National Sludge Alliance
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 access restrictions:
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 sludge." (503.32)
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 yet:
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."
(5)(vi) 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 authority." (503.32)
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, 503.9(t))
"Exceptional Quality" Sludge Pollutant Limits 25 meter landfill boundary pollutant limits
PCBs 50 mg/kg 50 mg/kg
Arsenic 41 mg/kg 30 mg/kg
Chromium hazardous level - 0.001 200 mg/kg
Nickel 420 mg/kg 210 mg/kg
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." (503.24)
Contamination of grazing animals can be a problem on sewage sludge sites:
For beneficial Use; "(v) Animals shall not be allowed to graze on the land for 30 days after application of sewage
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:
For 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.
A potential devastating problem for future owners of sewage sludge application sites is land transfers:
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.
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? -LSI-