I read with some degree of astonishment Perdue Spokesperson Luis Luna's response to a Sun op-ed that encouraged his company to take on greater responsibility for environmental harm caused by irresponsibly handled chicken waste. Since Mr. Luna seems so enamored of facts, let's get some very vital facts straight here.
His statement that Jim Perdue encourages the "Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to move quickly when allegations of environmental misdeeds occur" smacks of jaw-dropping hypocrisy. The fact is that MDE received official notification that there was a water pollution problem on one of Perdue's grower farms on December 21st, 2010. Perdue's farmer subsequently denied MDE inspectors access to take any soil or water samples on several occasions over the next few weeks. It was not until January 26 — almost five weeks after notice, and after piles had been shifted and manipulated, that MDE finally exerted their legal right to obtain samples. It is baffling that Mr. Perdue would urge MDE to move quickly while his own farmers engage in dilatory tactics to keep MDE from doing just that.
Mr. Luna further states that MDE "determined the pile of supposed poultry litter behind the Waterkeepers' lawsuit was actually biosolids." This isn't true. The fact is that MDE never tested the pile he references, and since MDE officials concede that its inspectors are unable, by visual inspection alone, to differentiate between a pile of biosolids and a pile of biosolids mixed with, or covering over, chicken manure, none of us will ever know what was in that pile. Of course, that fact did not stop MDE from claiming to have tested the pile within days of being put on notice of the alleged water violations.
And the notion that the extreme amounts of chicken waste produced by Maryland are being used responsibly as the best fertilizer available is easily belied by the fact that these manure piles blanket the Eastern Shore for months on end, polluting our waterways because they cannot be spread in agronomic amounts under the nutrient management plans.
Yes, the citizens of Maryland do deserve better than the misinformation spread by MDE and the twisting of facts hand-delivered by Perdue. They also deserve industries that take on ownership of their waste instead of reviving some modern manifestation of a feudal system whereby its farm workers are saddled with all the burdens of waste disposal while its corporate executives reap financial benefits from shirking their responsibility.
But what the people of the Chesapeake deserve even more is a clean and healthy bay watershed. And as long as Perdue continues to get away with what they've been doing for decades on the Eastern Shore, we will never get what we deserve.
The writer is director of advocacy for the Waterkeeper Alliance.