National Sludge Alliance
NSA Public Fact Sheet 132
Biosolids: 60s Science Brings Death In Disguise
Kansas City Star Opinion writer, Jonah Goldberg, reports that in the last decade the waiting list for organ transplants
has dramatically increased from about 20,000 to 79,523 people in February of 2002. During the same time period,
foodborne contamination cases have increased from about 6.5 million cases in 1990 to about 34 million cases in 1994
(EPA), to 81million cases in 1997 (GAO). Once some deaths started being attributed to sludge, and the sludge activists
alerted Congress, there has been a small decrease to about 76 million cases annually (CDC)
During the same time period, EPA and its partners have been promoting toxic biosolids sludge as a fertilizer on lawns,
gardens and food crop production land. EPA’s part 503.9(t) states that exposure to toxic chemicals and pathogens in
biosolids sludge will cause the organ damage and foodborne illnesses.
The science used to promote biosolids sludge is simple. We get abstract opinions such as, they said: EPA said: There is
scientific consensus: The 1996 National Research Council concluded: -- that biosolids sludge is safe to use as a
fertilizer -- if all the laws, rules, and treatment processes work. Everybody that is anybody agrees that using sludge, as
a fertilizer should be safe for the farmers and food consumers if everyone did what they were supposed to. Except, we
do not know who all these people are that claim the toxic pollutants in sludge will not contaminate farmland, air, water, or
food crops. When questions are asked of individuals within EPA, it is a different story.
In reality, EPA cannot produce one scientific study to support its position that sludge can safely be used on farmland. By
its nature, a scientific study is very limited in scope and cannot address the EPA's lack of data on unknown toxic
pollutants in sludge. Furthermore, EPA documents show that disease-causing pathogens in sludge can live for years in
the soil. To overcome the lack of science, EPA and State biosolids sludge coordinators use their superior statutory
authority to prevent investigations by public health officials. EPA and its partners seem to think farmers, activists, and
legislators are not very smart.
EPA's self-proclaimed Sultan of Sludge, Dr. Alan Rubin, says, "The definition of "pollutant" in section 503.9(t) of the 40
CFR Part 503 Biosolids Rule is taken directly from the definitions section of the governing statute, the Clean Water Act.
However, the definition of a "pollutant" in section 503.9(t) was not taken from the Clean Water Act, which defines a
"pollutant" as sewage and sewage sludge, etc. Part 503.9(t) is actually the definition for a "toxic pollutant" under the
CWA. Furthermore, there is no 40 CFR 503 Biosolids Rule.
In reality, EPA does not define "biosolids” in the Official Terms of Environment at http://www.epa.
gov/OCEPAterms/bterms.html or in the Part 503 - Standards for the Use or Disposal of Sewage Sludge
There is no doubt, Rubin has had the power to override the wishes of Congress. In doing so, EPA has subverted the
environmental laws and prevented public health department investigation of public health complaints associated with
In 1993, EPA did mention biosolids in relationship to EPA's 1984 Beneficial Reuse Policy and the 1991 Interagency
Policy on Beneficial Use of Sewage Sludge. EPA stated, "sewage sludge is also often referred to as biosolids."
Furthermore, EPA stated, "The term biosolids has been used to distinguish sewage sludge that has been treated and
can be beneficially recycled." (58 FR. 9251).
The word "biosolids" used by EPA and the Water Environment Federation (WEF) was actually a public relations
campaign to have the word biosolids defined in Webster's Dictionary. From there it was easy to get the biosolids
definition included in the science textbooks. A few people at EPA, with too much power, have attempted to circumvent
the federal environmental laws by misusing its scientific partnership to rename sludge. Their program is intended to fool
the public. The legal facts are simple:
Sewage Sludge: Sludge produced at a Publicly Owned Treatment Works, the disposal of which is regulated under the
Clean Water Act.
Sludge: A semi-solid residue from any of a number of air or water treatment processes; can be a hazardous waste.
Dr. Rubin's group failed to do their job to protect public health and the environment, and told us so. According to EPA,
"Some commenters assumed incorrectly that the pollutants on Table III-3 in the preamble to the proposed part 503
regulation were the only pollutants for which EPA lacked adequate data to establish a "safe level. "
Table III-3 listed the pollutants that were recommended for further study but for which a positive determination was
made. Subsequently EPA admitted that there was lack of sufficient data to establish a safe level. Lack of data also
excluded additional pollutants of concern.
"The decision not to regulate does not necessarily mean that the unregulated pollutants may not threaten public health
and the environment."
"The "safe level" might be below the detection limit for some or all test procedures. The Agency believes, therefore, that
it must determine the "safe level" of a pollutant before removal credit authority can be granted for that pollutant." (58 FR
An example of this is Chromium. Removal credit is not authorized for chromium disposed of under the beneficial use
section of part 503 because there is no determined "safe level." In its 1995 RISK ASSESSMENT, EPA claimed the court
ordered it to remove chromium. In reality, EPA told the court it had no credible scientific studies, and then stated the
court ordered it to deleted all reference to the 3.000 mg/kg of Chromium from the beneficial use section. Actually, the
"safe level" for chromium is determined in the surface disposal section of part 503.23. The maximum "safe level" within
25 meters of the surface disposal boundary line is 200 mg/kg of Chromium.
Some within EPA still do not understand that since Sept. 10, 1979, Fecal coliform has been listed in part 401.16 as a
conventional pollutant designated pursuant to section 304(a)(4) of the Act: Yet, "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)" (NSA Fact Sheet #109)
EPA doesn't address the "regrowth" concerns noted by EPA and many scientists. Furthermore:
"Studies have documented Salmonella infection of cattle grazing on pastures fertilized with toxic sewage sludge and a
cycle of infection from humans to sludge to animals to humans. (Taylor and Burrows. 1971, WHO. 1981, Dorn, 1985) "
Studies have also documented the acute toxicity of organic pollutants in sewage sludge (which the EPA does not
address in the beneficial use regulation) and that the [toxic/hazardous] pollutants in sludge may not leave any indication
in the body as to the actual cause of death. (Babish. 1981, 1985).
Ocean dumping of New York City sewage sludge was stopped by Congress because it destroyed the ocean
environment where it was dumped. At the time, only 20% of New York City sludge was acceptable as EPA approved
fertilizer under the proposed sewage sludge regulation. (Schultz, 1989). (NSA Fact Sheet #110) Now all but about 27%
is dumped on farmland as a fertilizer.
It is evident that science was kicked out of EPA in 1985. Food contamination cases jumped to 80 million annually in
"1997 - CDC reports there were 15 deaths from E. coli between 1982 and 1992, during the pilot sludge project program.
Now, since the uncontrolled dumping of pathogen-contaminated sludge began in 1991, there are 200 to 250 deaths and
20,000 E. coli-induced diseases annually in the United States. (NSA Fact Sheet #113)
Also in, "1997 - EPA approves clean-up of radioactive superfund site by sending it into Denver Colorado sewage
treatment plant, to be mixed with sludge and sold as a fertilizer or used on food crop production land. (PF #112)
EPA started shutting down the sanitary landfills in 1988 in order to force the states to accept its sludge use policy. . Now
it is all our fault. *Beneficial use, according to two EPA funded "scientific studies" is based on the fact that "Suitable
landfill sites are, however, being exhausted. Thus sludge is now being applied to farmland by many municipalities."
(Dorn, 1985). and "The limited capacity of sanitary landfills is quickly exhausted, and communities are not providing for
new landfills." (National Research Council (NCR), 1996).
Yet, EPA said, Sludge disposed of in a sanitary landfill will not harm anyone, nor will it contaminate the food or water
supply. (Federal Register (FR.) 58, 32, p. 9375).
The part 503 sludge rule is in direct conflict with the intent of Congress and the known facts as of September 1992.
Congress has tried to be very clear about its concern for the public's health and the environment. This was reaffirmed in
1980, "Congress' "Overriding concern"--the safe handling of hazardous waste (H.R. Rep. at 3) and the elimination of
"the last remaining loophole" in environmental regulation (H.R Rep at 4) --must prevail" (FR 45-33092). No serious
action was taken by the EPA to close those loopholes and in 1984 Congress mandated the Hazardous and Solid Waste
Amendments to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Furthermore, in the Water Quality Act of 1987 (Pub.L.
100-4, February 4, 1987), Congress again reaffirmed its directive that EPA develop comprehensive sewage sludge
regulations (for toxic pollutants not covered in 40 CFR 257) and set forth a schedule for the Agency to do so.
A major criticism of the proposed 1989 regulation is that the EPA was only proposing numerical limits on 28 of the 400
pollutants it acknowledged would be detrimental to public health and the environment. Moreover, only 10 of the 25
inorganic priority toxic pollutants on the EPA Superfund list are even acknowledged in the new sludge regulation. Thirty-
three pollutants considered hazardous for land disposal are not included.
There was even a dispute in the EPA over the proposed sludge regulation. According to Inside EPA (February 14,
1992), "EPA's Office of Research and Development has refused to support the new draft of the Water Office's major
sewage sludge regulation until several scientific and risk assessment issues are resolved. Areas of contention are: 1)
the use of biokineite uptake model for lead exposure assessment, 2) the setting of soil ingestion levels for Cadmium,
Arsenic and other metals in the sludge risk assessment,
(Cadmium and Lead can also be ingested through food chain crops, and are particularly dangerous because they
concentrate in the blood and kidneys), 3) the potential wildlife exposure and impact on plants from sludge contaminates,
and 4) the sludge risk assessment which questions the scope of protection for those who work on or live near the sludge
The main limitation of the proposed rule was that there were no exposure assessment models to determine the effect on
the most exposed individual to various pathogens. Two other limitations of the study are, 1) Exposure through food is
estimated only for sewage sludge applied in a single year. According to the EPA, "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), and 2) There are 2,395 POTWs, who used another type of
surface disposal and were not factored in to the exposure assessment model.
EPA and its scientists, and partners never did look at potential farm losses or public health.
According to the EPA, "The (proposed rule) assessment does not quantify ecological effects or farm economic 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).
Although the new Proposed Sludge Regulation 40 CFR Parts 257 and 503 were promulgated in 1989 (FR 54-5746) by
EPA's Office of Water under the Clean Water Act, Section 405(d), there were several inconsistencies between the
proposed sludge regulation and the hazardous waste regulations. The two major inconsistencies were: 1) The
proposed sludge regulation had not been correlated with the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments mandated by
Congress, and 2) the proposed regulation would allow the disposal of sludge with potential hazardous (elevated)
regulatory levels of heavy metals in it. When these inconsistencies were pointed out to the EPA through the office of
Congressman Tom Coleman of Missouri, the Assistant Director of the EPA Office of Water, LaJuana Wilcher, wrote
Congressman Coleman that "the Office of Water will continue to coordinate the development of the final sewage rule
with the (EPA) Office of Solid Waste to ensure that the scientific basis of the sludge rule closely parallels that of the
hazardous waste rule" (5-4-1990). This revised sludge regulation paralleling the hazardous waste rule should have
been even more restrictive than the solid waste rule in 40 CFR 257.
In reality, in 1985 EPA decided that if a hazardous waste was called a "fertilizer" it could be dumped on unsuspecting
farmers as a beneficially recycled material. In that respect, the part 503 did parallel the hazardous waste rule. However,
neither rule satisfied the intent of Congress and the RCRA.
Moreover, Congress was very clear facilities and practices which fail to satisfy the criteria of the RCRA, sections 1008(a)
(3) and 4004(a), pose a reasonable probability of adverse effects on health or the environment and will be considered
open dumps for the purposes of State solid waste management planning under the Act and is prohibited under section
4005 of the Act (40 CFR 257.1(a)(1)(2).
In effect the EPA is allowing the creation of new Superfund sites, which will then have to be cleaned up at taxpayer's
expense. The above excerpts are from a paper, SLUDGE DISPOSAL: Sanitary Landfill -- Open Dump -- Superfund
Site, presented at the New Mexico Governor's Conference on the Environment in September of 1992. It was published in
the Conference Proceeding In February 1993, the same month Part 503 was published. (LSI)