ORANGE COUNTY, N.C. — Last year, close to 3 million gallons of sludge was sprayed over fields in Orange County. Farmers use it to fertilize their land, but now some people think the fertilizer is making them sick.
Nancy Holt's house is surrounded by farmland -- farmland fertilized with sewage sludge trucked in from Burlington. She said she believes it is literally making people sick.
"People have stopped by our house and said, 'What died?' What's that smell in your front yard? It makes my car stink,'" Holt said. "Staph infections. People get chronic coughs and it keeps going."
Holt said her 4-year-old granddaughter, Shelby, is a victim of the sludge.
"Shelby gets chronic sinusitis and high fever," she said.
Two months ago, the Orange County Department of Environmental Health tested 15 wells in the area. Officials found 60 percent of them were contaminated.
"One of the neighbors has double the amount of allowable arsenic," Holt said.
Holt blames the contamination on the sludge, but not everyone agrees.
Burlington utilities director Steve Shoaf said the "biosolids" complies with EPA and state regulations, and it is tested monthly.
"First off, it's biosolids, instead of sludge," he said. "We don't have any evidence that there are health effects associated with that. We have people who work in our plants 24 hours a day. You'd think if anything was wrong, we would see it in our employees first."
Environmental scientist Dr. Caroline Snyder, who is studying the case, said she has seen similar problems in other parts of the country.
"The concern is the airborne contaminants that are really making people sick," she said.
The Orange County Department of Environmental Health has found no link between the sludge or biosolids and the contaminated wells.