Information session on storing sludge for fertilizer
Mo Laidlaw
Pontiac

Pierre Bélanger, the consultant agronomist for Ralph Lang farms, held an information session at the Marcel Lavigne Community centre in Luskville on Wednesday 8 April, to answer residents’ questions and concerns about storage and spreading of septic sludge and compost in the municipality of Pontiac. He was assisted by Gilles Parisien and Fatma Boujenoui, from his consultancy. Mayor Roger Larose introduced the speakers. Councillors Denis Dubé and Nancy Maxsom, acting director general Benedikt Kuhn, and director of the urban planning department Jalloul Salah also took part. The presentation will be posted on the municipal webpage.

Ralph Lang Farms, the “developer” as they described him, has asked the CPTAQ (Farmland protection commission) for permission to store these fertilizing materials (MRF) in existing unused farm buildings at 3601 Steele Line (400 m from a residence) and 2820 ch Bronson-Bryant, both near Quyon, and also north of Shawville. Spreading and storing of MRF is regulated by the provincial government, which is encouraging their use as fertilizers, rather than burning them to produce energy, or dumping in landfill. The municipality has little say in the matter except to minimize impact on neighbours, but if the proposal complies with its bylaws it will support the request to the CPTAQ, because it satisfies provincial regulations.

What is the material?
There are two sources: compost from residences in Ottawa, produced by Orgaworld, and municipal sludge from Gatineau (97% dry). Both of these satisfy Québec standards (BNQ, Bureau de normalisation du Québec) which are the same as those used by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and apply to any fertilizer. Material is rated for chemical contaminants, pathogens, smells, and foreign material. Compost can be used in your garden, but sludge is restricted to farm use. The sludge may be dry granules or a low moisture material. The treatment plant in Masson (Gatineau) needs to have sludge removed daily. The Quyon aerated lagoon is a similar system but for a much smaller population, and does not need to be emptied for 20 years.

Why use it as fertilizer?
It is carbon neutral. It costs about one fifth of the cost of chemical fertilizer, and improves the soil by adding organic matter (carbon-based material) and micronutrients or “oligo-elements” that are needed in tiny amounts by plants. Many of the farms in the area have sandy soil - adding organic matter improves water retention.
Québec will no longer allow any organic matter in landfill within 5 years. Currently Québec produces 13 million tonnes of MRF per year.
Farms in the Outaouais are changing from beef farming, which produces fertilizer in the form of manure, to growing corn, soy beans and other cash crops, which need lots of fertilizer.

Why and how does it need to be stored?
Production occurs throughout the year. Gatineau produces 50 tonnes per day but conditions for spreading are best during two small periods in spring and fall. The floor and walls of storage buildings have to be sealed, and a drain circles the building and has an inspection and testing well. The building on Steele Line could store 2500 tonnes of dry granules. However storage on the two farms near Quyon will be kept to a minimum, it is seen as a back-up for the main storage buildings north of Shawville.

Impact on neighbours, wetlands and watercourses
The MRFs used (compost and municipal sludge) smell less than pig manure and biosolids from pulp mills and industry that residents may remember unfavourably. There are tight provincial controls on how close to residences, wells and watercourses the materials may be spread, and the amount that can be applied within a five year period. Studies on the long-term impact of spreading sludge and wood ash have shown no buildup of contamination with heavy metals such as cadmium, lead or mercury. Provincial regulations limit the amount that can be spread to 22 dry tonnes per hectare in 5 years. There are many controls at different stages.

Question period:
The possibility of smells was the subject of many questions. The material is considered O2 or medium odour producing. Choosing the right time to spread the material reduces the smell.
Is the material safe? Pathogens are reduced, but are only zero in the dry granules. Once in the ground any remaining pathogens disappear. Pharmaceutical products are also degraded in the treatment and in the ground.

Kevin Brady wanted to know about the socioeconomic impacts. Are there benefits to the municipality? Increased truck traffic may increase road maintenance requirements.
M. Bélanger said there could be 300 sludge trucks per year and 600 compost trucks per year. Many of these would be going to Shawville. Some would replace deliveries of chemical fertilizer.
Mr Lang, the landowner, mentioned that he pays taxes on 2000 acres (a benefit to the municipality) but gets no municipal services. He has to pay for garbage pickup even if the farm house is empty. (Most municipal taxes on farmland are paid by the provincial government, not the owner.)
Another benefit is the reuse of farm buildings.

For any further questions residents are invited to contact the consultants, Bélanger Agro-consultant, 819-986-7829, www.belanger-agro.com. If you are planning a party you can contact them to request no spreading the week before that day!