National Sludge Alliance
NSA Public Fact Sheet 108
Public Health vs Removal Credits
Congress mandated EPA develop comprehensive regulations under the Clean Water Act (CWA) for the control of toxic
pollutants in sludge and cautioned, "These regulations must be "adequate to protect human health and the
environment from any reasonable anticipated adverse effect of each pollutant." Section 405(d)(2)(D)." (1993-FR. 58, p.
According to Congress, "(13) The term "toxic pollutant" means those pollutants, or combinations of pollutants, including
disease causing agents, which after discharge and upon exposure, ingestion, inhalation or assimilation into any
organism [living entity], either directly from the environment or indirectly by ingestion through food chains, will, on the
basis of information available to the Administrator, cause death, disease, behavioral abnormalities, cancer, genetic
mutations, physiological malfunctions (including malfunctions in reproductions) of physical deformations, in organisms
[people or animals] or their offspring." (Title 33, part 1362, also see 503.9(t))
However, according to EPA, "The term "toxic pollutant" is not used in the final 1993 part 503 regulation because this
generally is limited to the list of priority toxic pollutants developed by EPA. The Agency concluded that Congress
intended that EPA develop the part 503 pollutant limits for a broader range of substances that might interfere with the
use and disposal of sewage sludge, not just the 126 priority pollutants." (FR. 58, 32, p. 9327)
EPA ignored congress and its own list of 126 priority pollutants. Yet, EPA claims, "The rule [part 503] includes specific
numerical limits (or equations for calculating these limits) for 10 pollutants when sewage sludge is used or disposed by
one or more methods. --- The numerical limits derived from the exposure assessment models are designed to protect
public health or the environment from reasonably anticipated adverse effects" [from these 10 pollutants]. (FR. 58, 9254)
The National Research Council (NRC) outlined the classes for the 126 Priority Toxic Pollutants which could damage
public health and the environment. "The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified Priority Pollutants in
regulations that deal with municipal and industrial wastewater (EPA, 1984) due to their toxicity to humans and the
aquatic environment. These Priority Pollutants are divided into four classes; (1) heavy metals (oftentimes referred to as
trace elements or trace metals) and cyanide, (2) volatile organic compounds, (3) semivolatile organic compounds, and
(4) pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). In addition, nontoxic organic compounds in wastewater can be
transformed into potential toxic chlorinated compounds, such as trihalomethanes, when chlorine is used for disinfection
purposes (National Research Council, 1980)." (National Research Council Study, Use of Reclaimed Water and Sludge
in Food Crop Production. p. 100. 1996. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.)
However, EPA acknowledged that it was not going to protect public health or the environment. "The Agency recognizes
that today's rule [part 503] may not regulate all pollutants in sewage sludge that may adversely effect public health and
the environment." (1993-FR. 58, 9253)
In reality, EPA never planned to protect public health or the environment. "The assessment does not quantify
ecological losses caused by plant or animal toxicity, even though some numerical limits in today's proposal are based
on animal and plant toxicity values. Methodologies and data are not yet available to accurately estimate the ecological
impacts from the use and disposal of sludge." (FR. 54,p.5780)
Not only that, but EPA readily acknowledges that, "Sewage sludge with high concentrations of certain organic and metal
pollutants may pose human health problems when disposed of in sludge-only landfills (often referred to as monofills) or
simply left on the land surface, if the pollutants leach from the sludge into ground water. Therefore, the pollutant
concentrations may need to be limited or other measures such as impermeable liners must be taken to ensure that
ground water is not contaminated." (FR. 58, 9259)
EPA also found that, "In ocean disposal, certain pollutants often associated with municipal sludge, including mercury,
cadmium, and polychlorinated biphenyls, can bioaccumulate. High levels of these pollutants can interfere with the
reproductive systems of certain marine organisms, may produce toxic effects in aquatic life, or may present public
health problems if individuals eat contaminated fish and shellfish." (FR. 58, 9259)
Furthermore, EPA did not account for all of the 21 carcinogens (cancer causing agents) acknowledged to be in sludge
in the 1989 proposed part 503. Nor was Dioxin included as a pollutant or cancer causing agent. Five of these cancer
causing agents are listed by the EPA as carcinogenic when inhaled in dust. (1989, FR. 54, p. 5777)
Nor did EPA acknowledge that all of the regulated hazardous substances (pollutants) listed in part 503 for safe use on
crops are listed by the National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOSH) as a poison by inhalation, ingestion or other
routes. NIOSH also has data which not only shows the regulated hazardous substances in sludge are poisonous, nine
are cancer causing agents, and they will cause mutagenic effects.
Yet, the EPA "scientists" failed to address 116 of the priority toxic pollutants and claim the 10 hazardous substances
(toxic pollutants originally addressed in part 503) and their compounds are safe at the ceiling levels allowed in sludge,
when used as a fertilizer. In any other case, the 10 pollutants are poisons:
Arsenic (NIOSH CC 4025000) by inhalation or ingestion-carcinogen-mutagenic data.
Cadmium (NIOSH EU 9800000) by inhalation and other routes-carcinogen-mutagenic data.
Chromium (NIOSH GB 4200005) by inhalation and other routes-carcinogen-mutagenic data.
Copper (NIOSH GL 5325000) by ingestion and other routes-carcinogen-mutagenic data.
Lead (NIOSH OF 7525000) by ingestion and other routes-carcinogen-mutagenic data.
Mercury (NIOSH OV 4550000) by inhalation and other routes-carcinogen-mutagenic data.
Molybdenum (NIOSH QA 4680000) by inhalation, ingestion and other routes.
Nickel (NIOSH QR 5950000) by inhalation, ingestion and other routes-carcinogen-mutagenic data.
Selenium (NIOSH US 7700000) by inhalation and other unknown routes-carcinogen (causes blind staggers in cattle).
Zinc (NIOSH ZG 8600000) by ingestion and other routes-carcinogen.
According to the EPA, "The aggregate risk assessment estimates that current use and disposal practices [for these 10
pollutants] contribute from less than one up to five cancer cases annually, with a lifetime cancer risk to a highly
exposed individual ranging from 6x10-4 (6 in 10,000) for land application and surface disposal of sludge and from
6x10-4 to 7x10-3 (7 in a 1,000) for incineration. The other health effects associated with sludge use and disposal are
primarily related to lead exposure and result in approximately 2,000 individuals who exceed a threshold blood lead level
associated with adverse health effects and 700 instances of hypertension in adult males or diminished learning
capacity in children." (FR. 58, 9255)
EPA appears to have based these numbers on the risk assessment model for lead at the recommended level of 300
ppm in sludge which was "consistent with current sewage sludge quality at all but a small number of POTWs". However,
the EPA allows 840 ppm of lead in sewage sludge fertilizer. (FR. 58, pp. 9286, 9392 -503.13 Tables)
Nevertheless, "EPA concluded that adequate protection of public health and the environment did not require the
adoption of standards designed to protect human health or the environment under exposure conditions that are
unlikely and where effects were not significant or widespread." (FR. 58, 9252)
Is there more to the toxic pollutant contaminated sludge/biosolids debate than meets the eye? It would appear that the
sewage sludge regulation has less to do with the protection of public health and the environment, than a 1986 court
decision which found that, "EPA cannot, in the absence of section 405(d) regulations (part 503) authorize the issuance
of removal credits under section 307(b)(1)." This was a court decision which invalidated EPA's pretreatment regulations
on four aspects. (Natural Resources Defense Council v. EPA, 790 F. 2d 289 (3rd Cir. 1986) (FR. 58, p. 9261)
The 10 pollutants regulated by part 503 for land application are the same ones listed in Appendix G to Part 403 -
"Regulated Pollutants in Part 503 Eligible for a Removal Credit." Only three of the pollutants, Arsenic, Chromium and
Nickel, would be eligible for removal credits under the part 503 landfill disposal subpart. (1993-FR. 58, P. 9386)
However, the same three pollutants eligible for removal credits for part 503 surface landfill disposal are prohibited from
being disposed of in a part 503 regulated landfill because of the high ceiling levels of the pollutants. (Part 503.13 &
503.23 Tables - FR. 58, pp. 9362, 9396)
While the ceiling levels for certain toxic pollutants in beneficial use sludge prevented it from being disposed of in a part
503 regulated landfill, EPA has always claimed sludge is a fully researched, safe fertilizer for lawns, gardens and food
crop production land. Yet, EPA claims sewage sludge is excluded from the safety provisions of federal law (unless it is
put in a landfill) when the sludge is "considered" to be a fertilizer. Not only that but a release of hazardous substances
(toxic elements) from sludge is federally authorized by the self-implementing sludge regulation part 503, and therefore,
there is no liability under federal law for any human health or environmental damage cause by the use of
sludge/biosolids as a fertilizer. (Public Facts #101) -LSI-