South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Charlotte Sludge Case

DHEC recently granted the City of Charlotte a permit to dump its sewage sludge across thousands of acres of agricultural fields in Chester, Fairfield, Lancaster and York Counties. “Sludge” is the solid byproduct of wastewater treatment, and it contains basically everything that finds its way into Charlotte’s sewer system, including: pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, phosphorous, nitrates, and chemical pollutants. The sludge is applied to these fields as fertilizer, though Charlotte’s method of application – one mass spreading on top of the ground – is entirely incompatible with sound agricultural practice.

In addition to the problems inherent in spreading toxic sludge, the "all at one time" manner that the City of Charlotte applies sludge represents a significant over-application. The result of this over-application has not surprisingly been runoff into adjacent water bodies. Indeed, DHEC has acknowledged an over-abundance of phosphorus and other pollutants extending well downstream from the sludge application area, though it refuses to attribute that problem to sludge.

SCELP has challenged the sludge permit in the Administrative Law Court and is representing two farmers whose health, livelihood and property value stand to be significantly diminished. We are in the process of conducting discovery in this case and expect a trial in late spring or early summer.

Case Update

We resolved this case by settlement agreement in mid-2014. As a result of our efforts, the City of Charlotte is required to provide public notification on its website of its land application plan and the fields on which it proposed to spread the sludge. Public notice was not required by law or through the permit.