JEFFERSON COUNTY, Wisc. — Rural homeowners in Jefferson County have begun testing their groundwater over health concerns from the disposal of millions of chicken carcasses.
Last month, Wisconsin officials confirmed cases of Avian Influenza at Cold Spring Egg Farm. To prevent the spread of the virus, the farm decided to "depopulate" and compost the carcasses of its roughly 2.75 million layers.
The state and county have said composting is the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of the bodies. They used the same method in 2015 during a previous outbreak in Jefferson County, one of the largest egg producers in the United States.
It's not the process that necessarily concerns homeowners. It's the location.
Cold Spring owns land about six miles away from its farm. After a site inspection, federal, state and local officials determined it was safe to compost the vast majority of the birds at that second location, which is an empty field near the intersection of Hooper and Zion Roads.
"This road was quiet. You'd be lucky to walk outside and see a car a day. And now all the time, there's cars," said one resident, who, citing specific concerns, asked that we not reveal his identity.
More so than the noise — of heavy trucks and equipment — people living nearby fear contaminants from the process could seep into their well water.
According to the man we spoke with, the Village of Palmyra delivered water test kits last week to homes in the area of the disposal site. The county said 30 kits were distributed.
At no cost, homeowners can take a water sample, send it in, and the state will test the results at its labs for nitrates and bacteria such as E. coli. These initial tests are just a baseline, and homeowners have been asked to test again at six months, according to the man we spoke with. Additional tests will also be provided for free.
"I hope our water stays clean," he said.
As far as the noise, it's unclear when the operation will wrap up. The composting process — to kill the virus and essentially turn the birds into dirt — takes about a month, according to the county.
But there's an additional step of site clean up, including of the removal of compost waste. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) told us they're evaluating how long it will take.
Seeing as the composting began on March 27, area residents likely have more weeks of the noisy, smelly and unsightly work to endure.