National Sludge Alliance
Charlotte Hartman, National Coordinator
180 Boston Corners Road
Millerton, NY 12546
(518) 329-2120 (phone/fax)
NSA Public Fact Sheet 101
The Bell Tolls for EPA
"Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee!"
- This cryptic message to a vocal California farmer opposed to sludge/biosolids use on
farmland, was attached to a Water Environment Federation (WEF) letter dated February 28,
1996, with the heading, "DEAR MEMBER OF CONGRESS:" The signature on the message
indicated it was signed by the WEF's temporary Senior Scientist, who was loaned to WEF by
- The implied threat to the California farmer was contained in the WEF letter sent to each
member of Congress. WEF was asking for Congress to place the blame for water pollution on
farmers and their operations, because, "Water Quality 2000 found that "polluted runoff from
agricultural activities...is a major cause of impairment of our nation's waters. Congress must
make a clear statement that agriculturally derived water pollution problems is a national
priority." Current Farm Bill provisions have produced some progress in water quality. But
future improvements will require a new way of thinking about these problems. Agricultural
conservation and environmental protection programs should be re-oriented to make pollution
prevention the primary focus."
- The WEF letter assured Congress that, "Preventing pollution is easier and cheaper than
implementing new pollution control requirements. Congress should encourage
prevention-oriented actions at the watershed level in which farmers, ranchers, local residents,
and other stakeholders are all partners in the search for solutions. Federal and state
government should serve as a catalyst for progress by bringing all parties together and
providing technical and financial assistance. Any Farm Bill approved by Congress should
build upon existing mechanisms to protect and enhance water quality in agricultural areas."
- In reality, this was the same problem the California farmer had been so vocal about. The EPA
and WEF have been promoting the use of toxic pollutant contaminated sewage sludge as a
fertilizer on gardens and food crop production farm land under a beneficial EPA regulation
40CFR 503. However, the sludge fertilizer could be too contaminated with toxic pollutants to
be disposed in a sanitary landfill regulated by the same part 503 regulation (503.13 -
503.23(1995)). (see NSA Fact Sheet #100)
- One of the major problems with the use of sludge as a beneficial fertilizer was the chromium
content. Chromium concentrations are restricted to 200 ppm within 25 meters (75') of a part
503landfill boundary and it is only 450 ppm within 125 meters of the boundary and has a
maximum concentration of 600 ppm for the part 503 landfill (503.23).
- Yet, sludge/biosolids fertilizer with unlimited concentrations of chromium can be disposed
of on food crop production farm land within 10 meters of any waters of the United States.
EPA warns, nor shall sludge be applied, "so that the bulk sludge enters a wetland or other
waters of the United States (503.14(b)(c)).
- Yet, in a memo dated October 17, 1994, EPA's Robert E. Lee was promoting a grant request
for WEF and suggested to EPA's John Walker and Bob Bastin that uses for the grant money
include fact sheets to debunk the "Sludge Horror stories" of people harmed by the use of
sewage sludge as well as "PCB's in biosolids" and as he says, "What about one with a
watershed twist --ways to utilize biosolids in watersheds to mitigate other environmental
problems. Give it to a group like score in NJ." Not only that but, he continued, "Bob B. maybe
we should put one or some $ in for the wetlands work in watersheds also."
- The WEF announced the receipt of the $650,000 grant in their Water Environment WEB
March 15, 1996. Contact persons listed in the announcement were Nancy Blatt and Dave
Trouba. While the announcement did mention a number of research projects, according to a
memo from John Walker, EPA Project Officer, to Nancy Blatt and Tim Williams, Co Project
Leaders with WEF, it appears the primary purpose of the grant was to debunk the sludge
horror stories of people harmed by the use of sludge/biosolids. Dave Trouba was mentioned in
a memo dated 12-29-94, by John Walker and Bob Bastin, as the "Potential WEF
Writer/Coordinator for this effort." "CANDIDATES FOR THE REST OF THE STORY"
- According to John Walker's memo, the EPA is controlling the public relations campaign to
debunk the sludge horror stories of people harmed by the use of sewage sludge as a fertilizer.
Walker writes, "I have attached an updated list of candidate cases for which "The Rest of the
Story" needs to be told. The target audience may be the municipalities, contractors, WEF
spokespersons and other wastewater professionals, and maybe the general public depending
on the case. If the cases were (1) Merco/NYC, (4) Prime Time Torres Martinez, (9) Pathogen
regrowth, and (15) Citizens irate over purchase; then one audience would be the municipality.
The write up would tell municipalities what went wrong and what to do with respect to
control and management oversight [even where contractors are employed] to maximize public
acceptance and minimize negative publicity and rejection of the recycling that is planned or
- The stories referred to were in Walker's 12-29-94 memo,"(1) Merco/NYC biosolids
expose-TV Nations production -Law suit by TX Attorney General -Merco Lawsuit- Claims
..marital status. own something. (4) Pending Prime Time TV story on Torres Martinez
(Thermal, Ca.)--corrupt contractor, biosolids mountain, and composting. (9) Pathogen
regrowth during shipment--Merco. (15) Citizens irate over purchase of farmland for biosolids
use--how land ought to be used is big issue--private developer conflicts--NIMBY- personality
clashes--often does not involve health concerns."
- Walker's instructions to WEF's Nancy Blatt continued, "If the cases were (2) Zander,
(4)Miami-Dade, (5) Tree Kill, (6) Miniature horses, (7) Bioaerosols, (10) AIDS, (11) Lou
Gehrig's Disease, (12) Turf grass loss, (13) Dead cattle in NC; then the audience might be the
general public who various anti groups tell the "horrors" of these cases and to which we would
tell the rest of the story. The audience might also be WEF biosolids spokesperson and/or the
wastewater professionals who would be working with the general public to tell the
authoritative truth. Some of the cases may be written up for more than one audience, (i.e.,
differently for each different audience.)"
- The stories referred to here, according to Walker's 12-29-94 memo are, "(2) Linda Zander case
- sick & dead cattle, worker health -Farm Bureau and Dairy Today stories. (5) Tree kill in
Washington State with King Co METRO biosolids on Weyerhauser land. (6) Miniature horse
deaths in Oklahoma. (7) Biosolids -- claim need for 2 to 5 mile barrier in NYC. (10) Biosolids
a cause of AIDS, (11) Biosolids used on ball fields causing Lou Gehrig's Disease -what it took
to debunk this claim. (12) Maryland turf grass grower crop loss due to biosolids use - involved
grower's use of a highway roller on his fields. (13) Raleigh, NC-- dead cattle from nitrate
poisoning due to forage with high nitrogen content. Forage was not mixed with other
low-nitrate fodder as advised by the POTW."
- Walker's memo makes a major point, "Interestingly, many of use (sic) in the regulatory and
municipal arena do not have credibility with the local citizens. We need to get those who do
supplied with the "Rest of the Story"."
- Walker's memo did not explain to WEF's Nancy Blatt how to handle "(14) BLM policy
opposing use of biosolids on Federal lands: equating it(s) use to hazardous waste dumping and
landfilling raising SUPERFUND liability concerns."
- The SUPERFUND liability concerns were resolved as far as EPA was concerned. A letter to
Congressman Conduit, dated October 1, 1993, by Martha G. Prothro, (EPA) Acting Assistant
Administrator, states that, "If the placement of sludge on land were considered to be the
"normal application fertilizer" - it - "could not give rise to CERCLA liability for the
municipality generating the sewage sludge, the land applier, the land user or the land owner."
- In a memo to WEF "Biosolids Spokespeople", dated November 2, 1995, Alan B. Rubin,
Ph.D., Senior Scientist, was very emphatic, "Biosolids used as a fertilizer under good
agronomic management practices is exempt from third party liability under CERCLA as is
any other commercial fertilizer." (p.2)
- Could the toxic pollutants in sludge cause the problems the EPA and WEF are spending so
much money to debunk? According to Congress, "(13) The term "toxic pollutant" means those
pollutants, or combinations of pollutants, including disease causing agents, which after
discharge and upon exposure, ingestion, inhalation or assimilation into any organism [living
entity], either directly from the environment or indirectly by ingestion through food chains,
will, on the basis of information available to the Administrator, cause death, disease,
behavioral abnormalities, cancer, genetic mutations, physiological malfunctions (including
malfunctions in reproductions)of physical deformations, in organisms [people or animals] or
their offspring." (Title 33, part 1362)
- However, according to EPA, "The term "toxic pollutant" is not used in the final part 503
regulation because this generally is limited to the list of priority toxic pollutants developed by
EPA. The Agency concluded that Congress intended that EPA develop the part 503 pollutant
limits for a broader range of substances that might interfere with the use and disposal of
sewage sludge, not just the 126 priority pollutants." (FR. 58, 32, p. 9327)
- EPA has said, "...If sewage sludge containing high levels of pathogenic organisms
(e.g.,viruses, bacteria) or high concentrations of pollutants is improperly handled, the sludge
could contaminate the soil, water, crops, livestock, fish and shellfish" (Preamble to 503, FR.
58, 32, p.9258).
- Not only that, but "Sewage sludge with high concentrations of certain organic and metal
pollutants may pose human health problems when disposed of in sludge only landfills (often
referred to as mono-fills) or simply left on the land surface, if the pollutants leach from the
sludge into ground water. Therefore, the pollutant concentrations may need to be limited or
other measures such as impermeable liner's must be taken to ensure the ground water is not
contaminated" (FR. 58, 32, p.9259) -LSI-