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IS SEWAGE SLUDGE REALLY FREE FERTILIZER TO THE FARMER?

Press Release
6/4/2009
Carolina Concerned Citizens
(919)563-3670 fg325@aol.com
For more information or scientific links and studies--contact Nancy Holt.

Sewage treatment plants were never designed to produce fertilizer. What is being spread on farmlands now and called biosolids or free fertilizer is the concentrated residuals of whatever comes into the sewage treatment plant from all sources: homes, businesses, industry, hospitals, laboratories, nursing homes, funeral homes, and street run-off. This thick viscous concentrated residual called sludge is what remains after the sewage water is treated to be discharged back into rivers or streams.

We are told that sewage sludge/biosolids are recycled organic human waste, which is true. What is not told is that from 80 to 100,000 chemicals are used in products for personal and home use, in industry, and medical and laboratory facilities. Any drugs or chemicals going down the drain into the sewer system may wind up on the land intact or as chemical mixtures never anticipated or tested for toxicity. The treated sludge also contains bacteria, viruses and intestinal worms and parasites. Class B sewage sludge can have 2 million fecal coliform indicator bacteria (thermotolerant E. coli) per gram (size of a sugar cube) which means there’s pathogenic bacteria in the sludge—but not what type or amount and this will be sprayed or spread on farm fields which will grow human and animal crops and grass for cattle. The waste water treatment plant has to follow EPA and state regulations for processing sewage sludge but this process does not remove the drugs, chemicals, toxic metals, or all of the bacteria, viruses, or parasites.

Human and animal foods are allowed to be grown on sludge applied land and cattle to graze on pastures with sludge top dressing. There are waiting periods before human food crops, tobacco, and forage can be harvested and cattle are to be kept from grazing for 30 days after application. Unfortunately, bacteria may survive well over one year and no two loads of sewage sludge have the same composition of chemicals or pathogens, so the farmer does not know what is actually applied on his/her land although the sewage plant followed the EPA rules. Farm soil is tested annually for only nine (9) toxic metals, pH, Nitrogen and Phosphorous. No labels are required for food grown on sewage sludge—so buyers will never know.

The EPA requires monitoring of only nine (9) heavy metals out of the 117 Periodic Elements. Once toxic metals are applied to the soil, they remain in the soil--unless they are uptaken into plants like green leafy vegetables or root crops. Metals migrate quickly into ground water in clay soils. The limits given below are from a NC application permit and many of these metals are over 100 times what other industrialized nations allow in sewage sludge for farmlands. EPA and NC permits the following Cumulative Pollutant Loading Rate for toxic metals applied to farmlands each 365 days. Crops types grown on sludge applied fields are not monitored by EPA or any state agency. There are no checks and balances in this program.

Arsenic: 36 lbs. per acre; Cadmium: 34 lbs. per acre
Copper: 1,338 lbs. per acre; Lead: 267 lbs. per acre
Mercury: 15 lbs. per acre; Molybdenum: No limit
Nickel: 374 lbs. per acre; Selenium: 89 lbs. per acre
Zinc: 2,489 lbs. per acre

Farmers using sewage sludge as fertilizer may experience reduction of crop production according to soil scientists at Cornell University Waste Management Institute. They further warn farmers that they have assumed a big liability and risk if the sewage sludge contains chemical combinations that are toxic to animals, plants or humans. The farmer is also liable for any nuisance litigation from nearby neighbors finding the land application offensive or charges that exposure to the sewage sludge caused illnesses or death. The farmer may also be held accountable for reduction of value of neighborhood property near sludge applied fields. Some counties require the Register of Deeds to keep a record of all sludge applied land and this could impact the farm’s value for financial transactions.

Land applications of unknown mixtures of chemicals, metals, and pathogens, requires careful thought and caution. It is also important to make sure farmers are covered by indemnity insurance by the sludge applier or sludge generator. Texas requires farmers to show certification of $3 million in environmental indemnity and another $3 million in personal liability before sewage sludge can be applied to their land. If the farmer’s land becomes contaminated from over application of heavy metals, or over Maximum Contamination Levels (MCL), the farmer is responsible for cleaning up or trying to remediate the land. However; once farmland becomes toxic from heavy metal applications, it is virtually impossible to remediate. Often the farmer loses the use of arable land—with no human, animal, or fiber crops grown in this soil for hundreds—perhaps thousands of years. In these cases, the farmers lost everything due to “free fertilizer.”

Please carefully consider the risks of applying an unknown mixture of metals, pathogens, chemicals and parasites to your land.