California state senator Dean Florez's letter to the Times Record
on the hazards of Sludge disposal
Applying sludge to land will put water supply and town at risk
By Dean Florez, Times Record Contributor
I was notified by several Brunswick citizens that there is a proposal before the town council to allow
the spreading of sludge over groundwater supplies. I hope and pray that the town council will use
wisdom and consider its public duty in safeguarding the water supply of the people they represent.
The residents of Brunswick deserve nothing less.
If the council reviews the facts and not the propaganda from the sludge industry, they will not allow
it. In my experience with this issue, it seems the only ones who push for land application of sludge
are those that will benefit economically from it.
I have authored SB 926, which would allow Kern County (Bakersfield, Calif.) to ban the importation
of Class A sludge for land application. The California State Senate voted 26-9 in favor of SB 926
two weeks ago. I introduced SB 926 as a means of helping local officials fight the sludge haulers,
the city of Los Angeles, Orange County and the city of Oxnard, which have been dumping sludge
on Kern County land for the last 10 years.
In 1999 Kern County Board of Supervisors voted to ban the land application of Class B sewage
sludge from Los Angeles, Orange County and Oxnard. Those three entities immediately filed suit
against Kern County and 5 1/2 years later, we are still in litigation, although Kern County has won at
every court level. It has cost the county almost $1 million to defend our ordinance, money that could
have gone to pave roads, provide child care, medical care or put deputies on the street.
This past April, the Kern County Board of Supervisors not only voted to support SB 926 but started
the process to ban the dumping of Class A sludge from Los Angeles, Orange County and Oxnard.
The next week, the Los Angeles City Council went on record as warning us that if Kern County
pursued this course, they would again file suit against Kern County. While there are 10 other
counties in California that have some ban on the spreading of sludge, Class A and Class B, on
land, they are not being sued. The lesson here is not to allow dumping of sludge in your area at all.
Currently, Los Angeles dumps 400,000 tons of sewage sludge per year on 4,500 acres that are
directly over a groundwater supply worth more than $4 billion. Ironically, some of this water goes
back to Los Angeles for residential and business use.
In a hearing I conducted in Bakersfield last December, I asked officials from Los Angeles if they
could guarantee that the sewage sludge did not pose a threat to the groundwater. We heard about
how many monitoring sites there were and that no tests had shown contamination of the
groundwater. When pressed again to guarantee that the sewage sludge did not pose a threat, the
Los Angeles officials admitted that they could not.
I asked a follow-up question: What happens when the first test shows positive for contamination?
There was no answer. Finally, an official from the Kern County Water Agency said that the entire
groundwater supply worth $4 billion would be lost. Who would be at fault? Los Angeles for dumping
the sewage sludge? No, Kern County would be liable since they allowed the sludge to be dumped in
the first place. Allowing sludge to be spread on land over groundwater supplies will put the town at
I read comments by John Peckenham (May 27, "Bio-solids use and the environment"). In defense of
spreading sludge, Mr. Peckenham writes: "Research on Class A biosolids indicates that metals are
then complexed with minerals in the soil and remain tightly held. This means that the likelihood of
material being leached into groundwater is very low."
Notice that Mr. Peckenham doesn't say there isn't a risk of contaminating groundwater, just that the
risk is "low." My question: Why risk your precious groundwater supply at all? Is it worth it? Nobody
can tell you that spreading of sludge over groundwater is safe.
This industry and some of their supporters in government offices will stop at nothing to dump their
sludge on willing communities. However, I can guarantee you that when land and water
contamination occurs, they won't be there. All over the nation communities are dealing with this
problem with no help from the sludge industry.
The members of the Brusnwick Town Council, like me, were elected by the people to represent
them. Part of that representation means that we are charged to protect the public's welfare, which
includes the right to clean air and water.
I know the pressure to allow the spreading of sewage sludge is enormous from both the industry,
and unfortunately, government offices. However, what will we tell our children and grandchildren 20
years from now if we put their groundwater at risk today? Is it worth it?
As a state senator, for me the answer was "No!"
Dean Florez is a state senator in California representing District 16