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Orange County

Ton of Sludge Leaks Onto Street

Environment: Sewage treatment solids escape from truck in Fountain Valley. Sanitation District says no residents were at risk.


A truck leaked a ton of sewage sludge in Fountain Valley on Wednesday, leaving a wide trail of smelly black waste on Euclid Street and shutting down a freeway offramp for six hours.

The dump truck had left the Orange County Sanitation District treatment plant shortly before 8 a.m. carrying 50,000 pounds of solids left over from sewage treatment when the driver noticed the truck was leaking. The sludge was headed to a farm in Kern County to be used as fertilizer on nonfood crops, district spokeswoman Lisa Murphy said.

The driver made a U-turn and returned to the district plant on Euclid Street. The truck leaked about 6,000 pounds of sludge--one-third on the street and the remainder on district property--before workers blocked the leak.

City police closed a southbound San Diego Freeway offramp and parts of Euclid Street. District officials also notified city, fire, county health and state water officials.

Workers used shovels, a vacuum truck and a street sweeper to clean the roadway, Murphy said. She said the spill posed no health hazard to nearby residents, and the roads were reopened about 2 p.m. Mechanics will try to determine what caused the leak.

Nearby residents are not in danger from airborne particles, since the sludge is slightly wet, said Kurt Berchtold, assistant executive officer with the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board.

"There would be a health hazard if [people] came in direct contact with the stuff," he said, because of bacteria and viruses in the material. "Provided there's restricted public access of the area and the cleanup is effective, there shouldn't be a problem."

Sludge is commonly used as a fertilizer in the United States. However, safety concerns have increased in recent years. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has asked the National Academy of Sciences to review potential health risks, which could include gastrointestinal, skin and respiratory infections. Nineteen counties in California have restricted the use of certain types of sludge.

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