people that are now complaining have not said a single word to me or my family,” he said.

The Ferrys said they're now keeping the biosolids at least a quarter-mile away from any homes.

"I dedicate my life to improving the land that I work on,” Ferry said. “I love it. I wouldn't want to be doing anything else.”

Email: manderson@deseretnews.com