Fire Mountain Farms has been cleared to apply biosolids — treated sewage from wastewater facilities — to five locations in Lewis County as early as this spring.
The company’s application spurred public pushback last year, as biosolids often do. While some companies have pledged to steer clear of biosolids — formerly called “sewer sludge” — the Department of Ecology maintains that the reclaimed waste is well-regulated, cost-effective and a productive way to recycle.
The agreement between the company and the state Department of Ecology means the five locations — at Big Hanaford, Burnt Ridge, Homestead, Lincoln Creek and Newaukum Prairie — will be treated with biosolids for the first time since 2016.
Back then, Fire Mountain Farms was found to be mixing biosolids with a material then-classified as hazardous waste. The incident was brought up by some public commenters, like Linda Capps, who warned that the company could “start cutting corners again, putting the residents of Lewis County in danger.”
Fire Mountain Farms Vice President of Operations Ryan Thode said many concerns expressed through public comment are overblown, and that the company is willing to work with neighbors.
The 2016 incident is a “touchy subject” for Thode, who said the company believed Ecology knew about the mixing, and that things went south when Ecology personnel changed.
“We feel like they just stepped to the side and threw us under the bus,” Thode told The Chronicle. “Because no, we weren’t trying to hide that.”
After the incident, Thode said the farm went from operating in 22 cities to just one, and that three positions were cut. Fire Mountain Farms has since worked with Ecology to get back in compliance, and will have to complete more cleanup at two sites — Burnt Ridge and Newaukum Prairie — before using biosolids.
Other restrictions will also be imposed, including a prohibition on long-term biosolid storage. Fire Mountain Farms’ application is for Class B biosolids, which, unlike Class A material, may still include pathogens. Restrictions are in place to ensure that adequate time elapses for pathogens to degrade before humans or animals come into contact with them, according to Ecology.
The public has 30 days to appeal Ecology’s decision to the state’s Pollution Control Hearings Board.