National Sludge Alliance

NSA Public Fact Sheet 109
                                                                    Food Safety Claims

The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 should have been the Congressional capstone on 40 years of legislative action
to close the last remaining loophole in the environmental laws to protect public health from exposure to hazardous and
toxic substances and clean up the environment. However, where sewage sludge is concerned, Congress has not been
able to control the EPA and make the Congressional mandated laws work. In fact, on January 7, 1997, Congressman
Serrano of New York introduced a new food labeling Bill (H.R. 289, 1997) to identify food products grown on land
"fertilized" with contaminated sludge containing toxic pollutants.
Congressman Serrano's Bill was; "To amend the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the egg, meat, and poultry
inspection laws to ensure that consumers receive notification regarding food products produced from crops, livestock, or
poultry raised on land which sewage sludge was applied."
Some state legislators also introduced state bills to severely restrict the use of sewage sludge as a fertilizer on food
products. Senators Kuhl and Seward of New York introduced state Bill 2853) (February 25, 1997) to make agricultural
land on which sewage sludge is used ineligible for an agricultural assessment. Senator McCormack of Vermont
introduced state Bill S179 (March 1997) to restrict pollutants to 1/10 the levels allowed by EPA in 40 CFR 503 sewage
sludge use and disposal regulation.
State legislators have good reason for this action, 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)
However, according to EPA, "The term "toxic pollutant" is not used in the final 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)
As noted above, Congress felt the environmental laws were needed to protect the public's health from exposure to toxic
pollutants through the food chains by acknowledging that the pollutants WILL cause death, etc., and the EPA agrees in
part 503.9(t) that exposure to the pollutants in sludge through the food-chain could cause death, etc. So, why is EPA
using perceived loopholes in the laws to justify the use of toxic contaminated sludge as fertilizer and only addressing 9
toxic pollutants in the regulation? (Public Facts #101)
The reaction to the advent of the Food Quality Protection Act which was by Congress in 1996 has been dramatic: 1)
Almost a quarter of the States rushed to enact food slander laws to prevent vocal complaints against adulterated food
products; 2) EPA prevailed on the National Academy of Science's National Research Council (NRC) to release an
unedited (and very flawed) scientific study on the positive benefits of using sludge as a fertilizer on food crops; and 3)
EPA quickly changed the Sludge Use and Disposal Regulation (40 CFR 503) by removing the ref erence to regulating
the extremely high toxic Chromium limits from the beneficial sludge use tables in part 503.13.
The basic premise of the "food slander laws" is that the media will not carry any "horror" stories about contaminated
food products that have not been proven scientifically. However, even the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) own
recommendations would violate the food slander laws: "(e.) Because sewage can be regarded as filth, food physically
contaminated with sludge can be considered adulterated even though there is no direct health hazard. Sludge should
not be applied directly to growing or mature crops where sludge particles may remain in or on the food. (f.) Commercial
compost and bagged fertilizer products derived from sludges should be labeled properly to minimize contamination of
crops in the human food chain which may result from their use. (c.) Crops which are customarily eaten raw should not be
planted within three years after the last sludge application. (d.) Crops such as green beans, beets, etc. which may
contaminate other foods in the kitchen before cooking should not be grown in sludge-treated land unless the sludge
gives a negative test for pathogens." (Table 14. FDA Recommendations to EPA on the Land Application of Sludge (66,
75, 76), EPA-600-1-80- 025, May 1980)
When the FDA made the recommendations in Table 14, in 1980, little was known about the toxicity of the pollutants in
sludge or the infinite number of pathogens (disease causing agents) in sludge. Nor was the methodology available to
measure pathogen destruction, toxic elements or assess the risks to human health from the toxic pollutants in sludge.
However, FDA did recommend: "(Table 14, a.) Sludges should not contain more than 20 ppm Cadmium, 1000 ppm lead
or 10 ppm PCBs on the dry weight."
EPA disagreed with the FDA on lead, "The Agency, therefore, decided to select the more conservative numerical limit
for the final part 503 to minimize lead exposure to children and set the allowable exposure limit at 300 ppm for this
pathway (direct ingestion)---In addition, a 300 ppm lead concentration in sludge is consistent with current sewage sludge
quality at all but a very small number of POTWs."
What happened? Ninety-six pages later, EPA raised the lead level 540 ppm above the highly protective level of 300 ppm
to 840 ppm and PCB's were raised to 50 ppm. (FR. 58, pp. 9286 & 9382 / Table 1 of Part 503.13 -503.6).
Not only that, but the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health(NIOSH) has data on many thousands of
pollutants. As an example, the ten heavy metals addressed in sludge (Arsenic, Cadmium, Chromium, Copper, Lead,
Mercury, Molybdenum, Nickel, Selenium and Zinc) "regulated" by Part 503 are all identified by NIOSH as poisonous by
inhalation or ingestion or by other routes. NIOSH identified nine of the heavy metals as cancer causing agents. NIOSH
also has data which show seven of the heavy metals cause mutagenic effects in living organisms. (Public Facts #108)
Since 1981, EPA has claimed sewage sludge was safe for use on food crops. Yet, at that time the methodology was not
available to test for dioxins. The EPA still does not have a human health risk assessment model in place. The Peer
Review workshop is only now (March 1997) being held. (Jan, 1997-FR. 62, p. 8241, 42)
Not only that, but EPA has just requested "Investigator- Initiated Grants on Health Effects of Arsenic." According to EPA,
"In conducting these studies it is also essential to address availability of arsenic absorption from ingested foods, as well
as arsenic speciation (chemical form and oxidation state). (Dec, 1996-FR. 61, p. 64739, 40)
The EPA still has not released its Congressional mandated report on mercury which was due in 1994. Based on media
reports, the report may not be released for another four years. (Bender, M.,(April 1997) Waste Dynamics- Northeast,
Vol. 8, No. 2 )
If the EPA is only now studying the health effects of Arsenic in food, working on the human health risk assessment model
for dioxin, and refuses to release the mercury study, why would the National Research Council produce an EPA funded
scientific study which concluded that sludge/biosolids was safe for use on food crops, except for the access restrictions
for pathogens ? (Use of Reclaimed Water and Sludge in Food Crop Production, 1996)
EPA only requires the reduction of pathogens based on the number of fecal coliform, "less than 1000 Most Probable
Number per gram of total solids" for unrestricted Class A sludge or "less than 2,000,000 Most Probable Number per
gram of total solids" for Class B sludge. (FR. 58, p. 9399 - Part 503.32)
EPA claims that to prevent pathogen regrowth in Class A sludge, "the sewage sludge shall be injected below the land
surface within eight hours after being discharged from the treatment process." or "Sewage sludge applied to the land
surface or placed on surface disposal site shall be incorporated into the soil within six hours after application to or
placement on the land." (FR. 58, p. 9401 - 503.33(9)(iii)(10)(i))
Actually, the NRC report did not conclude sludge/biosolids was safe to use in food crop production! The NRC scientific
study was a public relations document designed to be used in food slander law suits against people who have been
harmed by sludge/biosolids use. (Report to National Sludge Roundtable, July 20, 1996. Toxic Sludge is Safe for Your
Food says National Academy of Science. Laredo Safety Institute, Laredo, Tx.)
According to the NRC study, "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 study also notes, "Related regulations pertain to toxic waste handling and treatment, surface and groundwater
protection, and public health. These regulations and their overlapping authority are complex and need to be adequately
explained to both the regulatory community and the interested public to avoid confusion and the perception that
beneficial use is a disguise for the dumping of waste." (p.172)
The study is qualified, "If it were not for this regulatory framework and investment by industry, beneficial use sludge
would not be a viable option." (p. 165)
However, it appears that the NRC Committee failed to check its source of information, the EPA. Nor did the Committee
read the regulation (which showed at the time) that beneficial sludge/biosolids fertilizer was too contaminated with
arsenic and chromium to be disposed of in a part 503 regulated landfill. (part 503.13 and 503.23, 1995)
Not only that, the committee offers 40 CFR parts 135, ("If public drinking water does not meet mandatory requirement,
suppliers must provide notice to customers."), and 256 (state solid waste management plans) as protective regulations.
(pp. 165,6) Part 135 actually is for the Prior Notification of Citizens suits against the polluters and part 256 existed in
name only, it was never funded.
The most alarming part of the NRC scientific study was the reference to the one limited epidemic study on human
exposure to sludge which was attributed to: Brown, R.E, and titled, Demonstration of acceptable systems for land
disposal of sewage sludge. Water Engineering Research Lab. EPA 600/Z- 85- 062. Cincinnati, Ohio: U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency.
The Brown paper was a third party two page abstract of the actual study which noted the World Health Organization
(WHO, 1981) reported a positive association and a cycle of infections of Salmonella from humans to sludge to animals
to humans where cattle grazed on sludge treated pastures. (Municipal Sewage Sludge Application on Ohio Farms:
Health Effects. Dorn, R.C., et al, Environmental Research 38, 332- 335). - LSI -