April 05, 2020

Manure a concern in Glenburn> High nitrate-nitrogen levels in area well water prompt alarm

GLENBURN — Residents concerned that the spreading of manure by a local farmer may be polluting their wells hope to meet at the home of Bob Campbell on the Phillips Road this week, pending the return of electric service after the ice storm.

Neighbors who abut fields managed by Fred Richards of Hermon said last week that recent tests indicate their water has nitrate-nitrogen levels ranging between 13 and 23 parts per million. The nitrate-nitrogen safety level determined by health officials is 10 parts per million.

People are worried that the contaminant is coming from the manure, which they said Richards may be spreading too often and in overly high amounts.

According to Peter Mosher of the Department of Agriculture, which handles complaints concerning the manure-spreading program, high nitrate-nitrogen levels pose little danger to adults but could cause “blue baby syndrome,” in which an infant can’t get enough oxygen.

Neighbors said that during the last year and a half, health concerns have prompted them to purchase bottled water or to install water filters.

Meanwhile, Richards said Friday he was not aware area wells had tested high for nitrate-nitrogen, and that he abides strictly by the best management practices set by the state.

According to John Jemison, water quality specialist for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, high nitrate-nitrogen levels in water could be caused by a defective septic system or commercial fertilizer.

“It’s always difficult to document the source of nitrates,” he said.

Richards said he puts less manure on the land now than he did 25 years ago. He said that in 1996 when his water and that of his neighbors tested at around 10, he conferred with Jemison and subsequently lessened the amount of manure he was spreading.

“I do things by the book,” said Richards.

Residents also are taking issue with the fact that Richards spread manure on snow-covered ground late last fall. According to officials, if manure is spread on frozen ground, rain could send contaminants into surface water.

Mosher said the ground was not frozen when Richards spread the manure.

And, although Richards said he spread at that time “to lower the storage,” he has decided “never to do it again.”

“I see the problem that was created,” he said.

Neighbors said they are not out to make things difficult for Richards.

“All we’re asking is that the manure be spread correctly,” said Gail Applebee of Glenburn.

Meanwhile, Richards said he has always considered his neighbors’ well-being, and that he refrains from spreading manure on holidays so the odor does not interfere with their picnics.

As to why the nitrate-nitrogen levels have tested high, “I haven’t a clue,” he said.

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