MDE Gathers Samples From Chicken Farm

BERLIN – After threatening to get a search warrant to take samples of potentially polluting material on the Hudson Farm chicken operation, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) was allowed onto the land and took samples on Tuesday.

An MDE spokesperson confirmed that agency inspectors have visited the Hudson Farm and removed materials for testing, weeks after initially attempting to take that material. The Hudsons had refused to allow MDE to take samples on four previous occasions.

The agency is legally allowed to enter farms to retrieve samples, and farm owners must permit that access, under the Environment article of the Maryland legal code.

The results of the state’s tests on that sample material will not be available until next week at the earliest, according to MDE. Those test results might not be made public right away, as they are part of an ongoing enforcement investigation.

According to spokesperson Dawn Stoltzfus, a sample was taken from the mound of bio-solids that was until recently kept uncovered and located in near proximity to a ditch, with hand dug trenches leading from the mound to the ditch.

The bio-solid material was moved and covered after MDE visited Hudson Farm in the wake of media reports on a potential class action lawsuit by a local environmental group, Assateague Coastal Trust (ACT), and the national water quality protection group Waterkeepers Alliance over apparent pollution from the farm.

State inspectors also took several samples from the water in the ditch on the Hudson property adjacent to the previous location of the bio-solids.

That pile of sewage sludge, also known as Class A bio-solids, was stored uncovered near the ditch, as shown in aerial photographs taken by Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips, who also serves as executive director of ACT.

The Coastkeeper also took samples of water from the ditch where it enters public land this fall. Those water samples showed dangerous levels of e.coli and fecal coliform bacteria back in October, as well as high levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and other pollutants.

Bacteria levels were still high in that ditch last week, despite the recent heavy rain, although the bacteria levels were not as high as in October, Phillips said.

The Waterkeeper Alliance felt that the sampling taken this week by MDE might be too little, too late.

“While we’re happy to see MDE finally taking some steps to fulfill its obligation to the people of this state, keep in mind that at this point, anything the agency gathers is highly suspect. It’s showing up at the scene of the crime long after the evidence has been tampered with, manipulated and shifted around,” said Scott Edwards, Waterkeeper Alliance Director of Advocacy, in a statement issued this week. “If law enforcement officials in the state routinely acted in this same manner, Maryland’s jails would be empty because there wouldn’t be enough good evidence to convict a single criminal.”

The statement continued, “After sitting on its hands for over five weeks now, we can only hope that MDE did a thorough and competent job by testing all the many piles on that site, and that they bored deeply into these piles. We trust that they sampled the soil around the trenches that were dug to drain that one particular pile, as well as taking water samples from the many ditches that drain that farm. At this point, anything less than a wide scale and comprehensive approach would be just another display of irresponsible and reckless action by the state.”