The National Academy of Sciences and the National
Research Council has been used by the EPA and WEF to
give credibility to the EPA's contention that sludge is
safe for use on crops. The public health perception
study requested of them was part of the EPA/WEF's
public relations campaign to get the public to accept
the beneficial use of sludge (biosolids).
As the purpose of this group was to assist the
government, in this case the EPA, they had little choice
in becoming a part of the public relations program of
the EPA/WEF as outlined by the Powell Tate,
Communication Plan on Biosolids.
This group, the NCR, did not conduct an independent
risk assessment of possible health effects from the use
of sludge on cropland. Instead, they conducted a
literature review of selected studies and EPA risk
assessment models to conclude that consumption of
sludge-grown crops did not pose a significant risk for
the general public. NRC apparently based it's opinion on
studies that indicated treated wastewater has been used
safely for crop irrigation, on a limited scale, and the
federal regulations are designed to assure that there is
no significant risk to the general public.
NRC also qualified its statements by noting that
there must be adequate program management and oversite
and proper treatment that reliably reduce the pathogens
to acceptable levels in sludge to avoid contamination of
surface or groundwater.
Based on the selected studies NRC reviewed, it
found no scientific documented cases of human ill health
effects from the use of sludge on crops in the United
States. However, it noted that reports from other
countries indicated that the use of untreated wastewater
effluent could result in infectious disease outbreaks.
Plus, it pointed out that viruses had been found in
groundwater almost 100 feet below a wastewater effluent
The NRC Report also discussed the limits of the
study which included: (1) low illness rate, (2)
insufficient sensitivity of current techniques to detect
low-level disease transmission, and (3) no way to
actually assess exposure levels. These limits were
imposed on the study because diseases from exposure to
wastewater were under-reported, scattered, and some
effects may be unrecorded.
The NRC Report expressed concern about the EPA's
exemption of organic pollutants because they were either
banned in the United States or appeared in less than 5
percent of the sludges or they were not found in
quantities that exceeded the risk-based loading
frequency. The Committee found that some pollutants
could exceed the risk-based limits in a small percentage
The NRC Report indicated there were little if any
economic incentives for food processors to accept
sludge-grown crops or for farmers to use sludge unless
they were paid for taking it.
And finally, the NRC Report suggested that
consumers, farmers, and the general public could deter
inappropriate behavior under the common law liability of
However, one member of the NRC Committee has
already issued a public statement disagreeing with the
As NRC Committee member Baram pointed out in a
media article, everyone involved in the report had a
vested interest. Furthermore, he explained that there
were many topics of concern they didn't include in the
risk-analysis. Baram's public statement included the
fact that he would not purchase sludge-grown foods or
want it in his community, because it poses risks to
persons exposed to it.
In reality, the NRC Committee acknowledged that
sludge use was not safe under the current conditions.
It left the most damaging statement on the use of sludge
and the EPA/WEF's public relations campaign until the
last paragraph of the Report.
I leave you with the Committee's final words in the
study and what appears to be an added editorial opinion.
"The suite of existing federal regulations,
available avenues for additional state and local
regulatory actions, and private sector forces appear
adequate to allow, with time and education, the
development of safe beneficial reuse of reclaimed
wastewater and sludge."
And the editorial opinion. "In fact, there are many
such programs already in operation."
Review of National Academy of Science's (NAS) 1996 literary review report by
its National Research Council (NRC) Committee :
"Use of Reclaimed Water and Sludge in Food Crop Production"