State, federal agencies laying groundwork for additional farm field testing in northwest Missouri

For more information: 573-751-1010
Volume 37-242 For Immediate Release: Aug. 10, 2009
Contact: Larry Archer, DNR
Chris Whitley, EPA Region 7
Kit Wagar, MDHSS

JEFFERSON CITY, MO, -- The Missouri Department of Natural Resources, working with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, continues laying the groundwork for extensive testing of northwest Missouri farm fields, with a target date of late August to begin the actual sampling, Acting Field Services Division Director Alice Geller said today.

Staff members from all three agencies have worked since initial test results were announced in July concerning tannery sludge spread on fields in Andrew, Buchanan, Clinton and DeKalb counties.  Chromium (VI) was found during that sampling at three farm fields.  None of the initial sample results indicated chromium (VI) at levels that pose a threat to human health.  Nonetheless, the agencies would like to understand more about the connection between the tannery sludge, chromium (VI) and the soil.

"The sampling of farm fields for chromium (VI) on this level is unprecedented," she said. "In order for our results to be scientifically valid, we've been working with DHSS and EPA national experts to develop an entirely new advanced design and sampling strategy, which is a time-consuming effort. As much as we want answers now, we need to have answers with scientific integrity."

Drawing on data submitted to the Department of Natural Resources and EPA, staff members have already identified farm fields to sample and have begun working with landowners to secure permission and access. At the request of several of the landowners whose property was identified for sampling, the department has agreed to wait to test fields currently in production until after the harvest. Pasture land, fields not in production and select yards nearest to identified farms will be tested first.

Sampling will focus on fields that have had varying levels of treatment with tannery sludge used as fertilizer. Fields that have never had sludge applied will also be tested to develop a baseline of what elements occur naturally in the soils of northwest Missouri. The sampling is expected to take a few months.

The Department of Natural Resources and EPA, with assistance from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, opened a cooperative investigation into the tannery sludge issue in late April 2009. The government investigation was launched in response to public concerns about a St. Joseph, Mo., leather tannery's distribution of waste sludge for use as agricultural fertilizer on northwest Missouri farms, and whether the sludge material contained chromium (VI) at levels that might pose health risks to the public.

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