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Cattlemen’s association holds forum on biosolids

by Rachel Dickerson | May 25, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.

NEOSHO -- The Newton McDonald Cattlemen's Association held an informational forum on May 19 featuring Paula Yockel of Mission 503.

Bryan Hall, president of the cattlemen's association, opened the meeting.

"We all are looking for solutions to deal with this issue safely," he said, referring to a situation in which companies are giving away products labeled as free fertilizer. Some local residents, however, believe there is no fertilizer in the materials, as was explained later at the meeting.

Hall invited farmer Rex Tilton of Anderson to speak. Tilton said he has used sludge from a chicken plant last hay season with good results. He said his hay yields were up 77 percent in some fields. However, "like with anything, if it's not done right ... it's not the right thing to do," he said. He added farmers have to take care of the ground water and that products have to be applied correctly, a certain distance from water sources and fence lines.

Yockel spoke about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 503 rule, which "says it's a good idea to use sewage sludge as fertilizer."

Yockel and her husband, David, and their 13-year-old son are from Oklahoma, and biosolids, or sewage sludge, were used as fertilizer on the pastures near their home, and they became ill as a result, she said. She said she had no information on the use of grease, meat processing waste or the blending of these products -- only on the use of municipal sewage sludge, or biosolids, as fertilizer. She said over the course of six years she had discovered some scientific findings and learned some fundamental things.

"Our nation is trusting an untrustworthy rule," she said. She called it "outdated, unprotective and misleading," especially to farmers. She said farmers are not the problem, they are just not being told the truth. Elected leaders are not in a position to solve the problem yet, she said. The public is not aware that the material is municipal sewage, she said. The wastewater industry has a vital job to do, she said, and it has been given the 503 rule to follow.

"The industry is not the problem, the rule is the problem," she said. "The cost of continuing the 503 rule far exceeds the cost of change." She said in order to change, everyone must work together without "finger pointing."

She said when her family moved into their home they had no idea what biosolids were. In November 2015 through January 2016, they had dumping upwind of them. She showed a video of dump trucks dumping dark material on pasture land. She said what was shown was Class B biosolids. She said the sewage sludge does not only contain toilet flushes but also waste from jails, hospitals and other institutions, containing all sorts of pollutants. She said in order to qualify to be spread on pasture land, the biosolids are measured for nine metals and one fecal indicator, but other contaminants get through.

She said the illnesses caused by the dumping included viral infections, pinkeye, skin infections, lung disorders, parasitic infections, temporary paralysis, etc.

In 2016 her child's pediatrician wrote a letter to a local leader regarding the illnesses Yockel's son had suffered, blaming them on the application of biosolids to the neighboring land. Yockel said this letter was ignored, as were their pleas when they met with city leaders.

She said she requested samples of the material and shipped them around the country to have them tested. She said 30 metals were found in the biosolids, along with pathogens, viruses, staph and strep bacteria, mercury and dioxin, a toxic chemical linked to cancer, reproductive and developmental problems.

Next she got scientists involved and participated in a study. She said bacteria that are unique to wastewater treatment plants were found in an interior air filter in her home, meaning the bacteria became airborne from the biosolids on the pastures, she said.

She reported she contracted cryptosporidium, a sewage-indicator parasite, while power washing her propane tank at her home. Through DNA analysis the parasite was identified in biosolids that were applied near her home and in her illness, she said.

She said another study found antibiotic resistance in biosolids.

"There's real life antibiotic resistance growing on our pastures," she said. She added the 503 Rule allows grazing on the land 30 days after application.

Also, she said her dog died, and she had the death looked into because she thought the biosolids killed it. They did not, however, she decided to have the body studied. Metals were found in the liver and kidneys that looked similar to what were found in the biosolids, she said. Then a hunter contacted her and said that deer were sick. She found a statistician who studied metals found in the deer livers, and he concluded that the metals had statistically significant similarity to those in the biosolids.

She said in her zip code, after 40 years of application of biosolids, the risk of disease has significantly increased. She said the chance of bone cancer is seven times greater, the risk of schizophrenia is four times greater, the risk of birth defects of the limbs is three times greater and the risk of breast cancer or lung diseases is 50 percent greater. There are 120 plus diagnoses, she said.

"Our farmers would never do this knowingly," she said. "I cannot prove cause and effect. I believe the effect in my community is from biosolids."

Yockel said 85 percent of U.S. sewage is going back into soils. In Missouri the percentage is 38 percent, she said, as Missouri has a high percentage of incineration of sludge.

"We have to have a new rule, but we need infrastructure. Those trucks have got to keep the nation's sewage running, but they need a new destination," she said. She asked the audience to join their cause.

"We love our neighbors, we love our farmers. We appreciate the job you do. We have a problem, and we think it's solvable."

For more information on Mission 503, go to

State Rep. Dirk Deaton spoke briefly, saying his office has received many questions, most not having to do with biosolids from municipal waste but rather with food residuals and processed waste.

He explained that permit holders who apply such products have to follow certain rules and they have to get a no discharge permit from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which means they cannot discharge their products into the water but land apply only.

If the company gets a fertilizer permit, they do not have to acquire a no discharge permit, and the only rule about fertilizer is that it has to be what one claims it is, he said.

However, this situation is changing, he said. The fertilizer control board views fertilizer as something that is not given away but has to be sold. So, anyone who is trying to get rid of a free product rather than sell fertilizer will have to get a no discharge permit from the department of natural resources from now on, he said.

Deaton also said he has had lots of calls about water quality and he has partnered with DNR to test the waters in the area. The legislature passed it in the budget but it has not been signed by the governor yet, and the governor has line item veto power, he noted.

Deaton later commented that companies have been offering what they call free fertilizer, and there is some debate over whether it actually is fertilizer.

He said the calls he has received included concerns about the smell of the material, applying too much, runoff, the condition of county roads, semi traffic, and more.

Ron Rogers of the McDonald County Soil and Water Conservation Board also spoke briefly on his concerns about the material known as free fertilizer.

"If I was going to apply this to my property I'd want to know what was in the trucks and I'd want to know the value of the fertilizer," he said.

He said some some of the products are 40 to 95 percent water, while containing only 0.08 percent nitrogen, 0.04 percent phosphorus and no potash, according to his source from the fertilizer board.

Also representing the cattlemen's association, Rogers commented, "The cattlemen's association is concerned with the welfare of the entire community."

For more information on the Newton McDonald County Cattlemen's Association, call Ron Rogers at 417-592-0901.

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