Environmentalist slams proposed “sludge farm” along Little Manatee River

Little Manatee River near Waimauma. By Seán Kinane (Apr. 2016).

Share this:

A Hillsborough County company is asking the county for permission to spread tons of human sewage waste over its property along the Manatee River system; but environmental activist Mariella Smith is fighting back against the proposal by Chris’s Plumbing Service. She calls it a ‘sludge farm’.

“Chris’s Plumbing Service runs a huge commercial septic operation. They pump waste out of portable toilets – which they rent out – but they also pump residential and commercial septic tanks and restaurant grease traps. Chris’s Plumbing Service has applied for a special use permit to spread 50,000 gallons a day — 600 tons a year – of ‘biosolids & sludge’ across an 80-acre site that sits on the Little Manatee River wetlands system. A large part of the site that they want to rezone for this special use is wetlands. About a quarter of the site is wetlands that flow right into the river.”

“Chris’s Plumbing Service is asking Hillsborough County to let them dump human excrement, commercial sludge, and possibly restaurant grease on the banks of the Little Manatee River’s wetlands.”

Listen to the full interview here:

And is this something that’s normally allowed or is there an ordinance against it or why are they applying for a special use?

“Well, there really isn’t much in our land development code that addresses this. So, the first thing they’re doing is taking this agricultural piece of property-it’s zoned agricultural–and all they have to do at this point is ask for a special use permit to do this on that agricultural land. There’s apparently a process for them to just ask for permission to do this extra thing–not agriculture–on agriculture land. In this case, the permit application is very specific; it spells out they want to dump 50,000-gallons a day, 600-tons a year of biosolids and sludge on the property. It’s kind of like a waiver. It’s just an additional zoning to this property.”

And you’re concerned that the pollution will get into the river system.

“It’s obvious that the pollution will get into the river system. And this is toxic waste. Human excrement–I don’t care how they say they’re gonna treat it on site or whatever–it’s got bacteria, viruses, worms, all kinds of pathogens and then the commercial sludge has heavy metals and toxic materials. Well, all of this taken together can cause devastating, stinking, fish-kills throughout the river and then more for the Tampa Bay, as well as serious human health dangers; if you swim in this kind of stuff, you can get sick.”

There’s going to be a hearing at the Hillsborough County Commission, but, you’re also going to talk about it at tomorrow’s commission.

“Right. It’s not a hearing, it’s just an informational item that Commissioner Pat Kemp has put on the agenda in order to begin interim discussion with the County Commission about this, because the special use land-use permit does not formally come to this County Commission, it just goes straight to one land-use hearing officer, one hearing [on] June 19th and boom, he makes the decision and it’s done.

“So, Commissioner Kemp is bringing this up to the Board so they can have a discussion publicly about it. This allows an opportunity for us to go speak to the Board on it. This is not a ‘pack the room’ opportunity, that will come at the actual hearing where we try to convince the land-use officer to deny this permit.”

Those are my only questions. Is there anything else I need to know?

“Sure. Let me tell you about the Little Manatee River system a little bit. The upper reaches–the headwaters–where this site is located, is a prime nursery ground for many of the prized fish we have in the river and Tampa Bay. People come from miles around to fish in Tampa Bay and at the mouth of the Little Manatee River and Cockroach Bay for snook, redfish, blue crab, even tarpon are actually born up in the low salinity headwaters of this river. I’ve seen seahorses and diamondback terrapin turtles in this river.

“The river is precious because it’s undammed–it’s one of the few undammed rivers–and it flows through miles of county preserves–our ELAPP lands–miles and miles of ELAPP lands and state parks and state preserves. So, it’s really pristine. One of the most pristine rivers we have–I think it’s in the top-10 of the state’s rivers. It’s especially valuable and we’re protecting it. It’s declared by the state to be an Outstanding Florida Water, which is a special designation and miles and miles of this river are included in the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve.

“Plus, finally, whatever gets in this river eventually ends up in Tampa Bay. So, putting sewage and commercial sludge in the river, at the top, will wind up in Tampa Bay. It can kill seagrasses, can affect the health of all the animals there from the Gulf and into the Manatee’s and everything.”

Chris’s Plumbing did not return WMNF News’ call by deadline.

There will be a public hearing to consider the commercial septic operation’s request on June 19.

Monday, June 19, 6:00 p.m.

County Center, 2nd floor boardroom

601 E. Kennedy, Tampa, FL 33602

Here is a link to Mariella Smith’s blog post about this issue.


  • Craig Monk

    Processed Sewage Sludge “bio solids” a Major Source of Food and Water Contamination.
    The land application of Municipal industrial, hospital, storm, and household processed sewage
    sludge called “safe” by the EPA and your local State Environmental Agencies is a lie when you
    consider “safe” means free from risk.
    High concentrations of phosphates (P) are found in sewage sludge referred to as “bio-solids
    Class A and B” by some and AB in Texas. The source is simply food products, which are high in
    phosphorus due to fertilization. Phosphate, which is excreted though feces and urine after the
    digestion process and flushed into the sewer system. Other contributors of P come from cleaning
    (Trisodium Phosphate) which also ends up in the sewer.
    Let us multiply just how many contributions by the US population X 365 flushes a year. (2016
    US Population 322,762,018 X 365). In addition, any particulate phosphorous can be turned into
    phosphate by the anaerobic digestion phase of waste treatment. Now consider 25 years of, EPA
    CFR 40 503, dumping sewage on top of the ground on farms, forests, fields and even consumer
    bags and you get a health and environmental nightmare that cannot be stopped because of the
    money involved.
    Waste Water Treatment Plants (WWTP) cannot control the concentrations nor do they test for P,
    so it is common for a field to be over burdened with phosphates and effluent which goes directly
    into consumer surface water. Commercial P application can be controlled. Sewage Sludge or
    “bio-solids” P cannot.
    Look at your algae blooms to figure out where excess phosphates end up.
    Q: What impact does phosphate have on the environment?
    A: Phosphate supports the growth of plants, including algae. When too much phosphate
    is present, excessive amounts of algae can develop. This may lead to undesirable water
    quality impacts including reductions in aquatic life, poor taste and odors in drinking
    Without any consideration for pathogens, let us add more chemicals to the mix.
    Read a little know regulation 40 CFR 261.30(d) and 261.33 (4), every US industry connected to
    a sewer can discharge any amount of hazardous and acute hazardous waste into sewage treatment
    When the sewage industry tells you “pre-treatment of these industrial chemical are strictly
    regulated”, read the EPA’s Office of Inspector General’s Report No.14-P-0363- 09/2014 where
    you will instantly see they are BALD FACE PREVARICATORS! (Just Google the Report
    Now tell me what happens to those persistent hazardous chemicals when you heat them up and
    mix ALL of them together in a digester and send them out to a farm, forest or even in consumer
    product bags only labeled made from “bio solid.”
    Chemicals that are persistent in the environment, bio-accumulate in people and/or wildlife, and
    are toxic are called PBTs and neurotoxins such as microcystin (a hemotoxin), phycotoxins,
    domoic acid, brevetoxin. Because of these features, as long as they remain in commerce and may
    therefore be released into the environment, will threaten the health of humans, wildlife including
    aquatic life.
    Farmers and Consumers are being badly used to dump municipal industrial, hospital, storm, and
    household sewage on their farms to save cities money because of the cost to put it in a landfill.
    They are not told all the facts so they can make an informed decision and are deceived by “Free”,
    “Beneficial”, “ Safe” and Money
    Go figure.

  • sean mcparland

    Are they out of their freaking mind go to the center of a state where there’s nothing

  • Linda Brown

    Sean… didnt like your comment about the center of the state! Over here in Polk we are having to fight like hell to keep this crap out of here,,, This practice has got to stop! The “been doing it for years” isnt going to fly anymore! The municipalities need to fund and expand their treatment plants and quit the dumping on us who want to enjoy our property without this mess stinking up the air, getting into our soil & water and getting into our bodies and making us sick, As far as the article… Are they out of their freaking minds?! You guys need to show up and let your Comm know that you dont want it there and nowhere near your homes! Those septic guys are just looking for ways to increase profits. Don’t let it happen over your health and ruining your environment and property values. NOT IN OUR TOWN NOT ON OUR GROUND 2018

  • Roger Mills

    Why doesn’t the county, state or EPA require all companies that pump waste take it to a licensed disposal plant to have it properly treated. If it’s ok to just dump it on someone’s property why in the world don’t we just do away with rules requiring a home owner to properly dispose of sewer waste. Remove all laws that stop them from just dumping it on their own private property. The answer is too simple to answer, it is not healthy and in concentrated amounts it is bad for the environment’
    Instead of debating this just require them to do the same as everyone else is required to do, send or take it to a sewer disposal plant, period.

  • Elisa Robles Carlo

    I live in PA, in an area known as the slate belt. We are fighting an attempt to put a sludge plant in our community where they will “process” the sludge and make fertilizer pellets. Well, at this very same moment, our neighbors in a near by town are in litigation with this SAME company because their product is being used on farm land there, given away FOR FREE to farmers, and it is making them sick. The federal government deemed sewage sludge a biohazard and they disallowed it from being dumped in our oceans back in the late 80s because it was essentially KILLING the ocean. Unscrupulous companies saw an opportunity to make money from sludge by calling it a fertilizer. It has not been used to fertilize OUR FOOD CROPS for the last 30 years. Magically it has gone from being toxic to fertilizer all because the government didn’t want to figure out a way to deal with the disposal of sewage waste in a realistic way. The EPA has deemed it safe so that this foolish practice can occur and sludge processing companies can get rich. Meanwhile our people are getting sick. Rates of cancer, autisum, respiratory aliments, colo-rectal cancer in younger and younger people, all these things lead back to sludge use. It has to stop! It is backward thinking. There can be as many as 100,000 pathogens in sludge, and heating it up to 175 degrees is NOT going to kill all the bacteria or get rid of heavy metals or toxic chemicals. There are other countries in the world that don’t even consider this to be an option for disposal of sewage sludge…why is it “the greatest country in the world” can not seem to figure this out? $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ Sold out!