Crap Happens: A Grist Special Report on How We Dispose of Our Poop

Three hundred million Americans head to the restroom multiple times a day. The amount of sludge produced staggers the mind—7 million dry tons per year and counting. And it’s not even just crap—it contains residues from everything else we put down the drain, from the detergent in your dishwasher to the chemicals used at the industrial plant down the street.

Can the United States continue to flush all that waste down the drain? Can Western-style sanitary practices be replicated throughout the developing world without breaking the natural water and nutrient cycles? And what if the answer is that each one of us needs to start taking more responsibility for where our crap winds up? It ain’t easy being green as it is, but even the most diehard enviros may not be ready to live under the same roof with a composting toilet.

Journalist Catherine Price, a contributing editor at Popular Science and a 2008 Middlebury Fellow in Environmental Reporting, gives a crap about crap. Over the course of three days, she’ll take Grist readers on a guided tour through the bowels of sewage. So grab some extra toilet paper and get ready for some straight poop on poop.

Day 1

* Sludge, farmer’s friend or toxic slime?
* Regulating biosolids

Day 2

* Businesses struggle to profit from sewage sludge

Day 3

* For some eco-pioneers, solving the sludge problems means getting their hands dirty

more about the movie 'Sludge Diet' (showings info. previous posting)

Are you eating a SLUDGE DIET!?

It was dumped in the ocean until it killed fish and other ocean life - now it's being spread on farmlands in N.C. Hear how sewage sludge or 'free fertilizer' may be affecting our health and environment...

Come to the premiere showing of 'Sludge Diet', a 50-minute Canadian-produced film documentary

FREE admission!


  • Central Carolina Community College, Pittsboro, Tues. May 12
  • Carrboro Century Center, Tues. May 19
  • Burlington Public Library, Wed. May 20
  • UCLA Community Center, Hwy. 87, Thurs May 21
  • Graham Public Library, Fri. May 22

Movie times: 7-8:30 p.m. all locations

For more information:
Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League / NC Healthy Communities, Telephone: 336-525-2003 Email: sdayton at


Sewage Sludge Action Network: 919-270-7534
Email: myradotson at

If you would like a free showing of 'Sludge Diet' for your group or organization, please contact Sue Dayton Tel. (336) 525-2003 or Email: sdayton at

People are asking why a boy died after riding his bike over some sludge

A terrible waste gets long look

People are asking why a boy died after riding his bike over some sludge

Sunday, June 11, 2000

By Tom Gibb, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

OSCEOLA MILLS, Pa. -- The hurt is deeper because Tony Behun was so healthy -- an 11-year-old boy who loved life in the perpetual motion universe of an 11-year-old boy.

At her dining room table, his mother holds a stack of family photos, the chronicle of a young life.

There's the scrubbed, sandy-haired boy in his baseball uniform. The grinning youngster at creek-side, fishing. The tame dirt bike he rode across the mountaintops, where Centre and Clearfield counties come together.

Six years ago, life did what life isn't supposed to do to baseball-playing, dirt-bike-riding boys.

It slipped away.

On Oct. 12, 1994, Tony rode his dirt bike across hills coated in a sludge of treated sewage, the soup of waste and nutrients that the state lets strip miners use to coax life back into used-up mines.

In two days, he had a sore throat and headache. Six days later, he was in a hospital emergency room, his fever climbing, doctors calling a helicopter to fly him 110 miles through the night to Pittsburgh.

"Before the helicopter came, he was actually excited about the ride. He said, 'I'll get to tell the kids at school about this,' " said Tony's mother, Brenda Robertson. "Those were our last goodbyes, at Clearfield Hospital."

Tony died at 7:54 the next morning in Allegheny General Hospital.

Doctors determined he was killed by a blood infection, the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. How he got it was a soul-searing question with no hint of an answer.

Until last year. Brenda Robertson happened to see a newspaper story about a state permit to spread sludge on another idle strip mine. The state Department of Environmental Protection was responding to talk that a local youngster had ridden through treated sludge and died of a bacterial infection.

read full article

City wants to bury federal sludge claim

Originally created 10/22/99

By Staff Writer

Claims that sewage sludge used as fertilizer was actually hazardous waste emerged too late to be considered in two pending federal lawsuits, a lawyer representing the city of Augusta argued Thursday.

Jim Ellison, who is defending Augusta against lawsuits by two farms claiming sludge poisoned their land and cattle, asked that portions of an Aug. 12 report by plaintiffs' consultant William Hall be suppressed.


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