SEWAGE SLUDGE OR BIOSOLIDS?
Is It A Toxic Hazardous Solid Waste or Safe Fertilizer?
Ignorance, Confusion, and Lies
Jim Bynum, VP and Gail Bynum, Ph.D 5/18/2010
Help for Sewage Victims
Synopsis of 20 years research
What you don’t know about sewage sludge, aka biosolids, could change your life and
those of your family forever through exposure to its deadly coliform, bacteria, viruses,
helminths, protozoa, fungi, organics, synthetic organics and inorganic heavy metals.
Sewage sludge is the biological active aggregates (bacterial biofilms-pathogens-residual
organics-solids) of the secondary biological sewage treatment process. In 1981, EPA,
FDA and USDA signed a A Statement of Federal Policy and Guidance allowing sludge to
be used as a fertilizer on fruits and vegetables. Most people, including medical doctors,
those with Ph.D's, regulators, politicians, judges and especially farmers, have been
convinced by EPA that sewage sludge is safe for use as a fertilizer. They are unaware
there has never been a risk assessment for the dangerous toxic chemicals, pathogens, or
metals in sludge. Most importantly, they are not aware that the high heat of the fecal
coliform test stresses bacteria causing most of them to go dormant although still viable
but non-culturalable. EPA requires the laboratory technicians to actually count the
remaining colonies of viable heat stressed bacteria (primarily E. coli) in 7 separate tests
to average the number of colonies and to report the results as the most probable number
of individual bacteria, i.e., colony forming unit. The high heat of the test itself is the most
effective process to reduce the number of biological active bacteria to reach the
requirement of the sludge rule.
You would rightly question why this information on sludge - biosolids is important to you if
you are not living near a sludge site. Even though you may not be exposed by actually
being near a site where sludge is dumped, you are still at risk from the deadly chemicals
and disease causing organisms going from sludge into your food. This puts your health in
jeopardy when purchasing sewage (recycled water - sludge) contaminated food or sludge
fertilizer for your lawn or garden. You could also be exposed to sludge and recycled
sewage water on the golf course or in your local park. Your children could be exposed on
the school grounds, ball fields and lawns or when they are swimming.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for enforcing Congressional
enacted cradle-to-grave laws intended to protect you from the 4,000 toxic chemicals
which are claimed to be in second hand smoke. Yet, for the part 503 sludge rule, EPA's
sludge experts stated it had no human health effects data showing any of the chemicals in
sludge to be harmful, other than perhaps "700 instances of hypertension or diminished
learning capacity in children." Since this was not a significant number and the health
effects were not widespread, EPA used exclusions in law to circumvent environmental
laws intended to protect you from more deadly chemicals and disease causing organisms
in sludge dumped on the soil which gets in your air, water and on your food. This was
done despite each law, and many regulations listing numerous chemicals, including those
in part 503, known to cause death, disease, cancer, etc., through the air, water and
Vegetables, especially broadleaf plants soak up toxic metals -- some as much as 20 parts
per million (ppm) for every ppm in the soil. Generally chemicals are a long term threat for
cancer except for such deadly chemicals as “Acetonitrile which has been detected in air
near ground levels, ranging from 2 to 7 ppb in both urban and rural areas (HSDB 1994).
Acetonitrile is metabolized in the body to hydrogen cyanide and thiocyanate; The nervous
system is a major target for acetonitrile acute toxicity.” Inhalation may cause salivation,
nausea, vomiting, anxiety, confusion, hyperpnea, dyspnea, rapid pulse, unconsciousness,
and convulsions. If you are exposed to the health effects of toxic sludge, it is your legal
responsibility to know this information.
Health was not a concern in the final 1993 sludge rule. "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." One farm destroyed and a
few sick neighbors are not considered significant or widespread. The farm is one place
where protective laws, especially right to know laws, do not apply. Farming is one of the
most dangerous occupations even though farmers understand the dangerous chemicals
they deal with. However, EPA does not require sludge contractors to tell farmers the full
range of toxic chemicals in sludge and everyone lies to the farmer about the disease
causing organisms in sludge. One contaminated batch of vegetables, or grain that cause
a foodborne outbreak could destroy their life's work.
According to EPA, the pathogens in sludge are “Microorganisms (e.g., bacteria, viruses,
orparasites) that can cause disease in humans, animals and plants.“ They are also
to in the literature as, Bacillus, Bacillus coli, colon bacteria, Coliform, Fecal coliform,
Enteric bacteria, Etiologic agents, infectious agents, infectious organisms, disease-
producing agents. Coliform and fecal coliform refer specifically to certain gram negative
bacteria that ferment lactose to produce gas and/or acid within 24-48 hours. As an
example, we have to look at E. coli, the primary coliform and fecal coliform. There are
several tests for E. coli as an individual both for medical purposes and drinking water to
confirm fecal polution. E. coli as a member of the gram negative group of bacteria tested
at normal body temperature for fecal pollution in drinking water tests is referred to as a
coliform. E. coli as the primary member of the thermotolerant gram negative group of
bacteria that shows very limited biological activity at elevated temperature which is used
to confirm fecal contamination of drinking water is a fecal coliform. However, one of the
more deadly forms of E. coli, the genetically modified 0157 is neither a coliform or a fecal
coliform as the gene to ferment lactose has been removed.
To put the high temperature fecal coliform test for E. coli in context, imagine you and a
group of bacteria are locked in a small room which is heated to a temperature of 112.1°F
for 24-48 hours. Like bacteria your body responded well biologically at an internal
temperature of 98.6°F before you entered the room. However, as the internal body
temperature rises, you and the bacteria become heat stressed due to dehydration. As the
temperature approaches 105°F the brain and body cells start to shut down and you don't
want anything to eat. As the bacteria desiccate, most go dormant as cells suffer some
damage. They are still viable but nonculturable by standard laboratory methods, except
for a few thermotolerant E. coli which continue to show very limited activity. Unlike the
gram negative bacteria E. coli, before your body temperature reaches the test
temperature of 112.1°F, you're dead. Furthermore, unlike you, when the temperature
drops and the bacteria are again exposed to moisture, the bacteria will repair its heat
damage cells and again become highly viable.
E. coli as a pathogen outside the gut isn’t new information. It has always been a major
hospital acquired infectious agent. In fact, John Chalmers Da Costa’s 1919 book Modern
Surgery stated, “This bacillus may be responsible for appendicitis, peritonitis, inflammation
of the genito-urinary tract, pneumonia, inflammation of the intestine, leptomeningitis,
perineal abscess, cholangitis, cholecystitis, myelitis, puerperal fever, wound infections and
septicemia.” Since that time researchers have added more diseases to the list.
You would have a difficult time proving cause and effect even for the immediate danger
from disease causing organisms, although EPA and CDC have documented a dramatic
increase in foodborne illnesses as sludge use on farms and urban landscapes increased.
EPA documents state that there were 2 million foodborne illness cases in 1986. Thirteen
years later, CDC put the number of foodborne illnesses at 76 million with 5,000 deaths in
1999, a number it still uses. Yet, these agencies continue to ignore the problem of
recycled water used to irrigate vegetable crops eaten raw from the Salinas Valley and
sludge used on crops and home gardens. The lettuce, spinach, etc., outbreaks will only
get worse as biofilms build up in recycled sewage irrigation pipes and in soil.
More disturbing, the insurance companies documented, with hospital records, a similar
increase of methicillin–resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections between 1993
(1,900) to 2005 (368,300). There was a 5% death rate or roughly 18,000 horribly painful
paths to death. The soft tissue infections are called necrotizing fasciitis.
Doctors have to cut out diseased tissue or cut off limbs in an effort to stop the
infection. Even that supreme effort didn’t work in our family for 71 year old Velma
Albertson. Washing your hands is not a preventive measure against MRSA. MRSA first
attacked Velma's lower left leg as a pimple. It then ate deep into the soft tissue. Doctor's
were unable to stop the infection and had to cut the lower leg off. Just when she and the
doctors thought the worse was over, MRSA returned in the right leg. That time it took her
life. These illnesses are just the documented tip of the pandemic iceberg. The pollutants
in sludge are also known to contribute to the 15 leading causes of death in medical
Here are quick review pathogen tables based on medical studies of death and diseases
and chemical tables also based on medical studies of death and diseases.
Bacteria Pathogens other than coliforms
Fungi & Yeast
Synthetic Organic including pesticides & herbicides
Four major environmental laws had to be circumvented for EPA to create the 503 sludge
rule. Each law was enacted to "protect public health and the environment from any
reasonably anticipated adverse effects of certain pollutants that may be present in
sewage sludge." On May 17, 2001, EPA Adds More Than 6,300 Chemicals and 3,800
Chemical Facilities to Public Database
1) Solid Waste Act and Solid Waste and Hazardous Waste Amendments (SWA)
Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)
The hazardous waste program, under RCRA Subtitle C, establishes a system for
controlling hazardous waste from the time it is generated until its ultimate disposal - in
effect, from "cradle to grave".
(a) sludge from municipal wastewater treatment plants is a solid waste.
(b) If sludge has any infectious characteristics, it is a hazardous waste.
(c) Any disposal outside a permitted sanitary landfill is classified as an open dump.
(d) If the pollutants may cause, or significantly contribute to an increase in mortality or an
increase in serious irreversible, or incapacitating reversible, illness; it is a hazardous
(e) if the pollutants may pose a substantial present or potential hazard to human
health or the environment when improperly treated, stored, transported, or disposed
of, or otherwise managed, it is a hazardous waste.
Chemicals that may cause these health effects are:
1. Inclusion in the Clean Water Act list of  priority pollutants (40 CFR 131.36(b)(1)
2. Chemicals considered hazardous to transport by the Department of Transportation
(49 CFR 172.101 HAZARDOUS MATERIALS TABLE -- DOT also includes 3. Chemicals identified as carcinogens by the U.S. EPA's Carcinogen Assessment Group
transportation of infectious substances (Etiologic agents). Infectious substance
(etiologic agent) is a Division 6.2 material that is a viable microorganism, or its
toxin, and causes or may cause disease in human beings or animals, and includes
those agents listed in 42 CFR 72.3 and any other agent that causes or may cause
severe, disabling, or fatal disease. The terms “infectious substance” and “etiologic
agent” are synonymous.
(EPA document 450R80104, 1980)
4. Chemicals with high acute toxicity, as identified by the National Institute for Occupational
Safety and Health's Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances list. (CDC
transferred this technology to private industry in 2001 and then it transferred to
Symyx Technologies, Inc. in 2007 -- see OSHA 29 CFR 1910.119 App A - for a List
of Highly Hazardous Chemicals, Toxics and Reactives (Mandatory))
40 CFR Part 258 -- Appendix II —List of Hazardous Inorganic and Organic Constituents
40 CFR 261.24 Toxicity characteristics of 40 chemicals which include the 10 metals in 503.
EPA has yet to address infectious characteristics in the hazardous waste regulations.
Appendix V to Part 261 [Reserved for Infectious Waste Treatment Specifications]
Appendix VI to Part 261 [Reserved for Etiologic Agents]
The Congressional SWA was firm in its commitment to protect public health and the
environment: “The standards referred to in paragraph (1), including standards
applicable to the legitimate use, reuse, recycling, and reclamation of such wastes, may
vary from the standards applicable to hazardous waste generated by larger quantity
generators, but such standards shall be sufficient to protect human health and the
EPA had to stretch the solid waste domestic sewage exclusion in the SWA, which excludes
hazardous substances in the pipeline between a residence and a municipal wastewater
treatment plant. EPA explained the exclusion to Congress in 1986: “Domestic sewage is
waste and wastewater from humans or household operations that is discharged to or
otherwise enters a treatment works." However, for the purported CWA sludge rule EPA
circumvented the law by expanding the definition to include industrial waste in sludge
generated by the treatment plant. EPA said, "This [domestic sewage] is a key definition
because the standards in the part 503 regulation apply to sewage sludge generated
during the treatment of domestic sewage in a treatment works. When domestic sewage is
in the influent to a treatment works, even if the influent also contains industrial
wastewater, sewage sludge is generated during the treatment of the domestic sewage.”
However, there was a strange caveat, “When the sewage sludge is not used to condition
the soil or to fertilize crops or vegetation grown on the land, the sewage sludge is not
being land applied. It is being disposed on the land. In that case, the requirements in the
subpart on surface disposal in the final part 503 regulation must be met.” However, ceiling
levels of Arsenic and chromium would prevent the sludge from being disposed of under
the surface disposal section of 503.23. Therefore it would have to be disposed of in a
municipal co-disposal landfill regulated by the real RCRA/CWA sludge disposal regulation
Part 258. According to the part 258 regulation: “These minimum national criteria ensure
the protection of human health and the environment.”
2) Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
(CERCLA) aka Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA)
(a) The terms “disposal”, “hazardous waste”, and “treatment” shall have the meaning
provided in section 1004 of the Solid Waste Disposal Act [42 U.S.C. 6903].
(b) The term “hazardous substance” means
1) any substance designated pursuant to section 311(b)(2)(A) of the Federal Water
Pollution Control Act [33 U.S.C. 1321 (b)(2)(A)],
2) any element, compound, mixture, solution, or substance designated pursuant to
section 9602 of this title,
3) any hazardous waste having the characteristics identified under or listed
to section 3001 of the Solid Waste Disposal Act [42 U.S.C. 6921]
4) any toxic pollutant listed under section 307(a) of the Federal Water Pollution
Control Act [33 U.S.C. 1317 (a)],
5) any hazardous air pollutant listed under section 112 of the Clean Air Act
[42 U.S.C. 7412],
6) any imminently hazardous chemical substance or mixture with respect to which
Administrator has taken action pursuant to section 7 of the Toxic Substances
Control Act [15 U.S.C. 2606].
(c) The term “pollutant or contaminant” shall include, but not be limited to, any element,
substance, compound, or mixture, including disease-causing agents, which after
release into the environment and upon exposure, ingestion, inhalation, or
assimilation into any organism, either directly from the environment or indirectly by
ingestion through food chains, will or may reasonably be anticipated to cause
death, disease, behavioral abnormalities, cancer, genetic mutation, physiological
malfunctions (including malfunctions in reproduction) or physical deformations, in
such organisms or their offspring;
(d) The term “release” means any spilling, leaking, pumping, pouring, emitting, emptying,
discharging, injecting, escaping, leaching, dumping, or disposing into the environment
Since sludge is a regulated solid waste that must be placed in a sanitary landfill, EPA
used the Superfund Act to circumvent the law with the exclusion for a “normal application
of fertilizer” placed on a Superfund site. Next, EPA had to “consider” sludge to be a
normal application of fertilizer on clean agricultural land -- rather than prohibited "open
dumping". Because of this, food crops can be harvested 30 days after the open dumping
2005 CERCLA Priority List of Hazardous Substances
3) Clean Water Act (CWA)
(a) Purpose - This section was not intended to be [the] primary source of regulation of
sludge but was intended as [a] cautionary measure to provide additional protection (b) it is the national policy that programs for the control of nonpoint sources of pollution be
against dangers to navigable waters caused by disposal methods unregulated by
section 1311 of this title, i.e. careless land disposal and deep ocean dumping of
sludge from vessels. ---" (Title 33, part 1345, note 1)
developed and implemented in an expeditious manner so as to enable the goals of
this chapter to be met through the control of both point and nonpoint sources of
(c) it is the national policy that the discharge of toxic pollutants in toxic amounts be
prohibited. EPA's Section 304(a) criteria for Priority Toxic Pollutants include more
than the nine toxic metals in sludge: 1) Antimony; 2) Arsenic; 3) Beryllium; 4)
Cadmium; 5) Chromium (III) - Chromium (VI); 6) Copper; 7) Lead; 8) Mercury;9)
Nickel; 10) Selenium; 11) Silver; 12) Thallium; 13) Zinc; 14) Cyanide; 15) Asbestos;
and 16) 2,3,7,8-TCDD, etc.
(d) 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, 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 reproduction) or physical deformations, in such organisms or their
(e) The term ``pollutant'' means dredged spoil, solid waste, incinerator residue, sewage,
garbage, sewage sludge, munitions, chemical wastes, biological materials,
(f) The term ``point source'' means any discernible, confined and discrete conveyance,
including but not limited to any pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, discrete
fissure, container, rolling stock, concentrated animal feeding operation, or vessel or
other floating craft, from which pollutants are or may be discharged. This term does
not include agricultural stormwater discharges
40 CFR 117.3 lists REPORTABLE QUANTITIES OF HAZARDOUS SUBSTANCES
DESIGNATED PURSUANT TO SECTION 311 OF THE CLEAN WATER ACT which (40 CFR 131.36(b)(1) 126 Priority Pollutants
are released on the shores of the waters of the United States. Many have a
reportable quantity of one pound.
40 CFR 401.15 is a list of Toxic pollutants designated pursuant to section 307(a)(1) of the
[CWA] Act: Fecal coliform (the name of test method 1680 & 81 for thermotolerant
gram negative infectious bacteria, primarily E. coli) which is listed as a conventional
pollutant under 40 CFR 401.16.
National Primary Drinking Water Regulations list some of the health effects caused by
pollutants even though the Office of Water's sludge experts can find no data on them.
EPA used the agricultural stormwater exclusion in the definition of a point source to
circumvent the law. It is difficult to understand how dumping liquid sludge contaminated
with toxic and conventional pollutants with less than 5% solids, on a hillside , 10 meters
from water, would not be a point source violation, even if it is dumped on a farm.
EPA acknowledged the right to "Preserve a Local Community’s Choice of a Disposal
Practice" to protect public health and the environment, EPA states, "Although the Agency
prefers local communities to use their sewage sludge for its beneficial properties rather
than simply disposing of it, EPA’s responsibility is to set standards for each practice that
are adequate to protect public health and the environment. While the choice of a use
or disposal practice is reserved to local communities by section 405(e) of the CWA,
protection of public health and the environment, where risks are significant, dictate
stringent pollutant limits. One result is that in certain cases communities may be unlikely
to meet the limits the Agency has promulgated."
Today, municipalities and states are giving courts false information with the intent of
forcing communities to accept toxic hazardous waste dumping in their watersheds as a
fertilizer. Yet, these municipalities, states and the federal government refuse to seriously
investigate any heath effect complaints due to the innate liability.
4) Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-know Act (EPCRA), also has a farm
exclusion even though it addresses extremely hazardous substances and the requirement
for MSDA sheets on over 500,000 products.
40 CFR 335 Extremely hazardous substance (EHS) means a substance listed in
Appendices A and B of this part.
Also see http://actor.epa.gov/toxrefdb/faces/Home.jsp
Part 503 Sludge Use and Disposal Rule
Over 5 million dry tons of sludge are released into the environment under this rule. That
is diluted in approximately 95 million tons of concentrated sewage water released to the
environment. EPA's biggest argument for the safety of sludge use has been that it was
safe as long as the laws and regulations were followed. Most knowledgeable writers refers
to regulations when discussing sludge biosolids safety rather than part 503 for a very
good reason. The sludge rule started with a task force, "which included representatives
from all parts of the Agency [that] recommended that the Agency develop an integrated,
comprehensive regulatory structure for sewage sludge use or disposal using the
combined authorities of section 405 of the CWA and other laws. This structure would also
incorporate existing regulations and, where appropriate, new regulations to complete
regulatory coverage where important gaps remained."
EPA claims 503 was created under the authority of CWA Section 405 for the use and
disposal of sludge. However, the document tells a different story. In spite of the disposal
section in 503.23, it states part 258 is the only regulation that complies with section 405
of the CWA, “§ 503.4 Relationship to other regulations. Disposal of sewage sludge in
a municipal solid waste landfill unit, as defined in 40 CFR 258.2, that complies with the
requirements in 40 CFR part 258 constitutes compliance with section 405(d) of the CWA.”
There is no reference in part 503 to meeting the minimum national criteria to ensure the
protection of human health and the environment. Instead, "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."
EPA deliberately chose to put the health of the general the pubic at risk as well as large
blocks of contaminated land knowing there was more to sludge than a simple residue,
Sewage sludge is a "toxic soup" composed pathogens (bacteria, viruses, parasites,
fungi), and organic and inorganic chemicals. EPA states, “Biological treatment processes
(e.g., activated sludge systems, trickling filters, and other attached growth [biofilm]
systems) utilize microbes to break down and convert the organic substances in the
wastewater to microbial residue.” EPA claims sludge is good for the land because it
contains nutrients, but it admits virtually all sewage sludge contains ''-- significant
numbers of pathogens (e.g., bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and eggs of parasitic worms).”
Other than the nine toxic metals, EPA makes no provision for the other pollutants in the
biologically active (living) sludge. EPA admits that, “Typically [-] constituents may include
volatile organics, organic solids, nutrients, disease-causing pathogenic organisms (e.g.,
bacteria, viruses, and others), heavy metals and inorganic ions, and toxic organic
chemicals from industrial wastes, household chemicals, and pesticides.”
While there are over 80,000 chemicals in use, EPA stated in 1998, “Of the 3,000
chemicals that the US imports or produces at more than 1 million lbs/yr, a new EPA
analysis finds that 43% of these high production volume chemicals have no testing data
on basic toxicity and only seven percent have a full set of basic test data. “ Since 1998
approximately a 1,000 new untested chemicals have been released each year.
In 1993, EPA acknowledged that, “The statute requires EPA to promulgate sewage sludge
regulations in two stages and periodically to review these regulations for the purpose of
identifying additional toxic pollutants for regulation." EPA has never added a single
dangerous to the chemical pollutants listed in part 503. In fact it removed chromium from
the beneficial use section after EPA claimed in Leather Industry of America et al. vs EPA
that it had no creditable studies. EPA claimed the court ordered chromium removed from
the regulation when the case was actually "remanded" for EPA to update its studies.
Yet, EPA states, "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 or disposal of
sewage sludge, not just the 126 priority toxic pollutants."
However, EPA only claims to regulate nine pollutants and they are deadly.
(a) Only 9 pollutants must be monitored when applied to land as a fertilizer.
(b) 100,000 ppm of chromium in sludge may be applied to land without monitoring.
(c) Only 3 pollutants in sludge are monitored when placed on land in landfills
(d) No more than 600 ppm of chromium in sludge may be placed on the land 150 meters
from a landfill boundary.
(e) 503.9(t) Pollutant is an organic substance, an inorganic substance, a combination of
organic and inorganic substances, or a pathogenic organism that, after discharge (f) Food, Feed, and Fiber crops may not be harvested for 30 days.
and upon exposure, ingestion, inhalation, or assimilation into an organism either
directly from the environment or indirectly by ingestion through the food chain,
could, on the basis of information available to the Administrator of EPA, cause
death, disease, behavioral abnormalities, cancer, genetic mutations, physiological
malfunctions (including malfunction in reproduction), or physical deformations in
either organisms (humans) or offspring (children) of the organisms.
(f) Cattle may not graze on sludged pasture for 30 days.
Yes, “food” was added to the 30 day feed and fiber crop harvest restriction in the final
sludge rule negating the waiting period of 14 months before food crops with parts that
touch the sludge/soil mixture or that are above the ground may be harvested. This was
done despite studies showing E. coli and Salmonella are known to survive for 70 weeks
on agricultural land. EPA also states in the manual on Control of Pathogens and Vector
Attractions: that bacteria may survive in soil for one (1) year and on plants for six (6)
For Class A sludge EPA requires the heat stressed fecal coliform bacteria level to be
below 1,000 average colonies of thermotolerant bacteria per gram of sludge. EPA implies
these are individual bacteria rather than colonies. As an alternate, Salmonella must be
less than 3 bacteria per four grams of sludge. Fecal coliform are thermotolerant members
of the Enterobacteriaceae family. Salmonella is also a member of the Enterobacteriaceae
family that is not normally thermotolerant. Since sludge is a fecal material the test does
not offer a clue to the actually type or number of pathogens growing at normal
temperatures. EPA's Mark Meckes explains that, "most strains of Escherichia coli will
ferment lactose under the elevated temperature test for fecal coliform and therefore will
meet the definition of "fecal coliform." Similarly, some strains of Klebsiella will also ferment
lactose under these same test conditions and will meet the definition of "fecal coliform".
EPA's Richard Reding explains Meckes' remark, "Thus "Inactivation" is by design so as to
eliminate those organisms that are unable to grow at 44.5°C [112.1°F]." The problem is
that very seldom is sludge disposed of where the temperatures are high enough to
prevent growth, except Arizona in the summer time. As has been noted in a number of
studies, including one from Arizona, when the temperature drops, and moisture becomes
available, the dormant bacteria regrow.
EPA released the sludge rule as a self-permitting regulation with the special requirement
that only states whose attorney general has certified the solid waste rules were changed
to comply with 503 would be approved to issue NPDES sludge only use permits. So far
only Arizona, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin have certified
they changed their solid waste statutes to receive approval to issue NPDES sludge
permits. Many other states have changed the solid waste statutes to match part 503 and
issue permits for agricultural open dumps. EPA acknowledges the 503 sludge rule is legal
authority for sludge use only if it is considered to be a normal application of fertilizer
under the CERCLA (Superfund Act).
Moreover, EPA states, “Under CERCLA, [Superfund Act] protection from liability is also
provided when there is a release of a CERCLA hazardous substance (includes 503
metals) and the release occurs pursuant to Federal authorization ”. But it does add
several caveats: 1) “releases of hazardous substances from the land application of
sewage sludge authorized under and in compliance with an NPDES permit would
constitute a Federally permitted release [7 states]”; 2) “a permit can provide a partial
“permit as a shield” defense for compliance with the permit [permitted open dumps in
other states]”; and the main caveat for states to consider 3) (State cannot recover under
CERCLA for damages resulting from releases authorized by NPDES permit) aff’d, 882 F.
2d 392 (9th Cir. 1989)).
This would appear to constitute "reckless public endangerment" by EPA. According to
most definitions, a person commits the crime of reckless public endangerment if the
person recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious physical
injury to another person or the public.” This is why EPA claims fecal coliform is an
indicator of pathogens, rather than the thermotolerant pathogenic forms of E. coli and
The Water Environment Federation (WEF) created the term biosolids to change the
public and politicians opinions that sludge was a dirty product to making it appear as a
safe recyclable beneficial product. At the same time the WEF created the Water
Environment Research Foundation (WERF) which has been funded by the government
and municipalities. The proposed part 503 rule was not acceptable to the wastewater
industry for a number of reasons. The primary reason was that the preamble included an
unacceptable list of 21 organic and inorganic chemical cancer causing agents as well as
25 families of pathogenic bacteria, viruses, helminths and protozoa known to be in treated
sludge. These obviously left the member municipalities open to legal liability issues and
no farmer with that knowledge would willingly accept sludge for use near grazing animals
Working with the EPA, the WEF hired the public relations firm Powell Tate to put together
a program to change the negative perception of toxic sludge to the positive perception of
a benign biosolids fertilizer. Research from Powell and Tate's July 1993 findings prompted
the strategy to transform sludge to biosolids. WEF's efforts were successful as in 1997
"biosolids" was included in the Merriam Webster Dictionary as "solid organic matter
recovered from a sewage treatment process and used especially as fertilizer ."
The first order of business for WEF in December of 1994 was a list of sludge “Horror”
stories that had to be debunked becoming candidates for the “Rest of the Story” to be
told by Dave Trouba. The most damaging “Horror” story they had to address was the
Federal Bureau of Land Management's policy opposing sludge use on Federal lands,
equating its use to hazardous waste dumping and land filling raising SUPERFUND liability
concerns. The background information for the fact sheets to debunk the horror stories
was to be supplied by specific members of EPA and WEF. Some of the stories were
published as very biased WEF sludge fact sheets. The fact sheets were sent to “Horror”
story victims for review, but the victims were not allowed to correct any misinformation or
lies. Yet, according to WEF documents, the victims all reviewed and approved the fact
sheets. EPA did get 9 fact sheets for its 300,000 dollar investment in the WEF Fact
In the 1993 Preamble to Part 503, EPA stated that “(sewage sludge is also often referred
to as “Biosolids” that must then be reused or disposed of -”. In other words, if sludge can
not be sold or given away to an unsuspecting farmer or gardener, it must be disposed of
in a permitted landfill either under the CWA’s part 258 or part 503.23 landfill section.
However, the name biosolids was not used in the sludge rules.
Once the sludge rule was released in 1993, EPA turned to the National Academy of
Science to spread its disinformation by reviewing the scientific methodology used for the
rule. The outcome was a report approving the "Use of Reclaimed Water and Sludge in
Food Crop Production" even though the Chair, Albert Page stated, "The committee was
not constituted to conduct an independent risk assessment of possible health effects, but
instead to review the method and procedures used by EPA in its extensive risk
assessment, which was the basis for the Part 503 Sludge Rule." Since Page was the co-
chair of the part 503 Peer Review Committee, he knew EPA had deleted a list of 21 known
carcinogens from the final rule and a list of 25 families of pathogens. He also knew there
was no risk assessment for chemicals in the sludge rule and that EPA did not consider
any of the known cancer causing agents by inhalation (Arsenic, Beryllium, Cadmium,
Chromium IV and Nickel) to cause cancer by any pathway it evaluated. EPA also failed to
supply studies showing E. coli and Salmonella would survive for 70 weeks on grazing land
and that antibiotic resistant bacteria were being released in sludge.
In the past mutant bacteria were generally created through the natural biological process
of mutation and through horizontal gene transfer in the environment. During the twentieth
century accelerated mutation of bacteria in wastewater treatment plants became created
a new danger. EPA's Mark Meckes 1982 study on UV disinfection of wastewater found a
higher percentage of antibiotic resistant bacteria leaving the treatment plant than entered
it. Today, the components to create genetically modified bacteria and viruses are readily
available from laboratories. Very sophisticated safety standards were imposed on
laboratories handling pathogenic disease causing agents after “Chimera” technology
became available in 1980 to create bacteria never before seen in nature such as E. coli
0157. Unfortunately, those same safety standards required for handling sludge samples
in the laboratory offer no protection to farmers, their workers, neighbors or the public
exposed to the disease causing agents in sludge biosolids or the contaminated
EPA has no economically workable treatment process to destroy pathogens in sludge
used as a fertilizer. Lime treatment does not do it. Composting does not do it. Even WEF
admits, "Composting is not a sterilization process and a properly composted product
maintains an active population of beneficial microorganisms that compete against the
pathogenic members." This is not new information. Los Angeles County Sanitation
District's William Yanko did a major compost study for EPA in 1988 in which he stated,
"Under some conditions, explosive regrowth of pathogenic microorganisms is possible."
Furthermore, "The lack of information on health problems associated with D & M sludges
may reflect the absence of a problem, the lack of intensive surveillance, or the inability to
detect recurrent small-scale incidents of disease."
In a 1981 study Yanko found bacteria dormant for a year in compost could be revived. He
reported, "These results also indicated that some enteric bacteria, upon desiccation,
became dormant and in this state were highly resistant to both heat and radiation.
Optimal recoveries in the low bacteria sample occurred at the 21% moisture level at 28 to
360C after a 5-day incubation. The population increased more than four orders of
magnitude under these conditions. The indigenous salmonellae initiating this growth had
survived in a desiccated state for over 1 year prior to providing the proper moisture-
temperature combination for the repopulation to occur."
Since 1989 WERF has produced 300 research reports valued at over 62 million dollars in
support of the Powell Tate strategy, with our tax money, and we have seen none that
state sludge use is safe. Moreover, not one study has looked at health effect complaints.
But they do acknowledge the complaints, and suggest more studies after more than 40
years of research by both EPA and WEF.
Still, knowing this, Michael Wardell, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Biosolids
Association, made a very bold statement with the article “Biosolids not a threat to
environment, human health”. In the April 2010 addition of the Chesapeake Bay Journal.
Wardell said, “Biosolids is not a term coined to sell a product. There is a substantial
difference between sewage sludge and biosolids.” In spite of his denial it was coined to
give away a very dangerous waste product as a fertilizer. The media reported in San
Francisco that Organic Consumers Association recently petitioned the mayor of San
Francisco to stop its program of giving away toxic sewage sludge compost as organic
biosolids to organic gardeners. In a CBS 5 interview by Anna Werner, Natalie Sierra,
Process Engineer at San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, said they were not
marketing biosolids as organic even though it was stated so on their brochure. The
organic agricultural community considered it to be a lie when Sierra said, “We were using
it [organic] in a scientific sense.” The general public believes organic means natural or
Having served on a Kansas City, Missouri Committee to evaluate solid waste disposal
methods in the early 1970s, the part that puzzled me about the final sludge rule, and the
use of the term biosolids, was the implication that it was safer to sell or give away this toxic
chemical and pathogen contaminated brew to farmers and home owners than it was to
safely dispose of it in a permitted sanitary landfill as required by law. Sludge experts will
assure you biosolids is safe because the sludge rule only addresses nine toxic metals,
that pathogens are destroyed and fecal coliform indicators are not pathogens. As noted
above, the nine metals are listed pollutants in 503.13 which could cause death, disease,
cancer, etc., for which EPA does not require toxicity testing. EPA's standard toxicity test
has no relationship to health other than guesstimating the amount of toxic metals which
may leach out of a mismanaged landfill into the groundwater above the drinking water
Maximum Contaminate Level (MCL). It is assumed by most politicians and scientists that
the accepted treatment processes reduce pathogens or destroy them, based on the fecal
coliform test for thermotolerant gram negative bacteria. Fecal coliform is not a pathogen
because it is not an organism. Like biosolids, it is a created term for thermotolerant forms
of pathogenic Coliform which show up in the test. Basically, it concerns only two members
(E. coli -- except 0157 and Klebsiella) of the gram negative Enterobacteriaceae family.
The fecal coliform test does indicate there are a lot of pathogen colonies in sludge that
will be carried off the farm sludge site by rain, even after one year, as this 1998 soil
sample from our Kansas City farm illustrates:
Sample 1: Fecal coliform -- 90 colonies per gram -- sludge reports may show 90 most
probable number (MPN) implying individual bacteria.
Salmonella -- >8,000 colonies per gram
Compared to the current Part 503, the proposed 1989 sludge rule was very conservative.
However, it was in no way a reflection of the environmental laws. In 1992, after the
University of New Mexico School of Law peer reviewed my paper for Help for Sewage
Victims, “Sludge Disposal: Sanitary Landfill--Open Dump--Superfund Site?”, it was
accepted for presentation at the Governor’s Conference on the Environment and later
published by the New Mexico Environmental Department. The Conference Proceedings
were published in February 1993 as was the final Part 503. The missing element from this
paper was a high body count of sludge victims and other sludge “Horror Stories”. Helane
Shields has filled that missing element with her website www.sludgevictims.com.
Scientific knowledge available to the general public was in short supply in 1992. As an
example, some critical EPA sludge studies showing unknown chemicals and “regrowth” of
pathogenic disease organisms were only available at a few federal repository libraries.
Some critical sludge studies are still difficult to find. National attention was drawn to the
sludge issue in 1995 when John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton published "Toxic Sludge
is Good for You". However, that only intensified EPA and WEF's promotion of sludge use
with more so called scientific studies. Fifteen years later extensive research and studies
proving sludge is dangerous can be found at Caroline Snyder’s www.sludgefacts.org as
well as our Help for Sewage Victims sites: www.thewatchers.us and www.deadlydeceit.
com. Articles concerning sludge problem horror stories are archived at Maureen Reilly’s
Sludgewatch-l Archives http://list.web.net/archives/sludgewatch-l/ . There are also many
other good websites being built concerning local victims as well as documented research
Gail and I were able to document a considerable amount of information on EPA’s 503 (pre
and post) and the so called scientific research it was based on as well as some victims
for our 1998 limited self published book “Deadly Deceit: Our Children at Risk”, which is
now published on the website www.deadlydeceit.com. Since then we have uncovered
early studies showing EPA knew sludge was dangerous to release into the environment
because of the toxic chemical and pathogen contamination. EPA’s own Office of
Compliance and Enforcement refused to get involved in any part of the sludge program or
as the Inspector General reported in March of 2002, “Compliance and Enforce has
disinvested from the program.”
Sewage sludge / biosolids is a toxic hazardous waste instead of a safe fertilizer. Sludge is
an immediate hazardous waste because of its infectious characteristics. Toxic chemicals
cause sludge to be a hazardous waste because they are known to "cause, or significantly
contribute to an increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible, or
incapacitating reversible, illness. EPA and WEF have promoted the spreading of sludge
on farm land, used on parks, school grounds, home lawns and gardens while assuring
the public it is a recycled product, not a hazardous waste. It has ignored the harm to
human health from its use claiming "there has never been a documented case of any
harm". It has used ignorance, confusion and lies to continue its program for cheap sludge
disposal. It has circumvented the major environmental laws enacted to protect your health
and the environment: Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, Solid
Waste Act and Hazardous Waste Amendments, Clean Water Act, and the Superfund Act
and its Amendments. After 40 years of research in which it wrote regulations which
included long lists of toxic and extremely hazardous substances known to go through
wastewater treatment plants, the requirement for over 500,000 chemical product MSDA
sheets, EPA's sludge promoters (regulators) still claim they do not have enough data to
regulate more than 10 toxic metals in sludge. Furthermore, the sad fact is EPA deleted a
list of 21 known cancer causing toxic chemicals (five by inhalation) from the final 503
sludge rule and then claimed they don't cause cancer by any pathway EPA evaluated.
EPA has no economical treatment process to destroy pathogens. EPA claims there are
low numbers of some unknown fecal coliform individual bacteria in sludge, when they are
actually talking about heat stressed E. coli and Klebsiella colonies which are capable of
regrowth at lower temperatures. The high temperature test is the best process EPA has to
reduce pathogens, but the test doesn't affect those bacteria in the living sludge biomass.
Our closing warning in the 1992 New Mexico Conference paper still bears repeating.
"This is no longer just a farmer's problem. It effects the most basic needs of each and
every one of us -- our need for uncontaminated food, clean water and clean air. Although
Congress has passed the laws to control the use and disposal of sewage sludge and
given EPA a solid waste statute to implement and enforce, the EPA has not adequately
addressed the problem. Therefore, it is time that we as concerned citizens do address the
problem before more damage is done to the health of those who work on or live around
these sites and those of us who consume the food raised there. We can not complacently
set on the sidelines. We must unite to rid our environment of the danger to our health
from the pathogens, heavy metals and carcinogens found in the sludge routinely applied
to farm and range land." Today we know that includes sludge placed on parks, school
grounds as well as home lawns and gardens. Any thoughtful person will conclude this is
"reckless public endangerment" and all sludge use as a fertilizer should immediately stop.
See http://thewatchers.us/book/sludge-biosolids.html for links to documentation.
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