Kern County Grand Jury backs ban on sludge By: Bill Curtis
10:08 AM Saturday, April 9th, 2005
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The Health, Education, and Social Services (HESS) Committee along with other members of
the 2004-2005 Kern County Grand Jury, pursuant to Penal Code Section 925 has for the past
five months investigated the use of “Biosolids” on land in Kern County. The investigation was
initiated by the published concerns of many stakeholders regarding the close proximity of
biosolid use over the Kern Water Bank and local aquifers. The source of the biosolids is also
of concern to residents.
The Committee and other members of the 2004-2005 Kern County Grand Jury have
conducted numerous interviews, examined Federal, State, and County laws, documents, and
permits. Also reviewed were numerous web sites regarding the pros and cons of using
biosolids for land application. Pictures have been taken onsite of the land application in
process. Extensive research has been performed into the use of biosolids in Kern County, the
United States, and around the world. The Committee also reviewed scientific studies into
biosolid use with regard to plant uptake and the leeching into ground water of nitrates, salt,
heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and pathogens. The afore mentioned by-products, except for
some pathogens, are not removed by the current treatment of biosolids. Biosolids are
comprised of human and industrial waste which is an unpredictable mixture of everything that
enters the sewers. The Grand Jury has attempted to take an unemotional look at a
controversial subject and issue a report.
The term biosolid(s) is a euphemistic term used to describe treated municipal sewage sludge
(human and industrial waste) applied to agricultural land as a soil amendment. In 1948 the
Water Pollution Control Act was passed and has been amended extensively. In 1977 the Clean
Water Act provided further amendments. In 1988 the Federal Government banned ocean
dumping of municipal waste and the State of California has mandated a reduction of waste
deposited in landfills. The three events mentioned have complicated the issue of what is to be
done with municipal waste, be it called municipal waste, sludge, or biosolids, in that two of the
major sources of disposal are now gone.
The County of Kern has grappled with the issue since 1996. The end result of the County’s
efforts was to write an ordinance limiting the land application to Class A – Exceptional Quality
(A-EQ) biosolids for the protection of the public health. The A-EQ standard requires additional
processing of the sludge to reduce additional pathogens. Kern County has been sued for
making the ordinance so strict and requiring only the “highest quality” sludge.
There are as many as 100,000 chemicals used in American industry and as many as a
thousand new chemical compounds are placed into commercial use each year. The chemicals
are entering the sewage stream daily.
In 1997 an opinion of the Federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (Scalamandre et.al. v.
Kaufman et. al.) stated, “The conclusion the evidence at trial suggests is that experts have yet
to reach a consensus on the safety of land application of biosolids.”
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) statutory mandate is “to protect public health and
the environment from any reasonably anticipated adverse effects.” The EPA Office of the
Inspector General has completed two assessments of the sewer sludge program. In 2002 the
report stated that the EPA did not have an “effective program for ensuring compliance with the
land application requirements of the sludge rule.” Later in the same year, the EPA stated that
“EPA cannot assure the public that current land application practices are protective of human
health and the environment.”
In 2003, a court in Augusta, Georgia ruled that sewage sludge caused the deaths of 300 dairy
cows on the Boyceland Dairy Farm. The cows died after eating hay grown with sludge that was
in compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency rules (Boyceland Dairy v. City of
Augusta, Richmand County Superior Court).
The Center for Food Safety reports that the EPA monitors only nine of the thousands of
pathogens commonly found in sludge. The EPA rarely performs site inspections of sewage
treatment plants or farms where sludge is used. The Centers for Disease Control, the National
Research Council, and medical professionals have been critical of the regulations regarding
the use and disposal of sludge.
Kern County has set up an ordinance (Chapter 8.05) for dealing with the land application of
biosolids. The only biosolids that can be used in Kern County are Class A-EQ. This is the
cleanest product that is produced today. The ordinance also lays out the rules under which
biosolids can be applied to the land for agricultural use.
The ordinance tells the “Applier” the quantity of biosolid, which applied to each parcel of
agricultural land, according to the amount of nitrogen each crop needs. The Applier is also
regulated as to how close to roads, wells, out buildings, schools, homes, and businesses that
an application can be made. The ordinance also states what and when tests are to be done by
a certified laboratory and sent to the Kern County Environmental Health Department.
Kern’s ordinance states, “Any person violating any of the provisions of this chapter shall be
deemed guilty of a misdemeanor.”