Chapter Two


While the NRC Report appears to be a well written

literature review of selected scientific studies, with

the appropriate scientific disclaimers and qualifying

statements for problems the Committee found, co-author

Michael Baram, a professor of public health law at the

Boston University School of Public Health, one of the 14

authors of the report, disagrees with the reports

conclusion, not for the misstatements of facts on the

federal regulations or law, but for the infectious

disease aspects.

Baram's statement of public dissent is quoted by

Joel Bleifuss in the June 10, 1996 edition of IN THESE

TIMES: "Having served on the NAS [the National Academy

of Sciences, which in turn operates the National

Research Council], which authored the report, I would

not want EPA-approved sludge applied to land in my

community nor to land within the watershed of my water

supply system. Nor would I want to purchase or consume

sludge-grown foods or foods containing sludge-grown

ingredients. ... [Sludge] poses risks to the health of

persons who would be exposed to it. ...The EPA

regulation which permits farmland application of treated

sludge (Part 503) does not prevent these risks."

Baram also puts the NRC Report in perspective.

"You can just look to see who's paying for all this, and

you get a pretty good idea of the vested interest

involved." Furthermore, according to Baram, "It's a main

weakness of the report that it did not probe

sufficiently into the infectious disease aspects... We

spent most of our time just determining if the EPA used

risk-analysis that met professional standards."

Not only that, "But the trouble is," according to

Baram, "that there were many (different topics of

concern) they didn't include in the risk-analysis.  They

only picked a subset of things to study and they didn't

do risk-analysis of infectious disease organisms," he

says.  (Baram is quoted from a Boulder Weekly article,

As the Topsoil Turns, by Greg Campbell, May 2, 1996.

Baram's statement of public dissent was also quoted in

the article)

There are a number of other major problems with the

Committee's literary review, (1) it did not determine if

the EPA actually used the risk-analysis in the final

regulation, [it didn't,] (2) it did not evaluate the one

health study done to prove that sludge was safe for use

on crops, it quoted from a third party abstract, rather

than the original study, (3) it failed to evaluate the

EPA's own research on sludge safety in relationship to

the regulation, given in the preamble to the regulation,

(4) it assured the public sludge used on crops was safe,

yet, the same sludge can not be disposed of in a part

503 disposal site because it may damage the environment,

(5) it assured the public that federal regulations

protected the quality of food grown on the sludge

amended land and public health, yet, the NRC did not

study the fate of crops grown with sludge, and (6) it

assured the public that the part 503 regulation

(guideline) was the law, and as long as the regulation

was followed, there could be no problems, yet the

Committee were aware sludge dumping on farms for crop

production was excluded from the protective provisions

of federal environmental law.

As scientists, the NRC Committee were also aware

that initially (1979), the EPA only restricted the use

of sludge based on PCB and Cadmium contamination.  The

EPA's restrictions were based on limited scientific

pollutant studies of the time period. Yet, since that

time, the EPA has developed a list of 126 priority

pollutants that are known to cause health problems,

malformation of fetuses and death.  Furthermore, the EPA

has gathered documented scientific evidence of at least

25 primary pathogens groups (families of disease causing

organisms) and 21 carcinogenic (cancer causing) agents

in sludge.  Moreover, the EPA estimates there are

500,000 reportable (controlled) industrial chemicals,

which could enter the treatment plants, thereby creating

other chemical compounds of unknown toxicity. Not only

that, but the chlorine disinfection process used by some

treatment plants may convert some of the 500,000

chemicals into other unknown highly toxic carcinogenic


An example of the potential danger of compound

conversions was noted by (Babish, et al, 1981, Cornell

Special Report (SR) No. 42), "Trimethylamine in sewage

is converted to the potential carcinogen

dimethylinitrosamine.  Dimethylinitrosamine formed in

soil to which dimethylamine and nitrite were added, but

only when organic matter was present.

Dimethylinitrosamine and diethylinitrosamine continue to

volatilize from soils for several weeks following

incorporation. The half-life of these compounds in soil

is about 3 weeks....The demonstrated carcinogen,

dimethylinitrosamine, which can form in sludge, has also

been shown to be absorbed by spinach and lettuce." (SR.


The NRC Report included a warning that chlorine

could convert nontoxic coumpounds into toxic elements

from the NRC's own 1980 study.

"In addition, nontoxic organic compounds in

wastewater can be transformed into potentially toxic

chlorinated organic compounds, such as trihalomethane,

when chlorine is used for disinfection purposes

(National Research Council, 1980)." (p. 100)

However, the warning was not as clear as that

reported for Rock's 1976 study.

" Rock (1976) discovered that chlorine used in

disinfection reacts with natural occurring humic

substances in water to form trihalomathanes (THMs), the

most prevalent species among them are chlorform,

bromodichloromethane, dibromochlorimethane, and

bromoform." (p. 106)

Lisk (L)(1988, unpublished paper), put the organic

problem in perspective, "One can argue that organics in

sludge are no more harmful than pesticides which are

applied to crops. However, pesticides are molecules of

known identity and up to seven years of intensive

research, costing up to $15 million has been spent on

each, exhaustively studying their fate in plants, soils,

animals and aquatic species including metabolism,

toxicity, carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, birth defects,

etc.  By contrast, sludge is a complex mixture of

countless synthetic and natural compounds of mostly

unknown structure, properties, toxicity, or fate and

effects in the environment, including man.....The legal

aspect is also of paramount importance. Let us assume

that a farmers wife has a deformed infant after the

farmer has used sludge on his land. There may be no

connection whatsoever.  However, with the judicial

process today for citizens bringing all kinds of damage

suits to court, who is going to disprove the plaintiffs

claims? Are the proponents of sludge use on land willing

to sign on the dotted line as to their willingness to be

held responsible for possible hazards whether real or

fabricated which may result in litigation?  More likely,

they will be unavailable for comment." (L. p. 1-3)

NAS Committee member Baram wasn't willing to sign

on the dotted line. As noted, he has already issued a

public statement disagreeing with the report's


It would appear the Committee initially went along

with the EPA's public relations disinformation campaign

strategy that the public and legal community can be

fooled by a limited literary review on the public

perception of food crop safety, when it is presented as

a scientific study.  Moreover, it is clear from the

final recommendation in the NRC study that this is a

public relations disinformation campaign to defuse the

toxic time bomb the `Compliance and Enforcement

Division' was giving them to explain away when it

states; "Part 503...  merely augument...existing...

programs and controls...that have responsibly mitigated

risks from these practices in the past...These

regulations (EPA, FDA, USDA) and their overlapping

authority are complex and need to be adequately

explained to both the regulatory community and

interested public to avoid confusion and the perception

that beneficial use is a disguise for the dumping of

waste." (p.172) If the regulatory community doesn't

understand the regulations, how could the NRC report

assure the public that crops grown with sludge is safe?

The NRC statement is very misleading and yet at the

same time explains the rationale for the NRC report,

"the perception that beneficial use is a disguise for

the dumping of waste".  There is a very good reason for

the perception that beneficial use is a disguise for the

dumping of solid waste.  The EPA acknowledges that if a

sludge dumper does not claim the right to use sludge as

a fertilizer, it must be placed in a highly regulated

legal landfill.  According to the EPA in the preamble to

the regulation 40 CFR 257 et al.  (part 503), "When the

sewage sludge is not used to condition the soil or to

fertilize crops or vegetation on land, the sewage sludge

is not being land applied. It is being disposed of on

land.  In that case (it's illegal), and the requirements

in the subpart on surface disposal in the final part 503

regulation must be met." (Federal Register (FR.) 58, p.


Basically, the EPA reinforced the "perception" that

beneficial use is a disguise for dumping when it stated

that if sludge can't be used as a fertilizer - the

sludge must be put in a legal part 503 landfill -

however, the sludge allowed for beneficial use is too

contaminated to be placed in a legal part 503 landfill!

Furthermore, according to the EPA, "EPA does not

believe that procedures yet exist for making `most

likely' or `best' estimates of risk." (Proposed 503-FR.

54, p. 9273) This statement was made before the higher

levels of toxic pollutants were allowed in the final

sludge regulation.

If the EPA does not believe the procedures yet

exist to make a best estimate of risk, how could the NRC

Committee conclude sludge use was safe from a limited

computer data base of studies?

The last paragraph in the NRC report indicates the

nature of the problem with the Regulation and sludge

disposal: "The suite of existing federal regulations,

available avenues for additional state and local

regulatory actions, and private sector forces appear

adequate to allow, with time and education, the

development of safe beneficial reuse of reclaimed

wastewater and sludge." (p. 172)

The NRC Committee claimed sludge use on crops was

safe, but it now states that only with additional state

and local regulatory actions, private sector forces,

time and education, safe beneficial sludge use can be

developed. It can't be both ways, either the program is

safe or it's not.

Furthermore, the NRC report was based on reviewing

the EPA's methods and procedures used in the EPA risk

assessment research, which stated safe sludge use was

not proven, "The Agency has concluded that the standards

adopted today are adequately protective based on its

assessment of the available data.  However, to verify

its conclusion about the adequacy of today's standards,

the Agency is committing to develop a comprehensive

environmental evaluation and monitoring study." (FR. 58,

p. 8275)

The Agency may have concluded the standards were

adequate, but the Peer Review Committee didn't and these

were also scientists.  According to the Peer Review,

there were serious problems with the Technical Support

Document: "1) The EPA documents (Proposed Rule and

Technical Support Document) suffered from serious

scientific deficiencies...b. Data was misinterpreted and

misuse was common in the TSD...2) The risk assessment

components of the EPA Proposed Rule need considerable

improvement, 3) Computer models of risk assessment from

sludge-applied pollutants are inadequate.

Conceptualization is poor, and validation with field

results were missing...5) Additional sludge constituents

need consideration in the proposed rules. Sludge F

(Florine) and Fe (iron) can cause toxicity to livestock

and wildlife by direct ingestion of some sludges...We

did not regard it as our responsibility nor did time

permit us to correct ever error in the proposed rule or

in the TSD." (pp. 27-8)

Did the NRC Committee review the complete Peer

Group report? Or the results?  Apparently not.

After the Peer Group report, the final part 503 was

changed, for the worse.  The EPA threw the "scientific"

risk assessment models out the window and continued with

its beneficial sludge dumping policy, although it had

even warned people that sludge use might not be safe.

The EPA acknowledges in the preamble to the regulation

that, "...  other factors may bias results in the

opposite direction. In addition, some assumptions are

based on longstanding Agency policy and reflect risk

management choices. Again, some of these assumptions are

conservative, while others are less conservative. The

sections that follow examine the uncertainties in

several important aspects of the risk assessment: human

health, human exposure pathway, plant toxicity and

uptake, effects on wildlife, and ground water impacts."

(FR. 58, p. 9273)

In effect, when the sludge regulation was

published, February of 1993, the EPA still didn't know

how safe sludge use would be on farms for human health,

plants, wildlife or what it would do to ground water.

The EPA was not sure whether 501 people would be harmed

or die, or 5,001 people, so, it made a risk management


Yet, the NRC report concluded human health was

protected and sludge was safe for crop use based on the

regulation requirements AND ONE APPLICATION OF SLUDGE

used in the risk assessment study.

Moreover, the NRC report failed to note the

limitation of the risk assessment, according to the EPA;

"One important limitation of the assessment through food

is the projected effects are estimated only for sewage

sludge applied in a single year.  Multi-year

applications were not evaluated, thus, the effects would

be underestimated for pollutants that remain in the soil

for long periods of time without decomposing, especially

the heavy metals." (FR.  54, p. 5781)

It appears that both the EPA and the NRC Committee

based their primary conclusion, that sludge is safe for

use on crops, on the EPA's computer exposure model which

assumes the harvested and food products are being spread

out to the total population and the average individual

exposure within the total population would be minimal.

(FR. 54, p. 5779) Not only that, but the primary focus

of the NRC report was on the transmission of infectious

diseases and not health damage caused by poisonous heavy

metals or toxic organics.

Since the EPA acknowledges that sludge use may not

be safe for use on crops and claims that sludge use on

crop land is excluded from the protective provisions of

the federal environmental laws, why would the NRC Review

Committee try to change the reality of public

perception, by assuring the public it is fully protected

by a number of overlapping federal regulations

(guidelines), when, it acknowledges there are only three

options available for protecting public health from

"inappropriate behavior" by the treatment plant

operators and sludge dumpers.  "These include: (1)

common law liability, (2) market forces, and (3)

voluntary self-regulation." (p. 162)

Furthermore why didn't the NRC report acknowledge

the EPA literary review which discredits the NRC Report?

According to the preamble to the regulation, "In the

process of developing these regulations. EPA reviewed

the available scientific and technical literature for

information on sewage sludge. That search did not turn

up any evidence that the use of sewage sludge is causing

any significant or widespread adverse effects. While

anecdotal, the evidence tends to confirm what EPA's

(computer) risk assessment review showed more

scientifically."  (FR. 58, p. 9249)

In effect, the EPA used anecdotal (hearsay)

evidence to confirm its computer models or was it the

reverse, and it used computer models to confirm the

hearsay evidence? It wasn't really a matter of whether

sludge is safe to use on crops, but whether there was

enough data to create the public perception that sludge

used on crops is safe, as the EPA, FDA, and USDA, has

claimed since 1981, and EPA has promoted since 1984 with

its Beneficial Sludge Use Policy.

Furthermore, why would the EPA Compliance and

Enforcement Division request a private NAS scientific

study on public health perception issues concerning the

use of sludge in crop production after "40 years of

intensive study", 14 years of compliance and enforcement

experience -scientific and technology research - and

after the final scientific sludge regulation was

released?  What could the NAS report possible do for the

EPA's Compliance and Enforcement Division, that the

EPA's own Science and Technology Division didn't do?

The NAS Committee explains: "It is hoped that this

report will be particularly useful to food processors,

states, and municipalities in assessing the use of

treated municipal wastewater and sludge in producing

crops for human consumption." (p. viii)

While the NRC report "hopes" the report will be

useful to food processor and the dumpers, it assures the

public and the courts that sludge is safe to use on

crops Yet, the report did not explain how the sludge was

safe to use on crops, when it couldn't be placed in a

highly regulated part 503 landfill or the crops were not

tested for toxic effects.

Actually, as already noted, the EPA's own research

contradicts the findings and conclusions of the NRC

report.  Before we look at the six areas the NRC "sought

to review" lets look at an example of sludge when it was

first used as a "commercial" fertilizer.

According to Collongs in his book, Commercial

Fertilizers, (1955). "It would be expected that the

`rare earths' (hazardous pollutants) would remain in the

soil more tenaciously than the common elements,--."

Collings (1955) noted that the rare earth elements,

"Aluminum, Arsenic, barium, chromium, flourine, lead,

molybdenum, selenium, and thallium have been shown to be

toxic to plants or animals at relatively low

concentrations." (p. 163)

Furthermore, Collins noted that, "Rehling and Truog

(1939) found that milorganite (Milwaukee's commercial

sludge fertilizer) contained many of the rarer

elements (Hazardous pollutants)."

According to Collings, while sewage sludge has been

used as a mixture in commercial fertilizer since 1927,

the milorganite sludge was, "freed from grit and course

solids and aerated after being inoculated with

microorganisms. The resulting flocculated organic matter

is filtered, dried in rotary kilns, and then ground and

screened." (p. 130, Commercial Fertilizer, Fifth

Edition, 1955, Mcgraw Hill)

The NRC Committee appears to have based their

opinion that sludge is safe for use on crops on the same

type of processed sludge, which would have an extremely

reduced pathogen level. However, the treatment process

would not effect the toxic and carcinogenic heavy metal

levels in the sludge.

Furthermore, according to recent media reports,

milorganite is banned in Maryland, yet, it is a far cry

from EPA's current part 503 "Commercial Fertilizer"

which may contain 98 percent liquid, disease causing

agents (25 acknowledge pathogen groups) and 21

acknowledged cancer causing agents, and over 126

priority pollutants (extremely hazardous substances).

The EPA refers to all substances that can cause health

problems, deformation of fetuses, or death as


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"