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Biosolids or Biohazard?

Carla's house

Carla's house in Spotsylvania County. In the lower left corner - Jordan's family dog, Belle. Belle died suddenly of ruptured spleen tumor. The family didn't know their pet was sick till the day she died, it was too late for the vet to save her life.

Carla Jordan is a proverbial “girl next door.” We met at an IHOP restaurant on the outskirts of Richmond, Va. After a couple of cups of coffee, a French toast with strawberries, and small talk about unseasonably cold weather, we were ready to get into a more serious conversation. I’m more of her parent’s generation, and we’d just met; but her easy-going personality made me feel like I’d known Carla for years.

A long-haired brunette with a contagious smile, Carla doesn’t look her age. In her late thirties, born and raised in Virginia’s countryside, except for a few college years at VA Tech in Blacksburg, Carla lived most of her life in Spotsylvania County. She married John in 1997, and the newlyweds lived in Fredericksburg for a couple of years before moving back out to the Spotsylvania countryside. Four years later, her daughter Claudia, and then in 2004, her son John Tyler, were born.

Just months after her son’s birth in 2004, Carla came home one day and was immediately alarmed by a thick, offensive odor wafting from the farmland across the road from her house. Disturbed by the intensity and foulness of the smell, she called her Board of Supervisor’s representative, former sheriff, T. C. Waddy.

Waddy arrived promptly and explained to her that the neighboring farmer had applied biosolids to his fields just that morning. He agreed, the odor was awful, but explained that a farmer has the right to apply this fertilizer to his land. He said nothing could be done.

Concerned about the odor affecting her two small children, Carla spoke out at a Board of Supervisor’s public meeting. She was applauded by the citizens there, but again told that nothing could be done.

Carla's neighbor

Carla Jordan's former next door neighbor, a farmer who repeatedly applied biosolids to his farmland. This is the view from the Carla's front yard.

Illness Visits the Family

She soon noticed changes in her daughter’s health. Claudia became subdued, complained about the headaches, tummy aches, she didn’t want to get up in the morning and lost her appetite. Carla took her to the doctor, but the doctor couldn’t find anything wrong.

Maybe it’s a “stomach bug,” Carla was told; it should go away soon. But it didn’t. The doctor finally ordered some blood work. Claudia’s white cell count was elevated, suggesting she was fighting off an infection. However, the doctor couldn’t explain what type of infection it was. The doctor ordered more blood work to be done every two weeks, contending that the white cell count should return to normal.

A month later Claudia’s blood work still indicated an elevated white cell count, and she was still not acting like a healthy child. The doctor broke the bad news — the child may need to be seen by a specialist to begin testing for leukemia.

During this same timeframe, Carla’s husband, John, became very suddenly and violently sick. Carla woke up one night to find John on the floor, disoriented, unable to get up, with an extreme headache and loss of balance. In tears, she called 911.

Several excruciating hours later, doctors at the hospital told Carla that John had acquired a rare viral infection in the brain. They had no explanation for the cause of this infection. Considering the severity of his condition, John recovered remarkably well within weeks of returning home.

Just prior to Claudia’s appointment for leukemia testing with a pediatric oncologist, yet another blood test showed her white cell count finally dropping. She began to recover, regained her energy and appetite.

Finally, the smell of “fertilizer” from the neighboring field subsided. That is — until they sludged the field again in the fall. The whole family again struggled with headaches, nausea, upset stomach and burning eyes. Carla finally put two and two together. She extensively researched information on biosolids and determined the sludge was making her family sick.

The sequence of events was repeated again the following year, in 2005. The neighboring farmer had another load of sludge delivered to his farm, and then again later that same year. Carla and John realized that their family was paying a price with their health for the farming practices next door. The only solution was to move.  They put their house up for sale.

What Is the Law For?

Carla fished out the last strawberry pieces off her plate, and was now waving her fork as an exclamation tool:

“You know, I used to think that the law was to ensure order in a society, to protect the public. Now I know, it’s not. If anything, it only serves or protects “special interest groups.”

Did you know that in a real estate contract, according to Virginia law, a person is obligated to disclose paranormal activity on the property, but nobody has to disclose the existence of a toxic field next to their house? This is insane! I’d much rather have the ghost of a Confederate soldier visiting us at night than have the smell of toxic waste permeating my house and making my family sick!”

They purchased a piece of land next to a historic battlefield area, part of the National Park Land. That was their attempt at protection from biosolids next to the new house. When the family moved there in 2007, Carla and John exhaled; they all could breathe fresh air with the biosolids nightmare now over.

Little did Carla know that this was just chapter one in her personal sludge story — she was about to become an anti-biosolids activist. Read the second part of Carla Jordan’s story here.

Lidia Epp is active with a local group of residents concerned about the agricultural application of biosolids, a dangerous practice that devastates farmland. She corroborates with local activists, politicians and scientists to bring public awareness to this issue and advocates for changes in state and federal regulations of biosolids land use. Read all of Lidia's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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