Regulating toxic chemicals for public and environmental health

by Linda S. Birnbaum & Liza Gross
January 25, 2018 PLOS Biology

This Editorial is part of the Challenges in Environmental Health: Closing the Gap between Evidence and Regulations Collection.

By the time President Gerald Ford signed the United States Toxic Substances Control Act in the fall of 1976, tens of thousands of synthetic chemicals had entered world markets with no evidence of their safety. Ford’s signing statement described a law giving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) broad regulatory authority to require toxicity testing and reporting to determine whether the chemicals posed risks. “If a chemical is found to present a danger to health or the environment,” Ford promised, “appropriate regulatory action can be taken before it is too late to undo the damage.”

That’s not what happened. The 60,000-plus chemicals already in commerce were grandfathered into the law on the assumption that they were safe. And the EPA faced numerous hurdles, including pushback from the chemical industry, that undermined its ability to implement the law. Congress finally revised the law last year, with the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, to bolster the EPA’s regulatory authority. Over the decades that US policy on chemicals stagnated, scientists documented the damage whole classes of chemicals inflicted on living organisms and the environment that sustains them. Although we still have safety data on just a fraction of the 85,000-plus chemicals now approved for use in commerce, we know from field, wildlife, and epidemiology studies that exposures to environmental chemicals are ubiquitous. Hazardous chemicals enter the environment from the factories where they’re made and added to a dizzying array of consumer products—including mattresses, computers, cookware, and plastic baby cups to name a few—and from landfills overflowing with our cast-offs. They drift into homes from nearby agricultural fields and taint our drinking water and food. Today, hundreds of industrial chemicals contaminate the blood and urine of nearly every person tested, in the US and beyond.

In the decades since Ford promised a robust policy to regulate potentially hazardous chemicals, evidence has emerged that chemicals in widespread use can cause cancer and other chronic diseases, damage reproductive systems, and harm developing brains at low levels of exposure once believed to be harmless. Such exposures pose unique risks to children at critical windows of development—risks that existing regulations fail to consider. To address these issues, PLOS Biology is publishing a special collection of seven articles, Challenges in Environmental Health: Closing the Gap between Evidence and Regulations, that focus on US chemical policy [1].

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Citizens’ Group Reports Victory in Battle Against Sewage Sludge

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: DECEMBER 19, 2017

Citizens’ Group Reports Victory in Battle Against Sewage Sludge

Contact:
Morton Alexander,
Mill Canyon resident mortonalexander@sisna.com
(801) 637-6903

Chrys Ostrander,
former Mill Canyon resident
farmrchrys@gmail.com
(914) 246-0309

Davenport, WA

An informal committee of neighbors in the Mill Canyon area northeast of Davenport, WA is calling it a victory: They didn’t want sewage sludge to be applied to agricultural lands in their watershed. They fought hard against it. Now, due to their efforts, sludge will not be applied to lands immediately adjacent to the canyon where they live, according to a newly approved permit, issued December 13th by the Department of Ecology.

The scale of the win for the committee is significant. The total acreage that will have sludge applied is reduced from the original 887.45 acres to 157.77 acres in the final permit. The original application indicated sewage sludge would have been applied less than one mile from Mill Canyon residents’ farms, gardens and wells and less than half a mile from the source of a private spring used for drinking water that figured prominently in comments sent to the Department of Ecology citing concerns over potential contamination from the sludge. With the approved permit, the closest to the canyon any sludge will be applied is over 5 miles away.

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State leader calls on national government to aid toxic sludge cleanup

Posted: Dec 01, 2017 5:00 PM PST
Updated: Dec 02, 2017 7:59 AM PST
By Levi Ismail, Reporter

Pressure is coming from the state and now the federal levels to get toxic sludge cleaned up in Fort Myers.

The City of Fort Myers is releasing their findings on sludge to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, on the same day that Senator Bill Nelson called on the Environmental Protection Agency to intervene.

Friday marked the deadline for the city to hand over test results from recent groundwater tests at six monitoring wells.

NBC2 received the leaked results from attorneys representing residents living in and around South Street.

Arsenic levels five times what's considered safe was discovered in one of the six wells tested, with other wells also testing high for the toxic material.

At first, the results were on a need-to-know basis as city leaders decided not to publicize the data, saying the results were inconclusive.

"Just the idea that someone in government knows what's going on and not doing anything about it and not taking steps to clear it up, that's the most hurtful thing ever," Barbara Parker of Fort Myers said.

In his letter to the EPA, Nelson argued that "no one should have to wait years for a known environmental hazard in their neighborhood to be cleaned up."

Nelson updated EPA administrator Scott Pruitt on the latest test results and said if these results are accurate, "residents should not have to wait months for all testing to be completed when answers to their questions already exist."

Noting the city's lack of communication with FDEP, Nelson told Pruitt the time to intervene is now and neighbors agree.

"We shouldn't be allowed to just go on living as if everything is okay," Nelson said.

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NC poised to test what critics call a ‘snowblower blowing garbage juice’

By Matthew Adams, madams@newsobserver.com

August 12, 2017 10:00 AM
BRICKHAVEN

Three North Carolina landfills have the green light to collect liquid that leaks from trash and spray it into the air.

The disposal method has drawn criticism from environmentalists and some neighbors, but it could become more common if the legislature overrides a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper.

The state Department of Environmental Quality approved the spraying process for the three landfills, plus a coal-ash dump in Chatham County. The permits can be used for 90 days.

The bill passed by the legislature and vetoed in June by Cooper would require the department to approve spraying at lined landfills where wastewater is prevented from escaping into the soil. The agency would also be allowed to consider the process for unlined landfills. Certain landfills would be allowed to spray without a permit.

A pumping system takes the water from where it is stored and turns it into mist that fans direct to a contained area of the landfill. The idea is that water will evaporate and the contaminated particles fall back into the landfill.

The process promises to save millions of dollars for waste management companies in disposal costs, but has drawn questions about how the spray will be contained and whether it will drift through the air into surrounding communities.

Bobbie Mendenhall, who lives with her husband less than a quarter-mile from the Brickhaven Mine where coal ash is dumped, worries that contaminants will end up in the air her family breathes.

“I just think it’s ridiculous,” Mendenhall said. “To me they are just spraying toxic stuff into the air and ground.”

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Miami’s sewage is supposed to be pumped offshore but the pipe has sprung a leak

Miami Waterkeeper has discovered an ignored outfall sewage leak in Biscayne Bay, affecting our oceans, wildlife, and the health and safety of the public. Miami Waterkeeper

By Jenny Staletovich, jstaletovich@miamiherald.com

July 31, 2017 7:39 PM

A massive ocean outfall pipe intended to dump partially treated human waste in deep water far from Miami has instead been leaking in shallow water within a mile of tony Fisher Island for at least a year, an environmental group said Monday.

A Miami Waterkeeper diver sent to investigate the leak after a citizen tipped off the group recorded cloudy sewage spewing from the underground pipe earlier this month, near schools of fish and coral.

It’s not clear how much sewage is coming from the leak, but the pipe itself is capable of pumping 143 million gallons a day. On Monday, Miami Waterkeeper filed a notice of intent to sue in 60 days that cites Miami-Dade County emails saying the pipe had not been inspected in more than a decade.

“It’s extremely disappointing that the county would fail to act on this information and to allow this leak to occur for close to a year at this point,” said Waterkeeper Executive Director Rachel Silverstein. “It’s even more disappointing to find out how long its been since these outfall pipes have been inspected.”

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It’s Time to Talk (Again) about Sewage Sludge on Farmland


Each year, millions of tons of sewage sludge is disposed of on fields in the United States. (Image: Susan A. Secretariat / Flickr)

By Laura Orlando

The "land application" of sewage sludge has been promoted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since 1993 as the preferred method for the disposal of this by-product of municipal wastewater treatment. Millions of tons of hazardous sewage sludge have subsequently been spread on farmland and public parks in the United States. Sometimes it is bagged and sold as “organic” fertilizer and compost in garden supply stores. No matter how it is processed or how slick it is marketed as a fertilizer or soil amendment, putting sewage sludge on land is a health and environmental disaster.

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Scientists’ open letter on the dangers of biosolids

Mar 01, 2016

The land disposal of sewage sludge has resulted in significant controversy, and a resistance movement is rightfully building to this misguided policy. Quite simply, the science doesn't support the disposal of sewage sludge across the landscape. The supposed benefits are more than offset by the risks to human and environmental health.

As scientists, we have been watching the issue with increasing concern.

An unimaginably large number of chemical and biological contaminants exist in these materials, and they persist in the product up to, and after, land disposal. Scientific investigations have identified only a tiny fraction of the total contaminant load. We cannot even say with any degree of confidence what the true range of contaminant risk is from the sludge. Call it an "unknown unknown." Because of potential synergistic interactions between the contaminants in the sludge, the risks are largely unknowable.

full letter

Puget Sound salmon do drugs, which may hurt their survival

Originally published April 6, 2018 at 6:00 am Updated April 9, 2018 at 2:04 pm

Researchers have found Puget Sound chinook are picking up our drugs as they swim through effluent of wastewater-treatment plants, and it may be hurting their survival.

By Lynda V. Mapes
Seattle Times environment reporter

Antidepressants. Diabetes drugs. High-blood-pressure medication. Puget Sound chinook are doing our drugs, and it may be hurting them, new research shows.

The metabolic disturbance evident in the fish from human drugs was severe enough that it may result not only in failure to thrive but early mortality and an inability to compete for food and habitat.

The response was particularly pronounced in Puget Sound chinook — a threatened species many other animals depend on for their survival, including critically endangered southern-resident killer whales.

The research built on earlier work, published in 2016, that showed juvenile Puget Sound chinook and Pacific staghorn sculpin are packing drugs including Prozac, Advil, Benadryl and Lipitor among dozens of other drugs present in tainted wastewater discharge.

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The History of Sludge for Agricultural Application

2/8/2016 11:11:00 AM
By Lidia Epp


It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in late October 2014. My husband and I were enjoying a soft shell crab sandwich at the Blue Crab Festival in West Point, Va., just a few miles from our home. Local arts and crafts were on the display, the Main Street was filled with people, cotton candy carts, draft beer stands, merry-go-round, the usual.

A lady with the Sierra Club baseball hat and a handful of flyers came over and asked if we know about the problem with biosolids.

“Biosolids?” we both asked in unison. “What’s that?”

“It’s a municipal sewage sludge and industrial waste that is applied to the farmland as a fertilizer. A company called Synagro applied for a permit to spread industrial waste on 17,000 acres in our area over the next 10 years. This practice is mostly unmonitored and the permit is very likely to be granted,” she answered, frowning.

“WHAT?!” we screamed, in unison again, and looked at each other in horror. This woman is crazy! This just can’t be!

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Contaminating Our Bodies With Everyday Products


Activists in Paris protest the use in common household products linked to endocrine disruption in March 2014. Credit Bertrand Guay/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

IN recent weeks, two major medical organizations have issued independent warnings about toxic chemicals in products all around us. Unregulated substances, they say, are sometimes linked to breast and prostate cancer, genital deformities, obesity, diabetes and infertility.

“Widespread exposure to toxic environmental chemicals threatens healthy human reproduction,” the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics warned in a landmark statement last month.

The warnings are a reminder that the chemical industry has inherited the mantle of Big Tobacco, minimizing science and resisting regulation in ways that cause devastating harm to unsuspecting citizens.

In the 1950s, researchers were finding that cigarettes caused cancer, but the political system lagged in responding. Now the same thing is happening with toxic chemicals.

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Sewage-based fertilizer permit canceled for Mount Bethel farms

By Kurt Bresswein | For lehighvalleylive.com
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on November 09, 2015 at 6:04 PM, updated November 09, 2015 at 6:05 PM

A Baltimore company has withdrawn plans to apply fertilizer made from human sewage sludge on farms in Upper Mount Bethel Township, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

"They're just not going to apply at this time," DEP spokeswoman Colleen Connolly said. "They can reapply to do it again in spring."

Township residents organized as Sludge Free UMBT challenged the DEP's approval, granted Dec. 23, 2013, for Synagro Mid-Atlantic Inc. to apply the biosolids fertilizer on the Potomac, Sunrise and Stone Church farms. All three properties are owned by Ron Angle and farmed by Paul Smith through a lease.

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Are Your Vegetables on Drugs?


A new study conducted on zucchini plants suggests that pharmaceuticals in biosolid fertilizers could be harming your veggies.

By Natasha Gilbert on October 22, 2015

Fertilizing crops with biosolids—a combination of human, commercial, and industrial wastes otherwise known by critics as “sewage sludge”—is a common but controversial practice.

On the one hand, municipalities argue, it is much more environmentally sound to recycle nutrients that would otherwise be sent to landfills. The use of these fertilizers also cuts down on the amount of man-made fertilizers needed to boost crops and keep soils healthy.

On the other hand, biosolids have often raised safety concerns, and the quality and safety can vary depending how they’ve been treated. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Organic Standards prohibit their use in organic agriculture because of concerns over contamination from hormones, steroids, and pathogens. And there has been a passionate debate over whether biosolids are safe to use because of the risk of contamination.

Despite the fact that there are many substances found in biosolids, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only regulates a few including pathogens and heavy metals. And the agency has no control over the level of pharmaceuticals in biosolids or in wastewater.

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The Truth about Biosolid Pollution

Natural health expert and Mercola.com founder Dr. Joseph Mercola interviews Dr. David Lewis, a microbiologist with a PhD in Microbial Ecology who spent three decades working as an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientist.

Chronic Wasting Disease A Byproduct Of Sewage Mismanagement

June 14, 2015 by Gary Chandler

Sick Wildlife The Tip Of An Iceberg Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is ravaging wildlife in many regions across North America. It’s part of a larger epidemic of neurological disease that is killing millions of people, wildlife and livestock around the world. Once again, wildlife are serving as the proverbial canary in a coal mine.

CWD is part of an incurable spectrum disease called transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE). The operative word is “transmissible.” Mismanagement of pathogens associated with the disease are contributing to a broader epidemic of neurological disease among wildlife, livestock and people.




Few, if any, mammals are immune to prion disease. There is no species barrier. It’s been found in dolphins, too, thanks to sewage runoff and sewage dumped at sea. It is likely contributing to the mass stranding of whales, too.

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Sludge bill stationary in N.C. General assembly

Published 12:10 am Saturday, February 28, 2015
By Josh Bergeron

Discussion over sludge being spread on farm fields has moved to the North Carolina General Assembly.

Filed in early February, a bill sponsored by three Republican state legislators could give more local control to county governments when outside entities request to spread biosolids on farm fields. Numbered House Bill 61, it’s got three primary sponsors — Reps. Carl Ford, R-76, Larry Pittman, R-82, and Michael Speciale, R-3. Ford and Pittman represent Cabarrus County, while Speciale is a house representative along the coast. One day after it was filed, the bill was referred to the Local Government Committee, which Ford is a chairman of. No action has been taken on it since Feb. 10.

A portion of the bill could require entities looking to bring biosolids, or sludge, into neighboring counties to incinerate the waste before spreading it on farm fields.

Pittman specifically cited opposition about a Charlotte Water — formerly Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities — proposal to expand its permit to spread biosolids on farm fields as a reason for the bill.

The bill is meant to allow county governments to address the public health concerns of their citizens in regard to the land application of potentially harmful substances in their community. “Presently, the local government authorities’ hands are tied. This bill does not require anyone to do anything, but simply allows county governments the option of taking action to protect their citizens if the citizens request that they do so and they are willing to do so.”

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