Sent: Wednesday, May 04, 2005 10:25 AM
Subject: Sewage Sludge bill gets Senate Environmental Quality Committee blessing
Sludge bill gets panel's blessing
Florez wins key victory in fight to keep biosolids out of Kern
By VIC POLLARD, Californian Sacramento Bureau
e-mail: [email protected]
Posted: Tuesday May 3rd, 2005, 11:20 PM
Last Updated: Tuesday May 3rd, 2005, 11:42 PM
SACRAMENTO -- In a defeat for Los Angeles and Orange County sanitation agencies, a
Senate committee Tuesday narrowly endorsed a bill that would make it easier for Kern County
to ban sewage sludge imports.
The bill is a compromise version of legislation by state Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, that
originally called for a statewide ban on all exports of sewage across county lines.
Florez said he had to weaken the bill to avoid defeat in the face of fierce opposition from
influential big-city officials.
Counties have always had the ability to ban sewage imports, but Florez said the bill would also
give Kern new protection against lawsuits by sludge generators. The new version of the bill
would allow county supervisors to ban imports only after current contracts for fertilizing
farmland with sludge expire.
But Florez said he was delighted by Tuesday's approval from the Senate Environmental
"I think it's a very big blow to the Los Angeles and Orange County sludge generators who have
been exporting sludge to Kern County," he said. "It ultimately provides Kern County the shield
it needs to keep the stuff away."
Kern County supervisors once voted unanimously to support the earlier version of the bill
seeking a total ban, but they were happy to take what they could get Tuesday.
"That would be fantastic," said Supervisor Don Maben about protection for the county from
sludge lawsuits. "I hope it makes it through the whole machine."
"I'm personally supportive of anything he (Florez) can do that can tighten up control we have
over our own destiny," said Supervisor Ray Watson, adding that his main objective is to work
with the Kern County Water Agency to "make sure we get biosolids removed from over our
Nearly all of Los Angeles' sewage is applied to the so-called "Green Acres" farm southwest of
Bakersfield near the water bank. Crops grown there are sold to nearby dairy farmers for feed.
Florez introduced the bill in response to growing public outrage about some 450,000 tons of
sludge being trucked into Kern annually and spread on farmland as fertilizer.
Sewage sludge, more politely known as biosolids, is the solid byproduct of urban sewage
treatment plants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it is safe for land disposal,
but many people and some government agencies have fears about potential air and water
Florez noted that the sludge is spread on farmland overlying one of the state's most valuable
groundwater storage aquifers.
A Georgia attorney, who was active in a lawsuit in which a court ruled that sewage sludge was
responsible for the death of 300 dairy cows, told the committee the EPA and biosolids
generators are deceiving the public about its safety.
"Sewage sludge is what it is; it's snake oil," said attorney Ed Hallman.
He said investigators in the Georgia case, in which the cows died after eating hay fertilized by
sludge, found many loopholes in the regulations on land disposal of sludge.
"When a problem occurs, there is no one to hold accountable for that problem," he said.
Many of Kern County's major farm companies are opposed to the use of sludge as fertilizer,
said a representative they sent to the hearing.
"It is an irresponsible disposal operation. It has to stop," said Paul Giboney, who said he spoke
for Kern Food Growers Against Sewage Sludge.
The bill drew stiff opposition from more than a dozen people from sewage agencies in Los
Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties as well as the San Francisco Bay area.
Lobbyist Mike Dillon said the state's major sanitation agencies oppose the bill "because of the
unacceptable precedent it would set."
"We are also concerned," he continued, "about the misimpression it gives, that biosolids are
Marlaigne Hudnall, biosolids program manager for the sewage agencies, said the bill ignores
the interdependence among counties for waste disposal.
"Oil field brines (from Kern) are taken to Oxnard for treatment and then they are discharged to
the ocean," she said.
In a related move Tuesday, Florez announced he plans to introduce legislation that will require
sewage agencies to monitor the biosolid they export as fertilizer for toxic chemicals.
"A standard exists, but sludge generators know nobody is watching," Florez said.
"Enforcement and real consequences are the only means by which this industry will change."
-- Californian staff writer Gretchen Wenner contributed to this report.