|NATIONAL SLUDGE ALLIANCE
NSA Fact Sheet #101
January 30, 1997
The Bell Tolls for EPA
"Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee!"
This cryptic message to a vocal California farmer opposed to sludge/biosolids use on farmland, was
attached to a Water Environment Federation (WEF) letter dated February 28, 1996, with the heading,
"DEAR MEMBER OF CONGRESS:" The signature on the message indicated it was signed by the
WEF's temporary Senior Scientist, who was loaned to WEF by the EPA.
The implied threat to the California farmer was contained in the WEF letter sent to each member of
Congress. WEF was asking for Congress to place the blame for water pollution on farmers and their
operations, because, "Water Quality 2000 found that "polluted runoff from agricultural activities...is a
major cause of impairment of our nation's waters. Congress must make a clear statement that
agriculturally derived water pollution problems is a national priority." Current Farm Bill provisions
have produced some progress in water quality. But future improvements will require a new way of
thinking about these problems. Agricultural conservation and environmental protection programs
should be re-oriented to make pollution prevention the primary focus."
The WEF letter assured Congress that, "Preventing pollution is easier and cheaper than implementing
new pollution control requirements. Congress should encourage prevention-oriented actions at the
watershed level in which farmers, ranchers, local residents, and other stakeholders are all partners in
the search for solutions. Federal and state government should serve as a catalyst for progress by
bringing all parties together and providing technical and financial assistance. Any Farm Bill approved
by Congress should build upon existing mechanisms to protect and enhance water quality in
In reality, this was the same problem the California farmer had been so vocal about. The EPA and WEF
have been promoting the use of toxic pollutant contaminated sewage sludge as a fertilizer on
gardens and food crop production farm land under a beneficial EPA regulation 40CFR 503. However,
the sludge fertilizer could be too contaminated with toxic pollutants to be disposed in a sanitary landfill
regulated by the same part 503 regulation (503.13 - 503.23(1995)). (see NSA Fact Sheet #100)
One of the major problems with the use of sludge as a beneficial fertilizer was the chromium content.
Chromium concentrations are restricted to 200 ppm within 25 meters (75') of a part 503 landfill
boundary and it is only 450 ppm within 125 meters of the boundary and has a maximum concentration
of 600 ppm for the part 503 landfill (503.23).
Yet, sludge/biosolids fertilizer with chromium concentrations of 100,000 ppm can be disposed of on
food crop production farm land within 10 meters of any waters of the United States. EPA warns, nor
shall sludge be applied, "so that the bulk sludge enters a wetland or other waters of the United States
Yet, in a memo dated October 17, 1994, EPA's Robert E. Lee was promoting a grant request for WEF
and suggested to EPA's John Walker and Bob Bastin that uses for the grant money include fact sheets
to debunk the "Sludge Horror stories" of people harmed by the use of sewage sludge as well as
"PCB's in biosolids" and as he says, "What about one with a watershed twist --ways to utilize biosolids in
watersheds to mitigate other environmental problems. Give it to a group like score in NJ." Not only that
but, he continued, "Bob B. maybe we should put one or some $ in for the wetlands work in watersheds
The WEF announced the receipt of the $650,000 grant in their Water Environment WEB March 15,
1996. Contact persons listed in the announcement were Nancy Blatt and Dave Trouba. While the
announcement did mention a number of research projects, according to a memo from John Walker,
EPA Project Officer, to Nancy Blatt and Tim Williams, Co Project Leaders with WEF, it appears the
primary purpose of the grant was to debunk the sludge horror stories of people harmed by the use of
sludge/biosolids. Dave Trouba was mentioned in a memo dated 12-29-94, by John Walker and Bob
Bastin, as the "Potential WEF Writer/Coordinator for this effort." "CANDIDATES FOR THE REST OF
According to John Walker's memo, the EPA is controlling the public relations campaign to debunk the
sludge horror stories of people harmed by the use of sewage sludge as a fertilizer. Walker writes, "I
have attached an updated list of candidate cases for which "The Rest of the Story" needs to be told.
The target audience may be the municipalities, contractors, WEF spokespersons and other wastewater
professionals, and maybe the general public depending on the case. If the cases were (1) Merco/NYC,
(4) Prime Time Torres Martinez, (9) Pathogen regrowth, and (15) Citizens irate over purchase; then
one audience would be the municipality. The write up would tell municipalities what went wrong and
what to do with respect to control and management oversight [even where contractors are employed] to
maximize public acceptance and minimize negative publicity and rejection of the recycling that is
planned or underway."
The stories referred to were in Walker's 12-29-94 memo,"(1) Merco/NYC biosolids expose-TV Nations
production -Law suit by TX Attorney General -Merco Lawsuit- Claims ..marital status. own something.
(4) Pending Prime Time TV story on Torres Martinez (Thermal, Ca.)--corrupt contractor, biosolids
mountain, and composting. (9) Pathogen regrowth during shipment--Merco. (15) Citizens irate over
purchase of farmland for biosolids use--how land ought to be used is big issue--private developer
conflicts--NIMBY- personality clashes--often does not involve health concerns."
Walker's instructions to WEF's Nancy Blatt continued, "If the cases were (2) Zander, (4)Miami-Dade,
(5) Tree Kill, (6) Miniature horses, (7) Bioaerosols, (10) AIDS, (11) Lou Gehrig's Disease, (12) Turf
grass loss, (13) Dead cattle in NC; then the audience might be the general public who various anti
groups tell the "horrors" of these cases and to which we would tell the rest of the story. The audience
might also be WEF biosolids spokesperson and/or the wastewater professionals who would be working
with the general public to tell the authoritative truth. Some of the cases may be written up for more than
one audience, (i.e., differently for each different audience.)"
The stories referred to here, according to Walker's 12-29-94 memo are, "(2) Linda Zander case - sick &
dead cattle, worker health -Farm Bureau and Dairy Today stories. (5) Tree kill in Washington State with
King Co METRO biosolids on Weyerhauser land. (6) Miniature horse deaths in Oklahoma. (7) Biosolids
-- claim need for 2 to 5 mile barrier in NYC. (10) Biosolids a cause of AIDS, (11) Biosolids used on ball
fields causing Lou Gehrig's Disease -what it took to debunk this claim. (12) Maryland turf grass grower
crop loss due to biosolids use - involved grower's use of a highway roller on his fields. (13) Raleigh,
NC-- dead cattle from nitrate poisoning due to forage with high nitrogen content. Forage was not mixed
with other low-nitrate fodder as advised by the POTW."
Walker's memo makes a major point, "Interestingly, many of use (sic) in the regulatory and municipal
arena do not have credibility with the local citizens. We need to get those who do supplied with the
"Rest of the Story"."
Walker's memo did not explain to WEF's Nancy Blatt how to handle "(14) BLM policy opposing use of
biosolids on Federal lands: equating it(s) use to hazardous waste dumping and landfilling raising
SUPERFUND liability concerns."
The SUPERFUND liability concerns were resolved as far as EPA was concerned. A letter to
Congressman Conduit, dated October 1, 1993, by Martha G. Prothro, (EPA) Acting Assistant
Administrator, states that, "If the placement of sludge on land were considered to be the "normal
application fertilizer" - it - "could not give rise to CERCLA liability for the municipality generating the
sewage sludge, the land applier, the land user or the land owner."
In a memo to WEF "Biosolids Spokespeople", dated November 2, 1995, Alan B. Rubin, Ph.D., Senior
Scientist, was very emphatic, "Biosolids used as a fertilizer under good agronomic management
practices is exempt from third party liability under CERCLA as is any other commercial fertilizer."
Could the toxic pollutants in sludge cause the problems the EPA and WEF are spending so much
money to debunk? According to Congress, "(13) The term "toxic pollutant" means those pollutants,
or combinations of pollutants, including disease causing agents, which after discharge and upon
exposure, ingestion, inhalation or assimilation into any organism [living entity], either directly from the
environment or indirectly by ingestion through food chains, will, on the basis of information available to
the Administrator, cause death, disease, behavioral abnormalities, cancer, genetic mutations,
physiological malfunctions (including malfunctions in reproductions)of physical deformations, in
organisms [people or animals] or their offspring." (Title 33, part 1362)
However, according to EPA, "The term "toxic pollutant" is not used in the final part 503 regulation
because this generally is limited to the list of priority toxic pollutants developed by EPA. The Agency
concluded that Congress intended that EPA develop the part 503 pollutant limits for a broader range of
substances that might interfere with the use and disposal of sewage sludge, not just the 126 priority
pollutants." (FR. 58, 32, p. 9327)
EPA has said, "...If sewage sludge containing high levels of pathogenic organisms (e.g.,viruses,
bacteria) or high concentrations of pollutants is improperly handled, the sludge could contaminate the
soil, water, crops, livestock, fish and shellfish" (Preamble to 503, FR. 58, 32, p.9258).
Not only that, but "Sewage sludge with high concentrations of certain organic and metal pollutants may
pose human health problems when disposed of in sludge only landfills (often referred to as
mono-fills) or simply left on the land surface, if the pollutants leach from the sludge into ground water.
Therefore, the pollutant concentrations may need to be limited or other measures such as impermeable
liner's must be taken to ensure the ground water is not contaminated" (FR. 58, 32, p.9259) -LSI-