What we were looking for in Sierra Blanca, Texas, was a field covered with New York poop. Surprisingly, New York poop does not look shockingly different from anyone else’s poop; for that matter it isn’t very different from cow poop, which is plentiful around Sierra Blanca. But the problem may be that I don’t have very extensive training as a scatologist.
In 1992, New York City made a deal with a company called Merco to take treated sewage from New York to Sierra Blanca where it would be spread on fields as fertilizer. According to the sludge permit: the “sludge will be beneficially land applied on approximately 78,500 acres.” The sludge was applied for about 10 years before the contract expired and was not renewed. Some people said the sludge shipments stopped because New York found a better place, while others said it was because of the public opposition.
Sludge gets the fancy name of biosolids when it has been treated to some level for application to farmland as fertilizer. Biosolids may still contain doxins, PCBs, brominated flame retardants, heavy metals, and bacteria such as e. coli and staphylococcus aureus. Some people in Sierra Blanca were worried about the biosolids being spread on the farmland nearby.
Online, we found the name of a gentleman who lived in Sierra Blanca and who knew about the story we were pursuing. In fact, he seemed to be centrally involved. Bill Addington showed up in almost every article we read about the situation. He’s an activist who, in addition to New York’s sludge, fought a prison and a low-level nuclear waste dump being located in Sierra Blanca. Happily, it seemed that he owned the general store in Sierra Blanca, so it wouldn’t be hard to find him.
On arrival in Sierra Blanca, we were shocked to discover the general store closed and pretty much abandoned. Bill Addington was nowhere in sight.
As usual, when we have lost the hot scent of the trail, we found a place to eat. Our general theory is that if we eat at some local restaurant, maybe we’ll meet someone who knows about our objet d’garbage. In this case we went to Michael’s, one of the two eating establishments in Sierra Blanca.
The restaurant did not produce any leads, but they really served up a great chili relleno omelet. Our next best idea was to visit the city hall and ask around. We met a couple of women there who had heard about Merco and the sludge, but both were new to the town. They didn’t have too many details. What they did tell us was that Bill Addington was the guy to speak to.
Finding him was another issue. They said he lived in a rock house upon the hill. They said it might be the broken down one that looks like nobody lives in it. Or it might be the one next to that. The county sheriff lives in the other rock house. And they told us that Bill wasn’t really sociable and that we approached at our own risk.
Seeking more information, we visited the local bank. There we met Mrs Love. She told us that Merco and the sludge were the best thing that ever happened to Sierra Blanca. When they were in town people bought new cars, added on to their houses, and businesses opened up. Mrs Love told us that things got a lot harder when Merco left. She herself had to take a cut in pay. She used to work for Merco. But Mrs Love didn’t know where Bill Addington lived.
As usual, the story of garbage (perhaps in this case the more technical term ‘waste’ applies) is complicated. People say biosolids were causing health and odor problems, other people say they provided a much needed economic boost to the area. Maybe both viewpoints could have been proven, leaving us to evaluate the matter as best we can. This seems to be a trend in environmental issues.
Eventually, we found the gravel road with the three rock houses, where Bill Addington was supposed to be. The house was in disrepair, boards over some of the windows and lots of stuff in the front lawn. Two dogs came to the window when I called out from the street. They started yipping and barking. I made my way through the derelict dog houses and a pile of plastic bottles, over an overflowing dish of dog food and up the stairs to knock on the door. It did smell.
Nobody answered. Nobody answered again when I called out louder and said that we were looking to find out about Merco and the New York sludge. A cicada buzzed and flopped about on the walk leading up to Mr Addington’s house, before dying. I turned around and made my way out again, past the skeletons of cars with bedding in them and a bush that seemed to have overgrown the gate.
What happened to Mr Addington?