Company Fined for Dumping "Chicken Sludge" in Northeast Georgia Creek

Published on 22 February 2024 at 08:34

Proposed legislation would make it illegal for an entity cited for fouling a waterway to continue to do so on the same property afterward.


Doug Richards, WXIA 11Alive News, Atlanta

February 21, 2024


SHARON, Ga. — The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has issued a fine to a company for fouling a northeast Georgia creek. Yet residents say the dumping that fouled the creek has continued.  

Critics describe the stuff being dumped as chicken sludge.  A bill introduced in the Georgia House of Representatives last week would make it illegal for an entity cited for fouling a waterway to continue to do so on the same property afterward.  


The northeast Georgia town of Sharon is unhurried and seemingly untroubled – until the trucks show up.  They’re loud and big and typically fast and always smell pretty terrible.

"It smells like you’ve just come out of a restroom," said Betsy Orr, a business owner.  "You can smell them distinctly as soon as they’ve gone by."

Their destination is a large piece of land down a dirt road, which includes a creek.  The state EPD said the trucks use this site to dump what neighbors describe as a ghastly sludge that mostly comes from chicken processing plants.

Tonya Bonitatibus, the Savannah Riverkeeper, has seen this unlikely product turn into an industry growing across northeast Georgia and said that when one processes a chicken, there's stuff left over on the floor. 


"All of a sudden, these trucks show up, like 30, 35 of them a week on one piece of property that are putting pieces and parts of animals, with this stench, that makes flies and all of these buzzards show up. It sounds biblical, right? It doesn’t sound real," Bonitatibus told 11Alive News.  "It seems almost too crazy to be true."

Farmers and landowners apply it as nourishment to fields – as we saw last fall across from Oconee High School.  


In the case of this field near the town of Sharon, residents say it gets dumped for reuse.  State regulators fined a man named Justin Echols for letting the sludge dumped here to foul a creek that runs nearby. 11Alive was unable to reach Echols for comment.

Investigators documented the spill and fined Echols’ company, called Ag Green, $5,000.  Yet even after that, residents say the trucks still came.


"That seems outrageous. Why in the world would they be able to continue to dump when they're being ordered to clean up and have a corrective action on a site," Bonitatibus asked.  HB 1233 would make it illegal. 


The substance is actually very well known to Georgia regulators and politicians. Except they don’t call it chicken sludge. Their sanitized term for it is "soil amendment."


The state agriculture department approves its use routinely.  State records obtained by 11Alive News show the ingredients include "industrial wastewater" or "DAF sludge" from the "animal slaughtering industry" or "pet food processing industry," injected into the soil.  Backers say it's an effective way to recycle such waste.


The records also show numerous complaints from neighbors. Residents of Walton County howled when it got applied to fields there last summer, describing it as "horrific" with a "literal sickening smell" that "causes headaches and nausea."


A state inspector who showed up two days later closed the case, finding "flies and odors were found to be minimum" and "compliance is met."


Betsy Orr has been behind the upkeep of a historic church in Sharon.  It has a cemetery more than 200 years old.  There’s a camp nearby, and she said there’s potential to draw historic and visitor interest.  


Except, she said, when the place stinks of animal sludge.


Watch 11alive news clip


Editor’s note: The Wilkes Board of Commissioners recently drafted an ordinance to amend a “planning / zoning ordinance of Wilkes County, Georgia, relating to storage, application or other use of soil amendments”. 


The proposal seeks to “ensure that property in the Agricultural District is used for valid agricultural purposes rather than for improper waste disposal.” The proposal is being forwarded to the state legislature.

Late last year, the Board of Commissioners denied a zoning request by Smith Dairy Farms and Vanguard Renewables to operate a co-digester facility near Rayle. It would have received food-grade industrial waste from out-of-county for processing. Smith Farms’ neighbors stood in opposition after the property was used as a dump site for poultry-processing waste.


The previous year, MarLeta Farms, just south of Washington, was cited and fined for a toxic sludge spill that killed hundreds of fish in the Little River after a settling pond overflowed.


 by Richard Crabbe

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Doug Abramson
4 months ago

On March 14, 2024 Wilkes County, GA passed an ordinance requiring landowners to obtain a special use permit before applying a soil amendment. The ordinance includes set-backs and buffers, requires that the soil amendment have a bona fide agricultural purpose, and demands that applicants provide meaningful information about their soil amendment plans. The Wilkes County Board of Commissioners should be commended for using its zoning and planning authority to protect residents, farmers and agriculture. The new ordinance is a good start towards getting the problem of soil amendments and sludge dumping under better control.