Human waste is raising a stink in Ellis County

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on March 11, 2013 at 11:10 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 12 at 7:38 AM

ELLIS COUNTY — Welcome to the rolling hills of Ellis County, just south of Midlothian.

Where the regal Red Tail circles lazily above breathtaking vistas.

Where the farmland provides harbor to refugees from the city.

And where Craig Monk settled 10 years ago, hoping to inherit the wind.

It turned out to be a wind that often leaves him breathless.

"You know, there is no other smell like this. I put it just short of a dead person," he said with a laugh, adding: "I'm serious."

Monk's neighbor Cole Turner agrees.

"It's horrible," he said. "It's gotten in our cars so when someone gets in your car to ride with you they say, 'Man, what's that smell?'"

Turner and Monk are among dozens of residents who say they love where they live except for this: Truckload, after truckload, after truckload of treated human waste, or "biosolids," dumped and spread across hundreds of acres on three area farms.

Farmers pay a company called Renda Environmental $20 a load to use the waste as fertilizer.

Renda contracts with sewage treatment plants to dispose of their solid wastes after the pathogens and metals have been eliminated.

The main thing they can't eliminate is the smell; the smell is not good. It's a combination of organic materials as well as chemicals giving off an ammonia-type aroma.

So bad is the smell that in the past five years, neighbors have lodged 110 complaints against Renda with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Fourteen of those complaints have been filed since January.

Despite odor nuisance laws on the books, in those five years the TCEQ has never issued any citations to Renda.

"You call the TCEQ; the TCEQ says, 'OK, we will send somebody out there.' Three or four days later they'll show up, stick their nose in the air. 'Well, we don't smell nothing.' Nothing founded and they disappear and leave," Turner said.

"Just over the tree line... that's where hundreds and hundreds of trucks are dumping," Monk said as he pointed to the site.

Complaints to Renda by Craig Monk did recently result in the suspension of biosolids delivery to one farmer. Monk says he became so upset, he confronted and beat him up in his front yard.

"He lost it," Monk said. "He opened both of my eyes."

Renda Environmental declined an on-camera interview, but spokesman Ben Davis issued this statement:

"Renda follows all regulations outlined by the TCEQ."

"Renda has voluntarily increased land buffer zones between property lines and modified our application to winter months."

The TCEQ says it has been conducting daily reconnaissance in the area since February 18, just days after first being contacted by News 8.

State officials said their investigation continues.

Meanwhile, neighbors keep holding their breath, hoping for winds of change.

"If these folks who are making the decisions got a five gallon bucket of this in their front yard, they would change their minds," Monk said.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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