New Resource Page: Sewage Sludge (Biosolids) — land application, health risks, and regulatory failure

June 25, 2014

Sewage sludge (also known as ‘biosolids’) refers to the semi-solids left over from municipal waste water treatment. It contains highly variable mixtures of household and industrial pollutants. These include radioactive material, pharmaceuticals, organic chemicals, antibiotics, and heavy metals, excess nutrients (e.g. N and P), and human pathogens. Its safe disposal has been problematic for municipalities and EPA since the inception of modern large-scale water treatment facilities (1).

Despite its documented harmful impacts, the U.S. EPA and others vigorously promote land application of sewage sludge — to farmers and ranchers as a fertilizer and to households as organic compost.

Many scientific experts argue that the risks of land application are not adequately addressed by EPA’s current 503 sludge rule. They believe the short and long term health of the public as well as the environment are at risk. The Bioscience Resource Project has just added Sewage Sludge (Biosolids) — land application, health risks, and regulatory failure to its resource pages. This page summarizes and links to key scientific papers that provide an overview of the current health, environmental, and political issues around land application of sludges. Included are suggestions for reformulating the problem to ensure clean water without toxic sludge production.

To access the new page see: Sewage Sludge (Biosolids) — land application, health risks, and regulatory failure.

(1) For an illuminating non-technical introduction to the origins of sewerage systems and the creation and disposal of toxic sludge see: Civilization & Sludge: Notes on the History of the Management of Human Excreta by Abby A. Rockefeller.

How EPA Faked the Entire Science of Sewage Sludge Safety: A Whistleblower’s Story

by Dr. David Lewis
June 9, 2014
Independent Science News

US EPA’s 503 sludge rule (1993) allows treated sewage sludges, aka biosolids, to be land-applied to farms, forests, parks, school playgrounds, home gardens and other private and public lands. According to a recent EPA survey, biosolids contain a wide range of mutagenic and neurotoxic chemicals, which are present at a million-fold higher concentrations (ppm versus ppt) compared with their levels in polluted air and water (1). Biosolids contain all of the lipophilic (fat-soluble) chemical wastes that once polluted our rivers and lakes, but which now settle out at sewage treatment plants and become concentrated in sewage sludges. Most biosolids contain ppm concentrations of heavy metals, including chromium, lead, and mercury. They contain similarly high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and semi-volatiles, such as bis (2-Ethylhexyl) phthalate, Benzo(a)pyrene), and polybrominated diphenyl ether congeners (PBDE flame retardants). Most biosolids also contain pathogenic agents and ppm levels of many common drugs, including ciprofloxacin (Cipro), carbamazepine (Tegretol, Equetro), and fluoxetine (Prozac).

While working at EPA Dr David Lewis published evidence that teenager Shayne Conner (of New Hampshire) died and other neighbors were harmed from living near land applied with sewage sludge (Lewis et al 2002). He furthermore became involved after dairy herds of two Georgia farms (McElmurray and Boyce) were poisoned after grazing on sludged land. He testified in lawsuits following each incident, against his employer (EPA), which is where many of the following depositions were obtained. The following article is an excerpt from Chapter 4 (Sludge Magic) of his new book (Science for Sale: How the US Government Uses Powerful Corporations and Leading Universities to Support Government Policies, Silence Top Scientists, Jeopardize Our Health, and Protect Corporate Profits). The lawsuits referred to are Lewis v. EPA 1999; Lewis v. EPA 2003; and USA, ex rel. Lewis, McElmurray and Boyce v. Walker et al. 2009. The depositions below piece together an unprecedented and coordinated multi-agency scientific scheme involving EPA, USDA, local and city municipalities, Synagro Technologies (a waste management company), various universities, and the National Academies of Science. The effort was intended to misleadingly present sewage sludge as scientifically safe, to hide the evidence that it was not, to deliberately misreport the contents of municipal sludges, and smear David Lewis with a scientific misconduct charge after he blew the whistle.

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Clearfield County residents' stand against biosolids pays off

By Chris Togneri

Published: Friday, Feb. 28, 2014, 10:55 p.m.

Clearfield County residents got their wish, at least for now, when state officials agreed on Friday to stop spreading biosolids, or treated sewage sludge, on game lands near their homes.

“We feel really good,” said Allison Gould, who was among Bell Township residents who met with a state Game Commission official at her home. “They're going to stop; they're not going to spread here anymore.

“But this is not over,” she said. “This is a national problem, (and) I will always let people know how I feel about biosolids.”

Silencing the Scientist: Tyrone Hayes on Being Targeted by Herbicide Firm Syngenta

Scientists that blow the whistle on the harmful effects of chemicals are persecuted, harassed and threatened by drug companies when their profits are at risk. This is also true of scientists who have attempted to warn the public of the harms of toxic sewage sludge. Oh yes and by the way, you will find endocrine disrupting chemicals, like Atrazine, in sewage sludge.

Not Your Grandmother’s Night Soil: What You Need To Know About FDA Rules on Soil and Food Contamination

By Darree Sicher

1938: Hitler seizes control of Germany, Benny Goodman plays the first jazz concert at Carnegie Hall, Superman first appears in DC Comics and Teflon, instant coffee and Xerox copying machines are all invented. AND, the Food Safety Act becomes law in the USA. Forward to 2014: America’s food safety …. where’s Superman when you need him?

Every year 48 million Americans – 1 in 6 – get sick from food-borne illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 128,000 citizens are hospitalized annually and 3,000 die from our national “food poisoning” problem. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that 16.8% of our fresh-cut fruits and vegetables are contaminated. What if curbing our national food poisoning problems could be as simple as to stop using our modern sewage sludge waste as a fertilizer? If you are what you eat, you can make a difference – the FDA is accepting comment on environmental impacts to the safety of our nation’s food supply.

Does 8 million Tons of Sewage Sludge Equal 48 Million Sick?

Forty-eight million people contract some form of food poisoning annually. Meanwhile, at least 8 million tons of sewage sludge/biosolids “fertilizer” from waste water treatment plants is land applied annually on farms, athletic fields, parks and sold as bagged fertilizer. Roughly 60% of U.S. sewage sludge collected from homes, industries, businesses and hospitals at municipal waste water treatment plants is land applied. Exiting water effluence from waste water treatment plants is “recycled” as agricultural water for crop irrigation or reintroduced into rivers and streams. For many, a link between the pathogens, pharmaceuticals, chemicals and carcinogens found in both the sewage sludge and the water effluence and the poisoning of America’s food, water and soil falls into the realm of common sense.

Unfortunately, politics have played a major role in maintaining inadequate standards to ensure the health and safety of our food and water supply and in re-evaluating the transfer of our toxic waste to the very source of our sustenance. The bureaucratic response to concerns of health and safety risks echos industry-speak: no “proof” of contamination. In spite of bureaucratic resistance, real science proves otherwise. Even the most scientific simpleton can link soil and water health with the health of your food supply – the plant has no choice, it must soak up what is in the soil and water where it is growing. Solid science supports this obvious connection, which is why fortunes are made applying “nutrients” to the soil. Soil and water contamination will also impact the quality and safety of the food supply. The environment IS the soil and water and the contamination impact on the land that grows our food and filters our water directly impacts our health and safety. Is it possible that our explosion in food and water contamination is a direct result of using our modern waste and wastewater as a “fertilizer” to grow our food?

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Why We Should Tell People the Truth About the Environment Even When It Is Bad News

Editor Post | October 11, 2013

By Carolyn Raffensperger

“I think unless the people are given information about what is happening to them, they will die in ignorance. And I think that’s a big sin. I mean, if there is such a thing as a sin, that’s it, to destroy people and not have them have a clue about how this is happening.” Alice Walker

When people find out what I do for a living—addressing climate change, toxic chemicals, and loss of species—they ask me if I am optimistic that things will turn out ok. They ask, do I think there’s a viable future for their kids and their grandchildren? They are asking me for my professional judgment about the state of the world since I live and breathe each new study and every fact.

And my colleagues and allies in the environmental work have the same kinds of discussions about the science of endocrine disruptors, rising levels of carbon dioxide, and the acidification of the ocean. My colleagues say “that’s too negative. Focus on the good news! The solutions! We can’t tell people the bad news because it will turn them off!”

But here’s the deal—we are in deep trouble. Recent data suggest that humans will suffer more chronic debilitating diseases, most of our own making; climate will ricochet from one calamitous weather pattern to another; and frogs and pollinators will not survive the predations of industrial civilization. I write this essay from central Iowa where in 2010 we had record flooding. In 2012 we had record drought. And now in 2013 we have record rainfall and flooding, again.


Under Pressure, Whole Foods Agrees to Stop Selling Produce Grown in Sewage Sludge

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) broke the story that the $12.9 billion-a-year natural and organic foods retailer Whole Foods Market had a policy of "don't ask, don't tell" when it comes to "conventional" -- or non-organic -- produce being grown in fields spread with sewage sludge, euphemistically called "biosolids." Certified organic produce cannot be fertilized with sewage sludge, which is the industrial and hospital waste and human excrement flushed down the drains and later -- in some cases -- spread on some crops.

Since this story broke, nearly 8,000 activists and PRWatch readers have sent emails to Whole Foods executives asking the company to require its suppliers to disclose this information and to label produce grown in sewage sludge so that customers can make informed decisions.

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