National Sludge Alliance
Charlotte Hartman, National Coordinator
180 Boston Corners Road
Millerton, NY 12546
(518) 329-2120 (phone/fax)
NSA Public Fact Sheet 105
EPA's Sludge Options: Opens Dumps or Landfill Disposal
EPA's sewage sludge use and disposal regulation is unique; it gives municipalities the option
of either violating the federal prohibition against open dumping of solid waste with no federal
liability or disposing of sewage sludge in a landfill as required by federal law. (Public Facts
#100 - #101)
The beneficial use (open dumping) section of 503 is based on an exclusion in the Resource
Conservation and Recovery Act for hazardous waste mixed with domestic sewage, in the
sewer pipe, prior to treatment by a publicly owned treatment works. (Public Facts #100)
Whereas, the surface landfill disposal section of 503 is based on provisions in federal law
which classify sewage sludge as a solid waste that must be disposed of in a sanitary landfill?
(Public Facts #100)
Is there a difference between the sludge used as a fertilizer and the sludge that must be
disposed of in a landfill? What magic transformed the sludge that must be disposed of in a
landfill into a safe fertilizer?
According to EPA, there is no difference in the sewage sludge for beneficial use under part
503 and sewage sludge that must be landfilled under 503. Under part 503, EPA offers the
municipality an option to either violate the federal prohibition against open dumping of solid
waste or comply with the law: "When the sewage sludge is not used to condition the soil or to
fertilize crops or vegetation grown on the land, the sewage sludge is not being land applied. It
is being disposed of on the land. In that case, the requirements in the subpart on surface
disposal in the final part 503 regulation must be met." (FR. 58, p. 9330)
One extreme difference between 503 beneficial use and 503 landfill disposal is the public
For beneficial use; there are no controls or restrictions placed on
Class A "Exceptional Quality" sludge which is sold or given away to the public for use on
lawns and gardens. (503.10 -503.13 Table 3)
Public access restrictions for Class A and
Class B sewage sludge with ceiling concentrations of the 9 priority toxic pollutants in Table 1
of 503.13 are: "(vii) Public access to land with a high potential for public exposure shall be
restricted for one year after application of sewage sludge." "(viii) Public access to land with a
low potential for public exposure shall be restricted for 30 days after application of sewage
Whereas, for a landfill containing either Class A or B sludge; "(m)
Public access to a surface disposal site shall be restricted for the period that the surface
disposal site contains an active sewage sludge unit and for three years after the last active
sewage sludge unit in the surface disposal site closes." (503.24)
Furthermore, EPA allows the uncontrolled distribution of "Exceptional quality sewage sludge
with Class A Pathogen reduction for use on lawns, gardens and cropland. (503.10)
Whereas, in a 503 landfill;
"(9)(iii) When sewage sludge that is injected below the
surface is Class A with respect to pathogens, the sewage sludge shall be injected below the
land surface within eight hours after being discharged from the pathogen treatment process."
"(10)(ii) When sewage sludge that is incorporated into the soil is Class A with respect to
pathogens, the sewage sludge shall be applied to or placed on the land within eight hours after
being discharged from the treatment process."
"(10)(i) Sewage sludge applied to the land
surface or placed on a surface disposal site shall be incorporated into the soil within six hours
after application to or placement on the land." (503.33)
Most sewage sludge used on food crops has a lower Class B pathogen reduction rating and
For beneficial use;
"(5)(ii) Food crops with harvested parts below the
surface of the land shall not be harvested for 20 months after application of sewage sludge
when the sewage sludge remains on the land surface for four months or longer prior to
incorporation into the soil."
"(5)(iii) Food crops with harvested parts below the surface of
the land shall not be harvested for 38 months after application of sewage sludge when the
sewage sludge remains on the land surface for less than four months prior to incorporation
into the soil."
However, in any case
"(5)(iv) Food crops, feed crops, and
fiber crops shall not be harvested for 30 days after application of sewage sludge."
Turf grown on land where sewage sludge is applied shall not be harvested for one year after
Bapplication of the sewage sludge when the harvested turf is placed on
either land with a high
potential for public exposure or a lawn, unless otherwise specified by the permitting
Whereas, in a 503 landfill:
"(k) A food crop, a feed crop,
or a fiber crop shall not be grown on an active sewage sludge unit, unless the owner/operator
of the surface disposal site demonstrates to the permitting authority that through management
practices public health and the environment are protected from any reasonable anticipated
adverse effects of pollutants in sewage sludge when crops are grown." (503.24)
Furthermore, "(9)(i) Sewage sludge shall be injected below the surface of the land."
"(9)(ii) No significant amount of the sewage sludge shall be present on the land surface
within one hour after the sewage sludge is injected."
"(11) Sewage sludge placed on an
active sewage sludge unit shall be covered with soil or other material at the end of each
operating day." (503.33)
However, when we compare the toxic pollutant levels in beneficial use sludge to the surface
disposal requirements in 503, we find that, because of the pollutant concentrations, most of
the sludge would have to be landfilled under the Solid Waste Regulations, which has even
more stringent requirements than part 503.
What makes "Exceptional Quality" sewage sludge with a Class A pathogen reduction rating
safe for distribution on lawns and gardens? EPA claims it is because toxic pollutants are
limited, yet, three pollutant limits are still above safe landfill boundary levels. (See
comparison chart). Not only that, but EPA only directly addresses 8 out of 126 priority toxic
pollutants in Class A "Exceptional Quality" sludge fertilizer, which have all been identified to
cause death, disease, cancer, etc., either by direct exposure or indirect exposure through the
food chain. Not only that, but any pollutant not listed in Table 1 or 3 of 503.13 could be in
sludge fertilizer at designated hazardous waste levels, minus (-).001. (503.13 Table 3,
Sludge Pollutant Limits
25 meter landfill
boundary pollutant limits
hazardous level - 0.001
The 25 meter perimeter boundary of a landfill would encompass an area larger than most home lawns and gardens.
Furthermore, the former chromium limit of 3000 mg/kg has now been deleted from Class A
and Class B pollutant concentration limits for sewage sludge used on food crops and where
only a few people would be directly exposed to the harmful effects of the pollutants on crop
production land. (503.13 Table 1) In effect, the maximum Chromium concentration in
beneficial use sewage sludge is now unlimited, or at least, unlimited to the hazardous waste
concentration minus (-).001 vs the maximum 503 landfill concentration of 600 mg/kg.
(503.6(e), 503.23 Table 1).
There is also a major difference between sludge use and disposal boundary restrictions:
For beneficial use, sludge may be applied to agricultural land, forest or a reclamation
site at 99% liquid at a distance of 10 meters from the waters of the United States (i.e., streams,
rivers and lakes). (503.14(c).
Whereas, for a landfill;
"(g)(2) The run-off
collection system for an active sewage sludge unit shall have the capacity to handle run-off
from a 24-hours, 25-year storm event."
"(g)(1) Run-off from an active sewage sludge unit
shall be collected and shall be disposed in accordance with National Pollutant Discharge
Eliminating System permit requirements and any other applicable requirements."
Contamination of grazing animals can be a problem on sewage sludge sites:
beneficial Use; "(v) Animals shall not be allowed to graze on the land for 30 days after
application of sewage sludge." (503.32)
Whereas, for a landfill; "(l) Animals shall not be
grazed on an active sewage sludge unit, unless the owner/operator of the surface disposal site
demonstrates to the permitting authority that through management practices public health and
the environment are protected from any reasonable anticipated adverse effects of pollutants in
sewage sludge when animals are grazed." (503.24)
EPA has ignored the closure of beneficial use sewage sludge application sites:
beneficial Use; records must be kept for 5 years,. However, after five years the land loading
limits could be applied again, yet, there are no closure requirements after the land loading
limits have been reached the first time for any one of the 8 toxic pollutants in sludge
(addressed in 503.13) and no closure access restrictions pass 30 days for low public exposure
contact sites. (503.12, 503.32(b)(5)((viii)
Whereas, for a landfill; The owner/operator is
required to submit a written closure and post closure plan, and monitor methane in the air at
the property line for three years, and restrict public access for three years after the site is
closed. (503.22 (m))
A potential devastating problem for future owners of sewage sludge application sites is land
For beneficial Use; There are no restrictions on land transfers after the
maximum land loading limits have been reached, and according to EPA, even if the site could
be designated a Superfund site, there would be no Comprehensive Environmental Response
and Compensation Liability Act (CERCLA) responsibilities for anyone involved., including
the seller (FR. 58, p. 9262 - Public Facts 101)
Whereas, for landfills; "(d) The owner of
a surface disposal site shall provide written notification to the subsequent owner of the site
that sewage sludge was placed on the land." (503.23) (CERCLA does apply to landfills, FR.
56, p. 51092)
The real question is, Why would EPA give municipalities the option of violating the federal
prohibition against open dumping under an exclusion in federal law, rather than require sludge
disposal in a solid waste landfill to protect public health and the environment as required?