BROOKSVILLE — To residents, the stuff spewing out of the septic trucks looked illegal and smelled illegal, so they pleaded with health officials to investigate whether septic contractor Anthony Crescenzo's company was releasing untreated waste in their neighborhood.
According to Crescenzo's records, however, Johns by John is following the rules outlined in his permit to spread treated waste on a portion of a 12-acre site on Sweet Gum Road, said Al Gray, environmental services manager for the Hernando County Health Department.
"He's in compliance as far as we're concerned," Gray said.
Largely, though, that means taking Crescenzo at his word, Gray acknowledged.
Treated waste haulers with spreading sites are required to keep records, marking the date, the number of gallons spread and the pH levels in the loads. The Health Department conducts annual reviews of those records but can ask for them at any time. Gray sought Crescenzo's records after residents said they suspected he was dumping untreated sewage and spreading more than the permitted amount. Crescenzo has adamantly denied the allegations.
He mixes the waste with lime at a stabilization facility in Pasco County and trucks the treated waste to the Sweet Gum site, west of Brooksville. The lime raises the pH levels to kill bacteria.
Crescenzo's records show that he started spreading on Feb. 21. The loads ranged from 1,200 gallons to 2,000 gallons, placing the volume within the limit of 20,000 gallons per day, Gray said. Records show that the pH levels of the loads were also in compliance, he said.
Residents reported to Gray that the material coming out of trucks varies in odor and color — a sign, they say, that some of the waste is treated and some is not.
One Sweet Gum resident gave Gray a videotape of Johns by John employees picking up larger material after emptying their trucks, something neighbors say happens often. Because treated waste goes through a screen, larger debris is another clue that some of the material is untreated.
Gray called the footage suspicious but not conclusive.
He said he visited the property last week a few hours after one of Crescenzo's trucks left.
He did not find evidence of untreated waste nor was there excessive pooling to indicate drivers were applying too much.
Crescenzo's permit also includes setbacks from property lines and wells, so the actual amount of land available for spreading is about 6 acres.
The trucks are used to pump septic systems, and the debris residents see his workers picking up is what settled at the bottom of the truck tanks, Crescenzo said.
He has also spread chicken manure on the site. That process, which is not regulated by the Health Department, could account for the varying colors and odors neighbors have reported, Gray said.
"That smells a lot worse than treated septage because the ammonia content is so high," he said.
On Tuesday morning, a parade of residents begged the Hernando County Commission for help. Commissioner Wayne Dukes has scheduled a meeting for next week with residents, Gray and Health Department director Phil Spence.
Dukes acknowledged there might not be much, if anything, the county can do, but he said it makes sense to get everyone in the same room to talk it out.
"My interest is to see exactly how involved the Health Department has been, have they done as much as they can do, and we can go from there," Dukes said.
Among the neighbors who will be there is Cassie Stump, who lives on Sweet Gum Road, across from Crescenzo's property.
"They're his records that he can falsify, so in my book that doesn't mean crap," Stump said.
Crescenzo repeated his invitation to residents who want to wield a pH test strip when he spreads.
"The can say I forge the numbers all they want but they can come and see for themselves," he said.
Crescenzo owns the property. The county Planning and Zoning Commission approved a rezoning classification for the land spreading, and the Health Department issued the spreading permit because he met all the requirements, Gray said.
He said it's impossible to police spreading sites as much as residents would like.
"I know there are some people that want us to stand out there all day long, but we can't do that," Gray said.
Gray said he has recommended that Crescenzo find another spreading site. Crescenzo said he plans to use the property for the foreseeable future.
Reach Tony Marrero at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]