National Sludge Alliance
Charlotte Hartman, National Coordinator
180 Boston Corners Road
Millerton, NY 12546
(518) 329-2120 (phone/fax)
NSA Public Fact Sheet 113
Is it Toxic Sludge or Cow Manure Poisoning Our Food Supply?
- Since the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments (FWPCAA) was enacted in
1972, to build wastewater (sewage) treatment plants, Congress and the EPA have appeared to
be direct opposition on the environmental laws concerning toxic sewage sludge generated
from the plants and the protection of public health. The byproduct of cleaning up our sewage
was millions of tons of pathogen contaminated sewage sludge which the EPA, FDA and
USDA has promoted as a safe fertilizer for lawns, gardens and food crops production land
with no liability for any damages to human health or the environment. (Public Facts #100,
- According to EPA Scientist David L. Lewis, part of the problem came about because
"--Congress increased the EPA's funding levels and workloads while the executive branch
reduced the size of the federal workforce." "By late 1993, the organization charged with
ensuring that US environmental regulations are scientifically sound became hopeless
gridlocked." "Whereas the problems encumbering the agency's scientist have accrued over
almost three decades, a major shift in resources from in-house to extramural research during
the past ten years is largely responsible for science at EPA reaching a state of crisis." (Lewis
- The Wastewater (sludge) Division of the EPA is an example of the EPA's state of crisis.
Whereas the Hazardous and Solid Waste Division of the EPA take extreme precautions to
protect the environment and public health, the Wastewater Division claims to operate under
an exclusion in the federal laws and its regulation promotes the dumping of hazardous and
toxic contaminated sewage sludge on food crops as a fertilizer. Not only that, but it has funded
a 1.2 million dollar public relations campaign, part of which is directed at lobbying Congress
to regulate cow manure. (Public Facts #101)
- Lewis continues, "To look at this from another perspective, consider what it would be like to
for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use this approach. Begin by erasing
most of their knowledge about the biological aetiology of human disease, then give them
independent authority. Let them take their best guesses at, for example, what steps should be
taken to prevent disease outbreaks of influenza and other infectious diseases. Finally, codify
their guesswork and conservative safety factors into costly regulations for which
noncompliance carries fines and imprisonment. Few people would support such an irrational
approach to protecting public health: yet this is basically what happens when environmental
regulations are promulgated and enforced without knowledge of how most living organism
interact with environmental changes. (Lewis 1996)
- The CDC is now guessing the cause of disease outbreaks, and the Wastewater Division of the
EPA has had an irrational approach to protecting the environment and public health since its
inception. As an example, Federal and State grants provided 87.5 % of the money to build the
required secondary sewage treatment plants in the United States during the 70s. Kansas City,
Missouri is an example of the problems that too much money can cause when the EPA
appears to grant immunity from federal laws.
- Kansas City chose to built a sewage treatment plant on an isolated 1,500 acre tract of land
between a flood levee and the Missouri River. The treatment plant, two 13 million gallon
sludge lagoons and an 1100 acre sludge application site were built not in a 100 year
flood-plain, but in the levee restricted Missouri floodway a bare 20 years after the great 1951
flood and 20 years before the 1993 flood which put it treatment plant under 3 foot of water for
3 weeks. Furthermore, the city and EPA ignored the engineering report which stated the soil
was not suitable for lagoons or a sanitary landfill (sludge application site). Not only that, but
it was noted in the engineering report that parts of site were expected to flood every five to 10
years and the lagoons were only protected from a fifty year flood.
- While Kansas City has used the 1100 acre liquid sludge application site for growing food
crops, it has never warned the contract farmers that there could be any health problems from
contact with the sludge site. This lack of concern for public health safety has been
demonstrated by EPA since 1981. Before minimum scientific research was done on the
dangers of toxic sewage sludge, the federal government (1981), "EPA, FDA and USDA
jointly issued a document establishing guidance on the use of sewage sludge in the production
of fruits and vegetables.----EPA Report No. SW905. It states that if the procedures contained
in the document are followed, the resulting crops should be safe for human consumption.
However, the document contains the following disclaimer: "the Federal Government cannot
offer any indemnity against product recalls, sizures, or other enforcement action." (Bulletin)
- The National Food Processors Association (NFPA) had serious reservation about the use of
sewage sludge as a fertilizer as noted in its November 5, 1981 policy statement: "The NFPA,
however, has serious concern that sludges produced by POTW's (Public Owned Treatment
Works) may contain heavy metals, human pathogens and toxic compounds which could have
potential health effects on the consumers of foods produced on lands to which sludges have
been applied. The potential to public health has not been adequately evaluated." (Bulletin)
- The NFPA also noted that, "Sewage sludge can contain human pathogens that could infect
farm workers and others who may enter the fields. It may also contain heavy metals and other
toxics (PCBs) that will appear as residues in or on the foods." (Bulletin)
- By 1989, EPA had confirmed there were at least 25 family groups (hundreds) of pathogens
(disease causing agents) and at least 15 carcinogenic agents (cancer causing agents) in sewage
sludge. When the sewage sludge regulation (part 503) was released in 1993, the EPA had
confirmed 126 priority toxic pollutants (plus pathogens) in sewage sludge that the regulation
acknowledge would cause death, disease, cancer, etc, when exposure was either direct by
ingestion, inhalation or indirectly through the food-chain. (FR. 58, p. 9327)
- Kansas City, like many other municipalities, began it pilot toxic sewage sludge application
program on food crop production land in 1981. The sludge application site was not fully
operational until 1991. It was monitored by the state until the EPA released its self-permitting
sludge regulation (part 503) in 1993. At that time, the states quit monitoring the sites, and
according to EPA documents, it claimed no one could be held responsibility for any human
health or environmental damages caused by sewage sludge as long as it was called a fertilizer,
even if a Superfund site was created.
- Could there be a relationship between sewage sludge use and food borne disease outbreaks?
"according to Dr. David Swerdlow, a CDC epidemiologist, Between 1982 and 1992 there
were 15 reported deaths from E. coli. Now there are an estimated 200 to 250 deaths and
20,000 cases of E. coli- induced disease reported every year in the United States." "It's one of
the leading causes of kidney failure in kids," says Swerdlow." (Houppert. 1997)
- However, the situation is much worse than Houppert reports in her article. The media reports
President Clinton wants Congress to spend 43 million dollars to fight food contamination that
have affected millions of people, such as deadly disease outbreaks from hamburgers, apple
juice, orange juice and other foods such as lettuce and strawberries.
- Isaacs, (1996) noted, part the disease organisms (found in beneficial use sewage sludge),
which caused these health effects, Salmonella, E. coli, hepatitis A, Cyclosporia and others,
according to the National Center for Disease Control, cause approximately 50 million cases of
food poisoning and 9,000 deaths annually.
- Yet, according to the current theory promoted by the EPA as well as the CDC and state
epidemiologists in the articles, E. coli outbreaks are caused by contaminated cow manure or
as in the case of CDC documented "cases of lake and pond swimmers who came down with E.
coli poisoning, (it was) likely from infected children who'd defecated in the water."
- In reality, pathogen contaminated sewage sludge or improperly treated wastewater from the
sewage treatment plants used to fertilizer or irrigate crops may be a more likely source of the
disease outbreaks, since the regulation warns that the pollutants in the toxic sewage sludge
could cause death, disease, cancer, etc. when the exposure is through the food-chain, and EPA
estimates there were 20,000 sludge application sites in 1993. (FR. 58. pp. 9389, 9406)
- However, there is a major problem the American public should be aware of. There is no one
there too protect the public's health. As an example, when some of the same concerns were
brought to the attention of the Missouri Health Department in 1991, Dr. John R. Bagby,
Director, replied in a letter dated, April 30, 1991, "I will ask to confer with him (Tracy Mehan,
Director) about this issue since, as you know, the Department of Natural Resources
(environmental department) has more statutory authority in the area of sludge disposal than
the Department of Health."
- While the state environmental departments have not been concerned with the public health
aspects of food contamination, they no longer accept any responsibility for protection of the
environment from hazardous or toxic sludge "fertilizer". As an example, in a letter to Kansas
City, Missouri, the Department of Natural Resources attempted to wash its hands of the
problem, "These (wastewater treatment plant) inspections did not address compliance with
EPA sludge regulations under 40 CFR 503. These regulations are self- implementing and
directly enforceable without being included in your state operating permit" (Dettman, June 23,
- The question NFPA asked in 1981, is relevant today, "whether consumers would willingly
purchase and consume foods if they knew that sewage sludge had been used in their
production? (Bulletin, p. 36)
- Bulletin 851 March 1985, NFPA Position Concerning Sludge Use on Cropland. p. 36. The
Pennsylvania State University.
- Dettman, Ellen J. 1994. Water Pollution Unit Chief, Missouri Department of Natural
Resources. Official transmittal letter to H.E. Snider, Director of Kansas City's Water and
Pollution Control Department.
- Houppert, Helen. 1997. "Health Alert: New Facts About Food Poisoning, Readers Digest.
May 1997, pp. 111- 114.
- Isaacs, Florence. 1996. "Is your fruit safe to eat." Fitness, Oct. 1996, pp. 47-48.
- Lewis, David L., EPA science: casualty of election politics, Nature -Vol. 381 -27 June 1996)
University, University Park, Pa.) -LSI-