Chapter Three


The NRC Committee acknowledges the public relations

nature of the public perception study when it states;

"The focus of this study is on the use of treated

effluents and treated sludge in production of food

crops, and no comparative assessment is made of the

economics of other use or disposal alternatives for

sludge and wastewater." (p.  152)

Yet, it does imply that sludge is safe based on

comparative studies. As an example, the report suggested

that the ocean dumping ban was a result of a public

perception problem, "The public reaction in 1988 to the

appearance of medical wastes along New Jersey shores

(Spector, 1992) led to the enactment of the Ocean

Dumping Act (P.L. 100-68) that included a ban on ocean

dumping of sewage sludge." (p. 152)

The NRC Committee quoted a New York Times reporter,

as a scientist. The June 29, 1992 article was titled,

"New York ending ocean dumping, but not problems."

Furthermore, according to the NRC Report, "...., it

is difficult for the public to understand that the

application of sludge on cropland is safe when ocean

dumping of sludge is prohibited even though the major

reason for prohibiting ocean disposal of sewage sludge

had to do with excess nutrient loads on marine

ecosystems rather than toxic pollutants or beach safety

concerns." (p. 161)

There are a number of major problems with these

statements on ocean dumping: (1) the Public Law was

actually (P.L.  100-688), (2) the EPA tried to force New

York City to end the ocean dumping in 1981, however, the

courts ruled against the EPA, (3) Congress and the

Senate reversed the court ruling in 1986 and New York

City was forced to move its sludge dump site from the 12

mile site to the 106 mile site, (4) "Adverse impacts at

the site at least in part contributed by sludge dumping

include: bacterial contamination and closure of

shellfish areas; elevated levels of toxic metals and

organohalogens in bottom sediments in and near the site

including known fishing areas and within five nautical

miles of coastal beaches; community changes in relative

abundance and diversity of species; sublethal toxicity

effects in economically valuable species;

bioaccumulation of certain metals and organohalogens in

fish and shellfish" (Senate Report No.  199-431), (5)

Furthermore, according to the Senate Report, "With the

onset of large scale dumping of sewage sludge at the 106

mile site in 1987, fishermen began to complain of

significant decreases in catches and incidences of

diseased fish which were previously not found at these

depths. Some of the diseased fish have a shell disease

which is associated with sewage sludge and pollution in

coastal waters. This disease was found around the 12

mile site.", (6) At that time (1987), there were no

documented scientific studies to produce evidence of the

damage by sludge at the 12 mile site and according to

the Senate Report, "Scientists are just beginning to

explore the impacts that sludge dumping may be having on

marine resources in the area potentially effected by

sludge dumping at the 12 mile site.", (7) The Bill also

redefined "sewage sludge" (P.L 95-153- 33 U.S.C.

1412a(d)) to mean any solid, semi-solid, or liquid waste

generated by a wastewater treatment plant.  Moreover,

"EPA would be precluded from determining whether or not

the sewage sludge may unreasonably degrade or endanger

human health, welfare or amenities, or the marine

environment, ecological systems and economic

potentialities.  These changes are made to reverse the

1981 District Court decision which allowed ocean dumping

of sewage sludge to continue. In that case, the Court

found that sludge dumping by New York City had not

"unreasonably degraded or endangered human health.....",

(8) two of the main points expressed in the Senate

report was, "it is difficult to monitor the harmful

effects of dumping sewage sludge in the ocean and there

is no way to clean up dumped sludge if such sludge is

determined to be harmful in the future."

While the Committee, like the EPA, does not know

the extent of sludge contamination in food, nor the harm

it can do, they forge ahead in their attempt to assure

the public that sludge used on crops is safe.  The

Committee acknowledges in an offhand manner that there

could be problems, especially with PCB's. "While the

committee concluded that these organic pollutants in

sludge were not likely to present a risk to consumers of

food crops, public concern have been raised by the fact

that even a small percentage of sludges have

concentrations of certain pollutants (e.g., PCBs) that

exceed a risk-based limit of acceptability." (p. 161)

The NRC Committee acknowledge in the Preface its

"hope" that the report would influence (be useful to)

the food processors, states, and municipalities.  Yet,

it now qualifies its conclusions by saying it is not

likely the toxic organics will present a risk to

consumers even though a small percentage of sludge have

pollutants that exceed a risked based limit of

acceptability. The question remains, is the crops grown

on sludge fertilized soil safe for human consumption?

In reality, the only place this report would be

useful to the food processors and sludge dumpers, is in

a court of law, when they have to defend the use of

sludge on crops.  The scientific reputations behind the

report would be very impressive when presented to a

judge and jury.  According to the report, at least

forty-six scientists were involved in the Committees

which developed the report or reviewed it. In Court, a

victim would be blamed for his/her own health problems,

because, (1) the top "scientific agency" in the United

States concludes that sludge use is safe for use on

crops and will not damage anyone's health, (2) there is

no disease caused by sludge use that can not be blamed

on poor sanitation measures in handling the food, in a

restaurant or at home, and (3) as a last resort, the

victim improperly cooked the food.

The biased nature of the report was reinforced when

the scope of the NRC literary review was stated, "(1)

the historical development, rationale, and scope of

practice of treating municipal wastewater and sludge in

the United States; (2) wastewater treatment technologies

and procedures for agricultural use of these materials;

(3) effects on soils, crops production, and ground

water; (4) public health concerns about microbiological

agents and toxic chemicals; (5) existing regulations and

guidelines; and (6) economic, liability, and

institutional issues".

While all six of the areas are legitimate concerns

of the public and food processors and definitely

required in an "independent study of the safety and

practicality of the use of these materials for the

production of crops for human consumption", the NRC

literary review now stated, the original stated purpose

of the committee did not include an independent risk

assessment of possible health effects. "The committee

was not constituted to conduct an independent risk

assessment of possible health effects, but instead to

review the method and procedures used by EPA in its

extensive risk assessment, which was the basis for the

Part 503 Sludge Rule". (p. viii)

That review apparently did not include EPA's risk

assessment model for drinking water contamination

exposure, which was calculated by estimating the amount

of contaminate carried off all the sludge sites in each

State by rain water and dividing that into the total

surface water of each State (FR 54, p. 5781).

Furthermore, the EPA model doesn't consider well

water used by farmers.  Since the research data was only

based on one application of sewage sludge there could

have been little or no data on how much of the toxic

heavy metal pollution would get into the ground water.

Therefore, under the EPA's and NRC scientific rules, if

there is no documented research, there can not be a

problem.  But it is a problem for many farmers near

sludge application sites; well water is their only

source of water.  Furthermore, no research was done on

the effects contaminated forage or water might have on

farm animals or wildlife. Yet, the EPA has documented

that high nitrates (nutrients in sludge) in forage will

kill farm animals.

In effect, it would appear, the purpose of this

report was a public document to evaluate if the EPA's

estimated 501 cases of sickness or death annually was

reasonably accurate, based on the methodology used in

the risk assessment.  Not only that, if the NRC

Committee was not going to do an independent risk

assessment of possible human health effects from sludge

used on crops, and it didn't review the final results of

the EPA's risk assessment methods and procedures (levels

of toxic and hazardous substances were increased in the

final regulation), then why would it assure the food

processors and public that the use of sludge on crops is

safe?  Furthermore, how could it legally comply with

its mandate to report to the government that sludge used

on crops was safe?  Particularly, when the report

indicates that the effluent (clean water) from a

treatment plant could contaminate groundwater when used

for irrigation purposes and had caused documented

outbreaks of disease in the general public.

The NRC summary of the report was that sludge is

safe for use on crops because, "There have been no

reported outbreaks of infectious diseases associated

with a population's exposure-either directly or through

food consumption pathways-to adequately treated and

properly distributed reclaimed water or sludge applied

to agricultural land." (p.95) What does the NRC

Committee mean by, "adequately treated and properly


The NRC Report claims that; "Treatment processes

are also available to effectively reduce the

concentration of pathogens in sewage sludge to levels

safe for direct contact.  Some examples include lime

treatment, heat treatment, drying and composting (EPA,

1992b)." (p. 90)

Yet, the NRC Report acknowledged, "There are

instances in sludge processing, such as composting, in

which the coliform levels cannot be satisfactorily

reduced even though there is reason to believe that the

sanitary quality of the material is otherwise acceptable

(EPA, 1992b; Skanavis and Yanko, 1994)....Many of the

parasites of concern exist in the encysted stage outside

of the human or animal intestinal track, and are quite

resistant to chemical and physical disinfection in this

form." (p.  94) In effect, "adequately and properly

distributed" is a scientific disclaimer, because land

application and site restrictions are a part of the

treatment process to control pathogens.

The NRC Report acknowledges the problem in the


"The main thrust of any management strategy is reduction

of concentrations of pathogens to acceptable levels.

This reduction can be achieved by treatment prior to

land application or, as an alternative in the case of

sludge and reclaimed water of lower sanitary quality,

crop restrictions and management of the application site

to restrict human and grazing animal contact during the

time required for pathogens to decay to acceptable

levels."  In effect, the basic premise that sludge is

safe for use on crops is dependent on; "Two prime

considerations in evaluating any management scheme are

the ability to effectively monitor for treatment

efficacy and the reliability of the process used to

effect pathogen reduction." (p.  97)

There is a serious problem here, Congress has

passed laws to protect the environment and human health

because sludge dumping has been shown to be dangerous

when exposed to the environment. Yet, the EPA guideline

was published as a scientific regulation under the Clean

Water Act based on limited or anecdotal evidence, and

now the NRC Committee has led the public into assuming

that all necessary testing and scientific study

documentation was done to assure the safety of public

health and the environment and the NRC Committe are

quoting a badly researched newspaper article as a

scientific study.

Not only that, but the EPA only plans to study the

effects of sludge dumping in round two of the sludge

regulating process.  At some future date, it will

consider; leaching, surface runoff, soil binding

capacity, and ecological effects of organic and

inorganic constituents, as well as pathogens, and the

effects on wildlife (FR 58-pp.  9275-76).

What about Human Life?  The NRC committee did not

address the issue of the effects of sludge on human

life, which is not surprising. Actually, according to a

memo dated 12-29-1994, by EPA's John Walker and Bob

Bastian, the EPA has a working agreement with the Water

Environmental Federation (WEF) for a public relations

campaign to debunk all the horror stories associated

with sludge dumping.  The EPA even named the writer to

be hired and since that time has given the WEF 1.2

million dollars in federal grant funds to support the


It appears to be a very unusual coincidence that

the EPA is funding a public relations campaign through

the WEF, to promote the use of sludge on crops, and both

entities are funding the NRC study, which concluded that

sludge is safe for use on crops.

Furthermore, according to a memo from EPA's Robert

E.  Lee to EPA's John Walker and Bob Bastian, dated Oct.

17, 1994, the public relations campaign funding for the

WEF would come from the EPA 104 grant program which was

restricted to "...establish national programs for the

prevention, reduction, and elimination of pollution..."

However, "Areas that we had considered using these funds

include: 1. Odor Control Manual, 2. Sludge Horror

Stories, 3. Biosolids Technical Assessment, 4.

Management of Class B, 5. Arid Lands, 6. PCB's in

Biosolids...What about one with a water shed

twist....Ways to utilize biosolids in water sheds to

mitigate other environmental problems...Bob B. maybe we

should put one or some $ in for the wetlands work in

watersheds also." The WEF proudly announced the latest

$655,000 EPA research grant in a press release dated,

March 15, 1996.

 Prev                                           next
Review of National Academy of Science's (NAS) 1996 literary review report by
its National Research Council (NRC) Committee :

"Use of Reclaimed Water and Sludge in Food Crop Production"