The Toxic Bucks County Connection Between Republican Shelby Labs and Democrat Gwen Stoltz

This dirty history includes a sod and sludge dumping farm poisoning a local three-year-old boy.
(L-R) Republican State Rep. Shelby Labs and her Democratic challenger Gwen Stoltz.

Republican State Rep. Shelby Labs recently penned an opinion piece for The Intelligencer that left her Democratic opponent Gwen Stoltz and her supporters scratching their heads.

“Growing up in Central Bucks, I understand the importance of protecting our environment and preserving open space,” wrote Labs. “We are so fortunate to live in a uniquely beautiful place, and I am committed to defending our critical natural resources and leaving my daughter an environment like the one my parents and grandparents left for me.”

Both incumbent Labs and Stoltz have a history, one shared by a horrific Bucks County environmental disaster recorded in court documents that contradicts Labs’s claims about her family’s so-called environmental stewardship. It involves Dewey H. Bunch, Jr., Labs’s maternal grandfather who owned Shan-Gri-La Sod Farm, and Stoltz’s husband Frank, who as a 3-year-old boy was poisoned as a result of the farm’s toxic sludge-dumping business.

“While I have known about Frank’s cadmium poisoning for years, I only learned of the connection to my opponent recently,” Stoltz said. The Bucks County Beacon left messages seeking comment from Labs but they were never answered.

Here’s the history.

In 1980, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (DER), now the Department of Environmental Protection, launched an investigation that was prompted by complaints of a tremendous stench coming from this farm and sludge dumping operation.

“Tests of soil, grass, cow meat and blood serum demonstrate that cadmium from run-off from sludge dumped on the sod farm has entered the food chain, constituting a serious danger to citizens of the Commonwealth,” wrote Judge Isaac S. Garb at the time.

Cadmium is toxic to humans and animals; scant exposure may result in liver and kidney failure, neurologic damage, skeletal deformities and even death. Cadmium is also carcinogenic.

How was it possible for such high levels of cadmium to build up and permeate the rural environment?

By disregarding mandatory regulations that were requisite to operating a sludge dumping enterprise:

“On or about December 22, 1976 the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Resources (DER) issued a water quality management permit, no. 0976434 to Shan-Gri-La Sod Farm; this permit allowed Bunch to use sewage sludge from Abington and Warminster Townships on his sod farm.”

By 1976 the Shan-Gri-La Sod Farm had expanded into the sludge dumping business. Bunch, per court documents, had secured contracts with Abington and Warminster townships to haul away their municipal waste.

Tons of sludge were hauled to the property – located at Haring and Applebutter Roads, per the record – and, by not complying with the law, an environmental tragedy began to unfold.

“Bunch has applied 35 and 40 dry tons of sludge per acre per year to his farm in such a manner that two or three years’ worth of sludge, or between 70 to 120 dry tons per acre were applied in any given year to each of five 10 acre parcels on a rotational basis. These loading rates were excessive,” the court transcript reads.

While it was the noxious smell that created the public outcry, what was happening on and underneath the soil – including the contamination of local streams from which dairy cattle drank – was even worse. At the time, the DER’s recommended lifetime limitation for cadmium was three pounds per acre.Soil samples taken from the sod/sludge business revealed cadmium levels to be as high as 8.04 pounds per acre.

Blood tests performed on a neighbor’s three-year-old boy (Stoltz’s husband), who had eaten beef from cattle raised on the farm, “indicated that the cadmium in his blood serum was .8 micro grams per deciliter, compared to a normal range of . 1 to .5 micrograms per deciliter,” read the court documents.

The child had been poisoned.

Ultimately, the sludge business was ordered by the court to shut down permanently.

“If Labs does not even know her own family history of pollution in her own backyard, how can we trust her to keep our water safe?” said Stoltz.

According to Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, Labs voted against the environment 58% of the time.“My husband Frank’s childhood heavy metal poisoning is a tragic example of what can happen when you put profits over protecting our environment right here in the 143rd District,” added Stoltz.

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Jenny Stephens

Jenny Stephens is a freelance journalist who has written for a variety of publications, including The Reporter. An avid collector of all things vintage, she resides in the Philadelphia area.

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