WHEATFIELD – Officials of Quasar Energy Group tried to convince a skeptical crowd of town residents Monday that the farm use of its byproduct is safe.
The company, which opened a plant for anaerobic digestion of food waste and sewage sludge on Liberty Drive in November, is seeking town permission to build a 5 million-gallon storage tank on its property to store the byproduct from the digestion process, called “equate.” It’s a powerful fertilizer, rich in nitrogen and other soil nutrients.
Residents have agitated against the use of the equate on local fields because its original source includes sewage sludge, which might include unhealthy pathogens or chemicals. They held an anti-Quasar meeting Saturday in the Shawnee Fire Hall, in advance of Monday’s meeting in the Wheatfield Community Center.
The tank request, which is stalled before the town Planning Board, was put in after the Town of Cambria rejected a Quasar request to dig a 10 million-gallon lagoon to store the byproduct on Raymond Road. Wheatfield is holding a public hearing April 28 on a moratorium on equate use or storage until it can consider possible revisions in its laws.
“I don’t know why somebody would build a plant a mile and a half from Love Canal. A lot of these people suffered severely,” resident Jim Janker told the company officials. “You picked the wrong community. They’re not willing to roll the dice on your product. And our town officials, too, they should have been aware of it.”
A storm of applause from the crowd of about 100 followed Janker’s remarks. Town officials have said Quasar didn’t mention the need for storage and disposal of equate when it won permission to locate the digester here.
After Janker spoke, someone yelled, “What do the town’s residents get out of it?”
“Jobs, for one,” another audience member hollered, leading to several seconds of shouting back and forth before order was restored.
Nate Carr, a local account executive for Quasar, told the crowd, “A comparison with Love Canal is not in any way acceptable. That was a very hazardous material site.”
Carr said nothing that goes into the digester or comes out of it is hazardous waste.
The plant takes about 25 days for its microbes to break the food waste and sewage sludge down into methane gas, which can be used to make electricity or compressed natural gas.
Clemens Halene, Quasar’s chief operating officer, said running the raw sludge through the digester reduces the pathogens by 90 percent to 95 percent.
The material must be injected under the soil’s surface, not spread on top, Ned Beecher of the Biosolids Association said.
“Hundreds of farmers around the country are using biosolids because they find value in them,” Beecher said.
Town resident John L. Wozniak said the water table on Raymond Road, where three farm properties have state permits to use equate, is 6 to 18 inches below the surface, so injection could put it right into the groundwater.
“We’re not allowed to apply in areas with high water tables,” Halene said.
One speaker complained, as Town Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe has repeatedly pointed out, that the storage tank site is next to a ditch that leads to the Niagara River.
“That same creek runs right behind the Niagara County wastewater treatment plant,” Carr said. “Things are designed to not leak.”
Halene said the company’s preference remains to store equate in lagoons on farms, so the savings isn’t burned up by hauling it to farms, but the tank plan resulted from local resistance to lagoons.
Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, who sent a staf member to the meeting, issued a statement Monday night saying he opposes “using human waste as fertilizer. This practice poses a potential public health risk.”