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Chester County Press

For the benefit of all the people

“The people have a right to clean air, pure water and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As a trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”                                                     Section 127 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania

There is no one in Chester County – save for perhaps the born naysayer – who can deny the sustaining agricultural, economic and social impact that the mushroom industry has had on the county. It is the core center of our region’s identity, our most plentiful natural resource, and it has been – and will very likely continue to be – our largest point of pride. 

Two-thirds of all mushrooms harvested in the U.S. are grown and harvested here – 500 million pounds every year – and the industry supports nearly 10,000 jobs while contributing $4 billion to the economy as reflected in crop sales, packaging, transportation and ancillary jobs. 

Some of our county’s largest benefactors – who contribute selflessly to non-profit agencies and events like the annual Mushroom Festival in Kennett Square – come from the mushroom industry, and there is not one local community who has not been the beneficiary of their goodwill. 

Further, the industry has received high marks for its ability to convert byproducts and waste from other sectors of agriculture into the compost or medium used to grow mushrooms – leading to a smaller environmental footprint. 

And yet, over the past several years, the practice of waste composting has become the focus of environmental protection and regulatory agencies as well as the residents who live near where mushroom substrate is developed. 

Over the last several months, this newspaper has heard the stories of the residents of the Landenberg Hunt development along Starr Road, whose properties are in close proximity to several composting facilities. At a town hall meeting held at the New Garden Township Building in January, close to 50 residents from the development shared their on-going concern for the quality of the air that they and their children breathe. Many reported consistent headaches, nausea, and the constant permeation of Hydrogen Sulfide throughout their homes. Nearly everyone reported having to replace vital household appliances -- once, twice and sometimes three times at their own expense – that had been corroded from odors coming from neighboring composting facilities.

In a long conversation with a well-respected expert on the mushroom growing industry, this newspaper heard the testimony of his research in measuring Hydrogen Sulfide levels in Landenberg. At peak times of composting, he said, Hydrogen Sulfide levels greatly exceed legal limits for air quality. The enduring facts surrounding these realities are that they are not simply confined to Landenberg; they are on the minds of many in our county who are not simply content to accept foul air emanating from mushroom composting practices as part of the bargain of living in Chester County. In short, people are concerned for their personal health, the health of their children and for the overall well-being of the communities they live in.

They deserve answers – scientific research that bears the fruit of facts – and on March 21, beginning at 7 p.m. at the New Garden Township Building, they will begin to receive them. A joint presentation by representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture will share the results of a multi-year data collection that measured the levels of Hydrogen Sulfide at agricultural farms in New Garden Township.

The results of this study will be woven within future reports by the Chester County Press that will explore the short- and long-term impact of mushroom composting in the county, as well as introduce best management practices the mushroom industry is undertaking that both satisfy DEP requirements and prevent the pollution of surface water, groundwater and air. 

We pledge that these reports will not be an exercise in finger-pointing. Hardly; our intention is to showcase the ingenuity of the local mushroom industry to create shared solutions in partnership with regulating agencies, state and local government, top experts in the field of environmental safety and perhaps most of all, their neighbors. 

We expect nothing less from an industry that has already given us so much.

To tune into the live stream of the meeting, visit New Garden Township/YouTube.