Chapter Five   


NRC in their preface stated the study would cover

six points. The first of NRC's six points we will

examine is:

(1)  the historical development, rationale, and scope of
practice of treating municipal wastewater and
sludge in the United States;

According to the NRC report, sludge dumping has a long

history. Sewage farms were first established about 150

years ago and the agricultural benefits were incidental.

The farms were phased out as the land area required to

dispose of large cities grew to great to be practical

and effective technologies were developed to treat

sewage. In fact, according to the NRC report, "These

technologies eliminated the need for sewage farms."

(p. 18)

They claim that, "Early agricultural sludge use

projects were often carried out with little regard for

possible adverse impact to soil or crops (Allen, 1912).

A common goal was to maximize the application rate to

minimize the cost of sludge disposal." (p. 21)

According to the NRC report, we are now returning

to the same type of a situation. "Over the past 20

years, restrictions have been placed on certain sludge

disposal practices (e.g., ocean dumping and landfill

disposal), causing public wastewater treatment utilities

to view agricultural use of sludge as an increasingly

cost-effective alternative." (p. 2)

The basic need for unrestricted dumping of sludge

on farm and ranch land would be, as indicated by the

report that; "The limited capacity of sanitary landfills

is quickly exhausted, and communities are not providing

for new landfills...As society has continued to

reevaluate and regulate disposal options, agricultural

use of sludge is becoming an increasingly attractive

option because of its low cost...." (p.152) While the

dumping of sludge on crops may be low and very cost-

effective in dollars, what will be the cost in the

health of humans and animals?

If there was a problem with the disposal of sludge

in the ocean (it was killing the fish) and with disposal

in highly regulated landfills (landfills are highly

regulated by the solid waste laws and Superfund Act) and

EPA acknowledges that legal landfills can contaminate

ground water, wouldn't there be similar problems with

the unregulated disposal of sludge on cropland?

EPA has claimed that the use of toxic sludge as a

fertilizer on farmland was authorized under Section 405

of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Furthermore, according to

the EPA, the CWA authorized the removal of sludge from

the 1979 solid waste regulation 40 CFR 257 which had

limited restrictions on sludge use.  However, very few

states used landfarming as a method of sludge disposal

under part 257, because it reflected the Solid Waste

Laws which stated that sludge from both water and

wastewater treatment plants was a solid waste that must

be disposed of in a highly regulated sanitary landfill.

Moreover, the federal law was designed to prevent the

use of sludge as a fertilizer.

According to the EPA; "The first category of

secondary materials considered to be solid wastes when

recycled and when destined for recycling are secondary

materials used or reused in a manner involving direct

placement on the land.  Examples are the direct use of

recycled materials for land reclamation, as dust

suppressants, as fertilizers, and as fill material. In

the Agency's view, these practices are virtually the

equivalent of unsupervised land disposal, a situation

RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) is

designed to prevent. In fact, the Agency regards the

direct use of these materials as fertilizers to be a

form of land treatment--" (FR.48, p.14484).

What has been done to change the quality of sludge

since the EPA made that determination or for that matter

what new processes have been developed to change the

quality of sludge that makes it different from the

sludge that was dumped in the ocean?

Yet, under the provisions of the CWA, the EPA did

arbitrarily exclude sludge from the provisions of the

RCRA, first with the 1981 statement, then the 1984

Agency policy and then with the 1993 regulation which

reflected the policy.  This has happened in spite of

NRC's report that, "The intent of the 1987 amendment to

`adequately protect human health and the environment

from reasonable anticipated adverse effects of each

pollutant' [Section 405(d)(2)(D)]." (p. 24)

Is sludge used on farms a valuable commercial

fertilizer as the EPA claims in the new Part 503

regulation (CWA) or is sludge a potentially dangerous

solid waste as the EPA claimed in the old Part 257, and

still claims, in the new Part 258 regulation (RCRA).

Do the toxic chemicals and hazardous substances

regulated by the solid waste division of the EPA, in the

workplace by OSHA, and transportation by DOT, magically

lose their ability to damage health and cause death when

they are placed on crops, particularly, when they can't

be put in a legal part 503 sludge only landfill because

of the high levels of some pollutants?

The allowed beneficial use levels of toxic

pollutants would prevent the sludge from being disposed

of under the subpart on surface disposal in part 503.

According to the regulation, sewage sludge that meets

the beneficial use criteria can not be placed in a

highly regulated part 503 surface disposal site because

of the toxic heavy metals limits. As one example shows,

beneficial use allows 3000 ppm of Chromium to be placed

on crop land vs. 600 ppm of chromium for surface

disposal. (Part 503.13 Tables 1 and 3 / part 503.23

Table 1)

In other words, if the dumper will not claim he's

dumping sludge to at least benefit the growth of grass

under part 503, the sludge must be disposed of in a

highly regulated municipal solid waste landfill.

Actually, it is unlikely anyone even makes the attempt

to distinguish the semantics or the intent of the dumper

any more.  Recent documents from Texas and Missouri

refer to beneficial sludge use applications as disposal.

According to the part 503 regulation, when the

sludge can't be disposed of in a highly regulated

landfill under part 503, it must be disposed of as a

solid waste under Federal Law and the guideline 40 CFR

258. In effect, this would include all of the EPA's high

quality fertilizer, plus the sludge with the highest

levels of pollutants allowed as a fertilizer.

This is a major public perception problem for

anyone interested in either their health or the

environment. After concluding that sludge used on crops

is safe, the NRC review leaves us with this warning,

" is not likely that all of the sewage sludge will

be applied to cropland in the foreseeable future, and

thus only a very small percentage of the food crops

grown in the United States would ever be exposed to

sewage sludge.....Still, land application of treated

effluents and treated sludge will increase the level of

toxic chemicals and pathogens in the soil." (p. 39-40)

This is the public perception problem that can't go

away. The NRC and EPA assure the general public they are

protected and then NRC acknowledges that toxic chemicals

and pathogens will build up in the soil and, according

to the preamble to the final Part 503 regulation, "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." (FR.  58, p.  9258) What

about humans?

The fact is, the EPA water division needs

protection for its policy and insists that Part 503

excludes the release of hazardous or toxic substances

from the dumping of sewage sludge on farm land from any

liability under the Superfund Act (CERCLA).  However,

there is a major problem with this, in the preamble to

the Part 258 regulation, the EPA acknowledges that a

legally permitted sanitary landfill is subject to the

liability provisions of the CERCLA (FR. 56, p.  51091-2)

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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"