Originally created 06/19/03

Witness states tests link sludge to deaths



Attorneys defending Augusta against a $12.5 million lawsuit worked diligently Wednesday to refute testimony from experts who contend sewage sludge poisoned land and killed cattle on a Burke County farm.

Taking the stand during the trial's eighth day was Dr. Lewis Goodroad, a Griffin, Ga., soil scientist who testified that Boyceland Dairy's problems were linked to sewage sludge from Augusta's Messerly Wastewater Plant.

Dr. Goodroad cited soil tests from the University of Georgia as the basis for his opinion, but Jim Ellison - one of Augusta's lawyers - asked whether such "anecdotal sampling" was sufficient to draw a conclusion.

"Some samples were high (in contaminants) and some were low," Dr. Goodroad said. "But to do complete, extensive sampling would be cost-prohibitive."

For example, he said, a 9-acre area with soil 6 inches deep would involve 18 million pounds of soil, with a typical soil sample including only about a pound of material.

Compounded by the fact that sludge was unevenly applied and had widely varying levels of toxic materials, "it's a monumental sampling problem."

Mr. Ellison then reminded Dr. Goodroad that - in a 1999 deposition - he said the only way to properly sample the Boyce farm would involve a sophisticated grid system with numerous soil samples.

Dr. Goodroad replied that such blanket sampling would be needed only if there were no records of sludge applications on the land in question.

"And we know that not to be the case," he said.

Mr. Ellison also contended Wednesday that any contamination found at the Boyce farm might be linked to other agricultural activities - because the land had been farmed intensively for more than a century.

Also Wednesday, jurors heard testimony from Dr. Harold Harris, a professor of agricultural economics at Clemson University, who estimated the sludge-related damages sustained by the Boyce farm at $6,775,015.

Testimony is scheduled to resume today in Richmond County Superior Court.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.