National Sludge Alliance
NSA Public Fact Sheet 113
Is it Toxic Sludge or Cow Manure Poisoning Our Food Supply?
Since the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments (FWPCAA) was enacted in 1972, to build wastewater
(sewage) treatment plants, Congress and the EPA have appeared to be direct opposition on the environmental laws
concerning toxic sewage sludge generated from the plants and the protection of public health. The byproduct of
cleaning up our sewage was millions of tons of pathogen contaminated sewage sludge which the EPA, FDA and USDA
has promoted as a safe fertilizer for lawns, gardens and food crops production land with no liability for any damages to
human health or the environment. (Public Facts #100, #101)
According to EPA Scientist David L. Lewis, part of the problem came about because "--Congress increased the EPA's
funding levels and workloads while the executive branch reduced the size of the federal workforce." "By late 1993, the
organization charged with ensuring that US environmental regulations are scientifically sound became hopeless
gridlocked." "Whereas the problems encumbering the agency's scientist have accrued over almost three decades, a
major shift in resources from in-house to extramural research during the past ten years is largely responsible for
science at EPA reaching a state of crisis." (Lewis 1996)
The Wastewater (sludge) Division of the EPA is an example of the EPA's state of crisis. Whereas the Hazardous and
Solid Waste Division of the EPA take extreme precautions to protect the environment and public health, the Wastewater
Division claims to operate under an exclusion in the federal laws and its regulation promotes the dumping of hazardous
and toxic contaminated sewage sludge on food crops as a fertilizer. Not only that, but it has funded a 1.2 million dollar
public relations campaign, part of which is directed at lobbying Congress to regulate cow manure. (Public Facts #101)
Lewis continues, "To look at this from another perspective, consider what it would be like to for the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention to use this approach. Begin by erasing most of their knowledge about the biological aetiology of
human disease, then give them independent authority. Let them take their best guesses at, for example, what steps
should be taken to prevent disease outbreaks of influenza and other infectious diseases. Finally, codify their guesswork
and conservative safety factors into costly regulations for which noncompliance carries fines and imprisonment. Few
people would support such an irrational approach to protecting public health: yet this is basically what happens when
environmental regulations are promulgated and enforced without knowledge of how most living organism interact with
environmental changes. (Lewis 1996)
The CDC is now guessing the cause of disease outbreaks, and the Wastewater Division of the EPA has had an
irrational approach to protecting the environment and public health since its inception. As an example, Federal and
State grants provided 87.5 % of the money to build the required secondary sewage treatment plants in the United
States during the 70s. Kansas City, Missouri is an example of the problems that too much money can cause when the
EPA appears to grant immunity from federal laws.
Kansas City chose to built a sewage treatment plant on an isolated 1,500 acre tract of land between a flood levee and
the Missouri River. The treatment plant, two 13 million gallon sludge lagoons and an 1100 acre sludge application site
were built not in a 100 year flood-plain, but in the levee restricted Missouri floodway a bare 20 years after the great
1951 flood and 20 years before the 1993 flood which put it treatment plant under 3 foot of water for 3 weeks.
Furthermore, the city and EPA ignored the engineering report which stated the soil was not suitable for lagoons or a
sanitary landfill (sludge application site). Not only that, but it was noted in the engineering report that parts of site were
expected to flood every five to 10 years and the lagoons were only protected from a fifty year flood.
While Kansas City has used the 1100 acre liquid sludge application site for growing food crops, it has never warned the
contract farmers that there could be any health problems from contact with the sludge site. This lack of concern for
public health safety has been demonstrated by EPA since 1981. Before minimum scientific research was done on the
dangers of toxic sewage sludge, the federal government (1981), "EPA, FDA and USDA jointly issued a document
establishing guidance on the use of sewage sludge in the production of fruits and vegetables.----EPA Report No.
SW905. It states that if the procedures contained in the document are followed, the resulting crops should be safe for
human consumption. However, the document contains the following disclaimer: "the Federal Government cannot offer
any indemnity against product recalls, sizures, or other enforcement action." (Bulletin)
The National Food Processors Association (NFPA) had serious reservation about the use of sewage sludge as a
fertilizer as noted in its November 5, 1981 policy statement: "The NFPA, however, has serious concern that sludges
produced by POTW's (Public Owned Treatment Works) may contain heavy metals, human pathogens and toxic
compounds which could have potential health effects on the consumers of foods produced on lands to which sludges
have been applied. The potential to public health has not been adequately evaluated." (Bulletin)
The NFPA also noted that, "Sewage sludge can contain human pathogens that could infect farm workers and others
who may enter the fields. It may also contain heavy metals and other toxics (PCBs) that will appear as residues in or on
the foods." (Bulletin)
By 1989, EPA had confirmed there were at least 25 family groups (hundreds) of pathogens (disease causing agents)
and at least 15 carcinogenic agents (cancer causing agents) in sewage sludge. When the sewage sludge regulation
(part 503) was released in 1993, the EPA had confirmed 126 priority toxic pollutants (plus pathogens) in sewage sludge
that the regulation acknowledge would cause death, disease, cancer, etc, when exposure was either direct by ingestion,
inhalation or indirectly through the food-chain. (FR. 58, p. 9327)
Kansas City, like many other municipalities, began it pilot toxic sewage sludge application program on food crop
production land in 1981. The sludge application site was not fully operational until 1991. It was monitored by the state
until the EPA released its self-permitting sludge regulation (part 503) in 1993. At that time, the states quit monitoring the
sites, and according to EPA documents, it claimed no one could be held responsibility for any human health or
environmental damages caused by sewage sludge as long as it was called a fertilizer, even if a Superfund site was
Could there be a relationship between sewage sludge use and food borne disease outbreaks? "according to Dr. David
Swerdlow, a CDC epidemiologist, Between 1982 and 1992 there were 15 reported deaths from E. coli. Now there are an
estimated 200 to 250 deaths and 20,000 cases of E. coli- induced disease reported every year in the United States."
"It's one of the leading causes of kidney failure in kids," says Swerdlow." (Houppert. 1997)
However, the situation is much worse than Houppert reports in her article. The media reports President Clinton wants
Congress to spend 43 million dollars to fight food contamination that have affected millions of people, such as deadly
disease outbreaks from hamburgers, apple juice, orange juice and other foods such as lettuce and strawberries.
Isaacs, (1996) noted, part the disease organisms (found in beneficial use sewage sludge), which caused these health
effects, Salmonella, E. coli, hepatitis A, Cyclosporia and others, according to the National Center for Disease Control,
cause approximately 50 million cases of food poisoning and 9,000 deaths annually.
Yet, according to the current theory promoted by the EPA as well as the CDC and state epidemiologists in the articles,
E. coli outbreaks are caused by contaminated cow manure or as in the case of CDC documented "cases of lake and
pond swimmers who came down with E. coli poisoning, (it was) likely from infected children who'd defecated in the water."
In reality, pathogen contaminated sewage sludge or improperly treated wastewater from the sewage treatment plants
used to fertilizer or irrigate crops may be a more likely source of the disease outbreaks, since the regulation warns that
the pollutants in the toxic sewage sludge could cause death, disease, cancer, etc. when the exposure is through the
food-chain, and EPA estimates there were 20,000 sludge application sites in 1993. (FR. 58. pp. 9389, 9406)
However, there is a major problem the American public should be aware of. There is no one there too protect the
public's health. As an example, when some of the same concerns were brought to the attention of the Missouri Health
Department in 1991, Dr. John R. Bagby, Director, replied in a letter dated, April 30, 1991, "I will ask to confer with him
(Tracy Mehan, Director) about this issue since, as you know, the Department of Natural Resources (environmental
department) has more statutory authority in the area of sludge disposal than the Department of Health."
While the state environmental departments have not been concerned with the public health aspects of food
contamination, they no longer accept any responsibility for protection of the environment from hazardous or toxic sludge
"fertilizer". As an example, in a letter to Kansas City, Missouri, the Department of Natural Resources attempted to wash
its hands of the problem, "These (wastewater treatment plant) inspections did not address compliance with EPA sludge
regulations under 40 CFR 503. These regulations are self- implementing and directly enforceable without being
included in your state operating permit" (Dettman, June 23, 1994).
The question NFPA asked in 1981, is relevant today, "whether consumers would willingly purchase and consume foods
if they knew that sewage sludge had been used in their production? (Bulletin, p. 36)
Bulletin 851 March 1985, NFPA Position Concerning Sludge Use on Cropland. p. 36. The Pennsylvania State University.
Dettman, Ellen J. 1994. Water Pollution Unit Chief, Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Official transmittal letter
to H.E. Snider, Director of Kansas City's Water and Pollution Control Department.
Houppert, Helen. 1997. "Health Alert: New Facts About Food Poisoning, Readers Digest. May 1997, pp. 111- 114.
Isaacs, Florence. 1996. "Is your fruit safe to eat." Fitness, Oct. 1996, pp. 47-48.
Lewis, David L., EPA science: casualty of election politics, Nature -Vol. 381 -27 June 1996) University, University Park,