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City Sewage Sludge's Use, Impact Debated

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Terry Perry bent over and picked up a moist, thick, and black-as-coal handful of muck. "It's just like mud," said Mr. Perry, who for years has made a living selling the substance that looks like mud but is more than dirt and water.

That "mud" is the end product of everything flushed down every toilet in Toledo, poured down every sink drain, and then swept through every mile of sewer pipe. Sewage sludge - a pathogen-laden solid left behind in the wastewater treatment process after dewatering - has been a topic of debate for years.

The big questions always have been where to put the sludge and what to do with it. But in recent months, questions have arisen about its safety and its impact on Maumee Bay and Lake Erie. Phosphorus in the water is considered a contributing factor to algal blooms.

All the sludge created at the city's sewer plant in North Toledo - about 50,000 tons a year - is trucked to Facility 3, the 500-acre, man-made, diked-in area that juts into Maumee Bay from Oregon. It was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1970s to house contaminated sediment dredged from the Maumee River and Maumee Bay shipping channels.

There, Mr. Perry's company, S&L Fertilizer of East Toledo, mixes the sludge with material dredged from the shipping channels and a small amount of spent lime obtained from the city's water treatment plant in East Toledo, to create a product called Nu-Soil. Under its contract, S&L sends Nu-Soil back to the city of Toledo to use as "cover" at the Hoffman Road Landfill.

But Nu-Soil has been used as fill for places such as Ravine Park in East Toledo, a retirees' golf course, and a private residence on Manhattan Boulevard, city records show. Some is sold to farmers, Mr. Perry said.