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Johanna Farms Expanding Odor Update – The Flemington & Fulper Affair

August 31st, 2012 2 comments

 DEP Takes Quick Action in West Amwell Odor Case – But Is it Enough?

Johanna Farms plant, Flemington, NJ

Here’s an update on the Johanna Farms odor issues.

First, there is a great editorial today in the Hunterdon County Democrat: Raritan mayor isn’t helping Johanna Foods (sic) odor conflict.

The Democrat agrees with us that the Mayor is blaming the victims.

But the editorial mistakenly presumes that both DEP and Johanna are working effectively and will soon solve the problem.

That just is not the case.

I spoke this week with DEP enforcement about the problem.

Johanna is dragging their feet on fixing the problem. DEP enforcement staff’s hands are tied.

Johanna knows that DEP Commissioner Martin has directed the DEP enforcement staff to work cooperatively with business and industry towards what he calls “win-win” compromises.

Martin has basically ended DEP’s traditional enforcement role and that is reflected in record low enforcement fine levels. With no threat of DEP enforcement sanctions, companies have no economic incentive to comply.

So, in addition to the Mayor, the other end of the problem is in Trenton – at DEP Commissioner’s Office.

I urge residents to target calls there (@ 609-292-2885) and to the Governor (@ 609-292-6000) to demand that DEP take enforcement action and modify Johanna’s permit to mandate a totally enclosed treatment system.

That is the only way the smell will be stopped.

Second, I am pleased to report that I’ve had some success in limiting severe odors in my own backyard caused by a local farmer’s disposal of Johanna sludge on local farms in West Amwell.

I wrote a detailed letter requesting an investigation and for local, county and state regulators to take specific corrective actions.

I raised specific issues with respect to odor violations and possible surface water, groundwater, and drinking water pollution problems associated with this sludge disposal operation and how it is regulated by DEP (letter provided upon request – email: bill_wolfe@comcast.net for a copy).

In response to the letter, I’ve been in contact with Hunterdon County Health Department and DEP staff, both of whom were very responsive. I’ve heard nothing from West Amwell officials yet.

This has been a longstanding problem with Johanna and Fulper, so DEP immediately contacted Johanna and advised them that continued odor problems in West Amwell could jeopardize their authorization to dispose of their sludge in NJ.

Per DEP, the Johanna Flemington plant generates about 1 20 cubic yard rolloff of sludge per day (call this a load). The large majority of that is land applied in Pennsylvania.

Mr Fulper (West Amwell farmer) gets the rest – Fulper has received  5 loads in June, 6 in July, and 7 in August.

DEP soon will issue a letter to Johanna and Fulper imposing additional restrictions that should help reduce odors. Fulper will be required to apply the material within 24 hours of receipt and restrict applications from May – September (not sure precisely how).

For now, Fulper has terminated disposal on farms near Gulick Road, where I live.

Despite DEP’s immediate response, I still have several problems with how DEP regulates the disposal of Johanna’s sludge and Fulper’s application of it on local farms:

1) DEP implied the the Right To Farm Act provides an enforcement shield to Fulper for odor violations. This is just not correct -

The RTF law does NOT trump public health, environmental, odor, or nuisance laws and DEP permit requirements.

[Note: additionally, Johanna’s sludge is defined and regulated as an industrial solid waste. It does not qualify for recycling and beneficial reuse exemptions it has been granted. Similarly, under NJ land use laws, land disposal of that sludge is not a farming activity, but a disposal operation]

2) DEP residual application permits fail to require compliance with DEP’s surface water and groundwater quality standards. Sludge has large loads of nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) that can harm water quality and poison drinking water. DEP must tie sludge applications to water quality standards and enforce those standards directly on all sources, including agriculture.

DEP can not defer to the Department of Agriculture issued “Nutrient Management Plans” as a substitute for or to satisfy compliance with the Clean Water Act.

3) DEP residual application permits fail to require surface and groundwater monitoring needed to measure any impacts of sludge application on surface and ground water resources.

4) Sludge application loads nitrogen to soils, some of which eventually impacts groundwater.

(Source: NJDEP)

West Amwell is reliant on groundwater for water supply. Therefore, drinking water wells could be impacted by farming and sludge application practices. Despite this risk, DEP and County officials are not collecting data to assess this potential problem, instead burying their heads in the sand.

Private well Testing Act data and groundwater data should be reviewed to see if farming and sludge disposal practices are poisoning drinking water wells.

DEP and County Health Department professionals need to start looking into these issues.

We are talking about public health risk – and farmers must not be allowed to hide behind the Right To Farm law or lax DEP permits. 

[End Note: here’s an email I got that readers might be interested in:

I’m not sure if you are aware but Fulper farms other lands within the state and I’m sure he’s doing this elsewhere. As far as the township is concerned, they will not make a stand on this subject. There have been many complaints over the years and nothing has been done. Mr. Fulper happens to be the President of the WAT Zoning Board and in the last year or two settled a lawsuit with the township costing more than $800,000.00 to the township regarding a zoning issue and his land. Very interesting. Mr. Fulper, along with some others in the township, have an interesting view regarding zoning and ordinances. He’s made clear on more than one occasion that he should be able to do as he wishes on his land without the interference of the township or other residents. There have been some recent issues regarding him dredging and creek defacing another residents property and causing some runoff issues. It’s been swept under the rug, again.

[PS – and farmers use a LOT of toxic pesticides too – look at this DEP data:

(Source: NJDEP)

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Torn Between Two Liars – Feeling Like a Tool

August 31st, 2012 No comments

Torn Between Two Liars

There are times when a woman must say what’s on her mind,

even though she knows how much it’s gonna hurt. …

Torn between two liars, feeling like a tool.

Screwing all of us is breaking all the rules.

Torn between two liars, feeling like a tool

Deceiving us all is breaking all the rules.

Couldn’t really blame you if you turned and walked away

So with everything I feel inside I’m saying that’s OK. (Listen/Watch)

 

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DEP Abandoned Building Risk Pilot In Camden More a Photo Op Than a Program

August 30th, 2012 1 comment

DEP shows inside of abandoned building, Camden, NJ

DEP hands off a major statewide responsibility to local government

No State Resources or Regulations

 Community & Worker Right-to-Know Contradicts Gov. Christie’s Agenda

Yesterday the DEP held a press event in an abandoned building in Camden to announce a Pilot Program regarding safety and health risks to firefighters and emergency responders caused by chemicals and other dangerous materials stored in those buildings.

Aside from the fact that DEP used deeply offensive military metaphors to describe the program (i.e. “Boots on the Ground“) and – by focusing exclusively on risks to firefighters and emergency responders – failed to even mention environmental justice and community concerns, the actual results from the Pilot Program revealed significant health and safety risks.

The DEP Pilot Program not only documented significant risks at 31 abandoned buildings.

It exposed gaping loopholes in the existing statewide protection program that NJ DEP implements under the 1983 “Worker and Community Right to Know Act” – here are the DEP regulations for that program.

The Camden Pilot found buildings and dangerous materials that are not regulated under the current RTK program. These same kind of abandoned buildings and risks to the community and emergency responders are found in hundreds of NJ’s older industrial towns and cities.

Those risk to the community and emergency responders have been managed for 30 years on a statewide basis under the current RTK program.

But, curiously, DEP made no mention of the longstanding statewide RTK program.

No press asked about the RTK program during the event either.

This was likely because DEP would not allow questions from press during the press event.

I attended the event and DEP managers saw me chomping at the bit, ready to ask detailed and informed critical questions that would shine light on these issues. So, to prevent that, they took the unusual step of simply shutting down the event to questions after they finished speaking. Instead, DEP allowed only 1 on 1 questions inside the building, which made it impossible for me to educate media by asking an informed tough question.

This 1 on 1 interview tactic enabled DEP to get exactly what they wanted: the typical stenography of the mainstream media: favorable and uncritical press coverage (see this and this ). I spoke to Taunya English, reporter for WHYY who was the only one to mention the RTK program, but she  allowed DEP’s Deputy Commissioner Kropp to dismiss my concerns in a comment that actually proves my point: there are LOOPHOLES in the RTK program! It needs to be expanded to address the same risks posed by abandoned buildings!

But  when I later questioned DEP about how the Camden Pilot related to the existing RTK program during the one on one interviews, DEP expressed no interest in modifying, funding, and expanding the current statewide RTK program to close the loopholes and reduce the risks documented by the Camden Pilot Project. 

Nor would DEP identify any allocated funding or staff resources (i.e. actual “boots on the ground”) for funding a Camden program or a statewide program. 

So, why is that?

Let me explain why this DEP event was more media stunt than an actual effort to develop a policy or program.

First of all, the primary goals of the RTK law are to protect “workers” and the “community” from risks from chemicals via a statewide regulatory program.

Here are the 1983 legislative findingsthis is forbidden territory that the Christie DEP just doesn’t want to go there. They won’t even talk about any of the legislative objectives highlighted in boldface from the law itself:

34:5A-2. Legislative findings and declarations

The Legislature finds and declares that the proliferation of hazardous substances in the environment poses a growing threat to the public health, safety, and welfare; that the constantly increasing number and variety of hazardous substances, and the many routes of exposure to them make it difficult and expensive to adequately monitor and detect any adverse health effects attributable thereto; that individuals themselves are often able to detect and thus minimize effects of exposure to hazardous substances if they are aware of the identity of the substances and the early symptoms of unsafe exposure; and that individuals have an inherent right to know the full range of the risks they face so that they can make reasoned decisions and take informed action concerning their employment and their living conditions.

The Legislature further declares that local health, fire, police, safety and other government officials require detained information about the identity, characteristics, and quantities of hazardous substances used and stored in communities within their jurisdictions, in order to adequately plan for, and respond to, emergencies, and enforce compliance with applicable laws and regulations concerning these substances.

The Legislature further declares that the extent of the toxic contamination of the air, water, and land in this State has caused a high degree of concern among its residents; and that much of this concern is needlessly aggravated by the unfamiliarity of these substances to residents.

The Legislature therefore determines that it is in the public interest to establish a comprehensive program for the disclosure of information about hazardous substances in the workplace and the community, and to provide a procedure whereby residents of this State may gain access to this information. 

And it’s not just DEP that doesn’t want to talk about any of these issues – the RTK program seems to have fallen off both the media and environmental community’s radar screen.

So, no wonder the depleted press corps gets spun by this kind of photo op stunt.

Second of all, as announced via a comprehensive set of Executive Orders that Governor Christie issued in his first hour in office, the Christie DEP policy agenda is:

An expansion of the RTK program would violate each one of these policies set by Governor Christie via Executive Order: a real statewide urban abandoned building program would require more DEP regulatory burden, more DEP staff, more DEP budget, and more DEP unfunded mandates. 

That’s why DEP whitewashed the RTK program – and instead called it a Pilot Program. That enabled them to irresponsibly hand off a major statewide responsibility to local government.

If DEP were serious, they would propose regulations or go to the Legislature to seek an expansion of the current RTK program to abandoned buildings and the other dangerous materials found in those buildings that are not regulated under the current RTK program.

DEP hands off the program to Camden Fire Chief - no DEP "Boots on the Ground" (hand off or hand job?) * DEP press office is offended by the sexual connotation. I would have used the term "lip service" - which has similar sexual connotations - but, since DEP described the photo op depicted as a "hand off", I didn't want to mix my metaphors. Larry Rangonese is a real WANKER! More to follow on this.

End Note: – maybe I should offer an example to better illustrate my point.

Suppose DEP held a press conference announcing a pilot program where they found 32 pipes discharging pollution to a river in a specific city.

Supposed DEP then called that  a pilot study, gave the city a GIS map of the pipes, and said “have at it”: clean them pipes up and protect the river from pollution.

And suppose, while doing all this, DEP didn’t mention a word about the Clean Water Act and their permitting and enforcement responsibilities under the Clean Water Act.

Now you see my point on what went on here?

 

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Christie DEP Does Camden – Boots on the Rubble

August 29th, 2012 No comments

Christie DEP Announces “Boots on the Ground” Program in NJ’s Poorest City

 

Camden is NJ's poorest and most segregated city - ground zero for environmental injustice (Source: "Camden Residents Left in the Dust" - July 21, 2009)

 

I awoke early this morning all pumped up by the diverse and compassionate group of Americans I saw on my TeeVee set last night at the Republican Convention calling for social and economic justice and public investments in urban America.

So proud of our large Governor, who has the TRUTH on his side!

Vibed by that vigorous display, I just opened my email to find a DEP press advisory about an important new program in Camden, so I feet it no less than my civic duty to travel to Camden this morning for a 10 am DEP press event.

DEP’s Press Advisory announces an important photo opportunity this morning in Camden! DEP wrote:

DEP PILOT PROGRAM IDENTIFYING HAZARDS IN ABANDONED BUILDINGS TO BE ANNOUNCED
***August 29, 2012***
Photo/Video Opportunities

On Wednesday, August 29 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., the Department of Environmental Protection will announce a new state pilot program called “Boots on the Ground” that locates and identifies hazardous materials in abandoned urban buildings 

Gee whiz, I thought, given Camden’s housing problems, that sounds helpful to the people who live in the Nation’s poorest and  most devastated city. Fires in abandoned buildings are a real threat to the poor left behind in the decaying urban core.

You see, according to Chris Hedges, whose book “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” which I am reading right now, Camden is a “sacrifice zone” of “invisible people” in serious trouble (more on Hedges and all that jive later, I gotta get going down to Camden now for the DEP event).

But, with hopes soaring from last night’s convention, I was crushed – just crushed – by reading further to find out that the people targeted for protection were not Camden’s poor oppressed victims of urban decay, but firefighters and emergency responders!:

“Boots on the Ground” that locates and identifies hazardous materials in abandoned urban buildings to help protect firefighters and other responders in the event of fire or emergency situation. The effort was launched as a result of a series of fires in abandoned buildings in Camden last year.

Same old, same old – reminded me that the last Republican Gov. I recall in Camden put her own “boots on the ground” in Camden:

Former NJ Gov. Christie Whitman (in WHITE) Frisks Camden

We’ll report back later today upon return from the DEP press conference.

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Johanna Farms Flemington Stench Spreads to West Amwell

August 25th, 2012 1 comment

Fulper Farms Label and Reputation at Risk

Fulper Farm, West Amwell, NJ. Farms are major sources of surface and groundwater pollution, particularly due to fertilizer contamination of groundwater with nitrate. Drinking water wells near farms should be tested for nitrates, which can be deadly to infants (blue baby syndrome). The Fulper Farm is surrounded by "No Trespassing" signs - ironic, because odors and polluted runoff from that farm trespass on private and public property.

 

According to recent news accounts, the Fulper Farm in West Amwell has big ambitions to diversify and market a “Fulper” line of products, recently expanding their dairy operation to  include cheeses and yogurt marketed at local farmers markets:

In the meantime, the Fulper Farms label will appear on a new line of products that include Greek yogurt and regular yogurt, as well as soft cheeses such as mozzarella and ricotta — products that will go on sale at farmers markets and local restaurants  starting next week. The goal is to one day get the products into supermarkets.

Robert Fulper’s daughter, Breanna, 24, is the mastermind behind the plan to create a Fulper line of products. The Cornell-educated farm girl has been experimenting with ways to keep the family business profitable since she was in high school, when she urged her family to begin offering farm tours and birthday parties.

But this is not your Ben & Jerry’s or Stonyfields operation.

Having attended Cornell myself (and married a Cornell Ag School grad), I’m sure Fulper’s Cornell trained daughter realizes that any “Fulper brand” - and the ability to conduct farm tours and birthday parties – would not benefit from a reputation for applying vile smelling industrial sludge on their farm that destroys the quality of life of their neighbors.

[Note: We’re sure he shares the same interests that Mr. Fulper himself noted last year:

The [odor]  is something that he is attempting to be most conscious of and is also something that Johanna Foods is very concerned about because they have an image to protect; do not want to be a bad neighbor; and, are therefore taking some major steps in their lagoon process in order to have a better product. - end note]

The problem is, the Fulper Farm accepts, stores, and land applies industrial sludge produced by the wastewater treatment process at the Johanna Farms Flemington Plant. (I suspect he is paid to accept this industrial waste stream, making his farm a disposal operation, regardless of what DEP permits say.)

That Johanna plant has had notorious odor problems that have caused hundreds of complaints by neighbors.

Johanna has balked at solving the problem by installing a totally enclosed wastewater treatment system and DEP has failed to enforce state environmental laws and DEP permits. For that story, see this 3 year saga (a long stewing dispute that has finally been picked up and run on page one of the Hunterdon County Democrat):

Those Johanna Flemington plant odor problems are now literally spreading to West Amwell.

For 17 years, I have lived in West Amwell, about a half mile as the crow flies from the Fulper Farm. I live even closer to fields that Fulper applies the Johanna sludge on.

Over those 17 years, with one exception (a case where Fulper’s spray operation was discharging liquid manure to a local Category One stream tributary), I have stayed out of local affairs.

[Note: oops, I foot this one: Get the Cows Out of the Stream).

I reluctantly have bitten my tongue over Fulper’s Johanna sludge odors, which seem to have gotten far worse over the last 3 years or so.  But this week, the stench was just too much to stomach – literally a stench so vile it can make one puke. And it lingers for days.

Well, my patience is exhausted – the problem is getting much worse, not better. Johanna is not responsive, and DEP is not doing their job either. Fulper’s excuses are all exhausted, so he must permanently cease applying Johanna sludge.

I stopped by the Township’s Office to complain on Friday. I then went to Fulper’s Farm to talk with Mr. Fulper – he was in the field working and unable to talk. But I ran into him Friday night at the Hunterdon County 4H Fair and we spoke at length.

Let’s just say that, although Fulper acknowledge the odor problems, he denied having any adverse water quality impact on the C1 stream that runs behind his farm, instead he bragged about his Nutrient Management Plan. And he did not offer to address the odor and quality of life/nuisance problems that he admitting creating.

His wife tried to shut me down, and kids were deployed to remind me that dogs were not allowed in the animal area where we were speaking, so I needed to leave (I was at the 4H Fair with my leashed dog).

Fulper was arrogant and unapologetic. He basically said that I needed to just suffer  for 3-4 days a couple of times a year. So, Game on Mr. Fulper ! 

And I’m not the only one – see  the Minutes of the July 27, 2011 West Amwell Township Committee Meeting

OPEN TO THE PUBLIC/TOPIC NOT ON THE AGENDA

Joanne Speranza, 98 Rocktown-Lamb. Road, read a letter (copy attached) into the record concerning the continuing problem of the extremely noxious and vile odors arising from the delivery and/or distribution of food by-products provided by Johanna Farms to the Fulper farms for use as crop fertilizer.  Also outlined were her efforts and contemplated next steps if the situation is not remediated.  A brief exchange then took place between Ms. Speranza and RobFulper over problems experienced with the former’s pool since Memorial Day.

Rob Fulper came forward in response and noted that the family has been working with Johanna Foods on this by-product for quite a few years.  He relayed that the biggest disadvantage of this product is the odor, a fact that has never been denied, but he has made efforts to mitigate the problem as well as to avoid weekend and holiday spreading.  However, sometimes the odor comes back, especially if it rains.  Mr. Fulper explained that what is spread is a by-product of  food/juice processing which has been aerobically digested and turned into sludge in the lagoon.     The sludge, which unfortunately has a negative connation, is made up of bacteria that have died; then separated off; squeezed; and, delivered to his farm.  The remaining liquid in the lagoon is piped to the Raritan Water Authority and is crystal clear.  Johanna has done this part of the operation very well but has struggled with the sludge side, especially if the bugs in the lagoon get upset and the product isn’t properly digested.  Mr. Fulper acknowledged that they have had an issue with where the product is kept on their site and also if it sits too long in extremely hot weather it goes anaerobic, which results in an odor problem.  Due to the terrible heat, they have stopped spreading for now.  Mr. Fulper noted that with all the talk about renewable energy, recycling, etc., this food by-product is one of the best things that they have done for their soils and the crops show it.  The product is a soil amendment/organic fertilizer; is organic matter; has some phosphorus; and, nitrogen.  It replaces the necessity of buying synthetic fertilizers, which contain heavy metals.  This product is controlled by DEP and undergoes rigorous testing and sampling, which is why he believes it to be safe, and one that is the right thing to do for the soils, although the odor has been a big challenge.  The latter is something that he is attempting to be most conscious of and is also something that Johanna Foods is very concerned about because they have an image to protect; do not want to be a bad neighbor; and, are therefore taking some major steps in their lagoon process in order to have a better product.  Mr.Fulper continued that there are lots of struggles and challenges encountered with keeping a farm in New Jersey but this product is a good thing—a fertilizer product that’s recycled; saves fertilizer cost; is available locally from the plant; is the greatest thing to put on the soil; and, an important part of their operation.  He would like to try to keep working with the product; wants to be considerate of the neighbors; doesn’t want to have to come here; and, appreciates it when people call him directly as he is willing to work with them.  As for the pool thing mentioned earlier, Mr. Fulper admitted that he doesn’t know enough about it although he finds it really hard to believe.  If it were surface water running off from the fields, this would definitely be a problem but air borne is highly unlikely.

An extended exchange between members of the committee and Mr. Fulper ensued over items such as the amount spread, the nutrient management plan, the method of application, the composition of the product and how it is spread, the issue of smell, when/how it is stored and past practices that did not work well.  Other items mentioned were that Johanna is reportedly in the process of major change or re-construction as efforts to work within the confines of their existing system are not solving the problem.  Mr. Fulper also relayed that if the product is not distributed as fertilizer, it goes to an incinerator and burned which, in his opinion, is a waste.  In addition, the Dept of Ag encourages the use of such products as they can be good for the farmer.  The product is safe; it’s a food by-product; bio-degradable detergents are used when the machines are cleaned; and, everything is monitored as DEP takes frequent samples of both the liquid and the cake.  It’s a very controlled product, otherwise he wouldn’t be interested in using it.

Attorney Faherty was requested to speak to the issue; relayed that this situation has directly affected him for many years; expressed a bit of disappointment with Johanna as his letters in 2008/09 requesting information never received a response or even a phone call acknowledging receipt of same; and, queried how the purported quality of life issue raised is balanced against the right to farm and a taxpayer’s right to live.   

Ms. Speranza added that she has always commended Mr. Fulper on his farming ability/greenness; proceeded to present a copy of the permit with detailed application parameters; and, noted that while the product is giving something back to the earth, which is want DEP wants, they also publish an odor fact sheet that explains what is and is not acceptable.  The latter shows that DEP is aware that some of these things can cause lack of quality of life and was put in place by the air pollution control act whereby complaints can be filed with them and ultimately sent to the Board of Health.  She continued that the quality of life is definitely affected throughout the area; that while she understands that the product is good for the earth, she is not willing to sacrifice her quality of life for it; that during the summer months her backyard is her oasis; that this enjoyment is not limited to special events; it was not like this when she purchased her home several years ago; and, the odor is not a healthy one. She also questioned why it has taken until now for Mr. Fulper to become more involved in trying to rectify a problem that has brought people to their breaking point.  

That Johanna has been working on the problem and thought it was under control was re-iterated by Mr. Fulper and noted that the microbiology issue is complicated.  He believes that taking more moisture out of the cake would help but doesn’t know whether this would be feasible given the energy balancing act.  Although this is a challenge, it is not his business in that Johanna Foods holds the permit and he works with them.  His interaction with DEP is limited as is his interaction with the management of the Johanna facility.  He knows what he has to do; where the product needs to go; and, that it needs to be spread quickly but weather impacts and dictates farming operations.

Mr. Molnar expressed appreciation to Ms. Speranza and Mr. Fulper for their attendance and information and hopes that there will be some word from Johanna Farms on the issue.

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