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
e-mail:  [email protected]

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,
critics say.   

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.