Out-of-town experts dig into sludge issue
Heated hourlong discussion with local officials on merits of muck airs
By GRETCHEN WENNER, Californian staff writer
Posted: Wednesday March 30th, 2005, 11:40 PM
Last Updated: Wednesday March 30th, 2005, 11:47 PM
Tonight, you can see for yourself what happens when sludge friends and foes
-- three of them major figures nationally -- are locked in a room for an hour
with cameras rolling.
Local TV reporter Jim Scott wrangled the high-powered group to Bakersfield
Tuesday evening for what turned out to be a fiery discussion. The special show
airs at 7 tonight on KGET-TV Channel 17.
You'll see sparks fly when three out-of-staters clash about whether it's safe
to use treated human and industrial sewage as fertilizer:
* Rufus Chaney, a Maryland scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture
who helped write federal biosolids rules. Defining quotes: "You can farm it
forever ... . We don't have any evidence of adverse effects."
* F. Edwin Hallman Jr., a Georgia lawyer who won a case alleging hundreds of
dairy cows died after eating sludge-fertilized feed. Hallman says the
government's promotion of beneficial sludge use is "snake oil" with the "illusion
of safety." Quote: "Hazardous waste went on farmlands (and) killed dairy
* Caroline Snyder, a retired New Hampshire professor who'll soon publish a
paper saying government regulators have cozied up with the biosolids industry
to intentionally cover up adverse health effects from sludge spread on
farmland. "They have the data," but they refuse to release it, Snyder said of the
federal Environmental Protection Agency.
In addition, the panel includes familiar faces like county Supervisor Ray
Watson, state Sen. Dean Florez of Shafter, local water and farming interests and
a representative of the city of Los Angeles' sanitation bureau.
The debate makes clear Kern County's current sludge controversy is something
of a snow-globe scene encapsulating a national issue.
That is, rural America has become the dumping ground for urban America's
sewage. And there's fierce disagreement about whether the practice is safe for
soil, water, plants, animals and people. As you'll see, proponents (including
big-city sewage districts that shuttle their product into Kern) claim treated
sewage is a "natural resource." Meanwhile, opponents (including some big-name
local farming companies) say sludge is simply a "disposal vehicle" for
hazardous waste. Sludge harbors thousands of dangerous chemicals distilled from
industrial waste that happens to have a little nitrogen and nutrients as well,
Scott, during one break in the taping, sighed and told his guests: We needed
three hours for this, not one.
After the taping, Scott said he pulled together the station's first-ever
in-depth debate so residents could get fresh perspectives from people outside
the county in a format not limited by 20-second soundbites.
"I didn't for a minute imagine we would have a resolution to the controversy
from this show," he said after the discussion.