is the recycling of all materials back into nature or the marketplace in a manner that protects human health and the environment.



From USA Today 10/07/1999- Updated 08:08 AM ET

Sludge: EPA looks away from possible health threat
>Early in the morning of Nov. 24, 1995, Joanne Marshall woke to find her
>26-year-old son, Shayne Conner, gasping for breath. Though an ambulance
>rushed him to the hospital, he later died from respiratory distress.
>Conner's death was just one of several medical problems that neighbors in
>Greenland, N.H., had experienced in the month after trucks started dumping
>sewage sludge - residue left over from wastewater treatment plants - on a
>nearby field.
>Did sludge contribute to Conner's death? Did it cause the death of
>11-year-old Tony Behun? He died in 1994 shortly after riding his motorcycle
>through a Pennsylvania field recently coated with sewage sludge. And has it
>killed farm animals, as some farmers allege? So far, no clear link has been
>established between the deaths and sludge. There are only troubling
>questions about the possible health effects of exposure to sewage sludge.
>At the very least, however, these deaths call for an aggressive
>investigation. Instead, the Environmental Protection Agency has been
>circling the wagons. It was an EPA rule in 1993 that allowed about 2
>million metric tons of sludge to be used throughout the country as a cheap,
>often free, fertilizer. And since then, the agency has fallen into the
>disturbing but familiar pattern it follows when its rules run into trouble:
>It brushes off complaints, downplays uncertainties in the science and
>attacks critics.
>When asked about Shayne Conner's death, for instance, the EPA brandishes a
>letter written by the town's medical examiner just days after Conner's
>death. The letter, released by the agency, says the death "was not the
>result of the use of such fertilizer."
>But that preliminary conclusion is hardly definitive. As the letter states,
>the examiner's finding was based in part on the assumption, denied by the
>family, that others "were completely unaffected" by the sludge. And it was,
>the examiner noted, based on assurances that sludge was "safe to use."
>The final autopsy report issued several months later and obtained by USA
>TODAY left the cause of death an open question, and the family has since
>sued the sludge company.
>The EPA hasn't handled the science question any better.
>Under EPA rules, sludge - a noxious brew containing pollutants and
>pathogens - can be recycled as fertilizer if it's cleaned to specified
>levels and used under certain restrictions. The EPA insists that the
>science behind these rules guarantees safety.
>However, the EPA's own scientists raised doubts about the science as the
>rule was drafted, according to memos obtained by USA TODAY. The EPA
>admitted to some of these weaknesses in 1993 by calling for extensive
>follow-up research.
>Meanwhile, other studies have raised red flags. A 1999 study by Cornell
>University's Waste Management Institute, for instance, concluded that EPA
>sludge rules "do not appear adequately protective of human health." It
>found that many European countries have far tougher sludge standards than
>the U.S.
>As a result, critics contend the rules are too loose and that toxic metals,
>pathogens and organic chemicals can escape, posing a potential hazard to
>nearby people and animals. Several local governments have banned or
>restricted sludge on farms. Yet when critics raise their voices, the EPA
>has attacked. Examples:
>When EPA scientist David Lewis started complaining about the safety of the
>sludge rules a few years ago, EPA officials tried to discredit his
>research, according to Lewis, who has filed a whistleblower complaint
>against the agency.
>When California community activist Jane Beswick started sounding alarm
>bells, Alan Rubin, an official in the EPA's Office of Water, fired off an
>ominous letter warning Beswick that her efforts to ban sludge use could
>prompt regulators to look closely at farmers' use of manure and fertilizers.
>And when not attacking critics, the agency has been busy promoting sludge
>use. Over the past three years, for example, it has spent almost $70,000 on
>grants to the Water Environment Federation for a sludge "public acceptance
>campaign," according to the Federal Assistance Award Data System.
>This is not the first time the EPA has been accused of shoddy science or
>attacks on critics. It recently had to reverse course on a gas additive.
>And last June, several EPA officials complained of the hostile treatment
>whistleblowers receive inside the agency.
>Now members of the House and Senate are pressing EPA chief Carol Browner to
>explain the apparent manhandling of sludge critics inside and outside the
>But first the EPA should explain why it has failed to live up to its 1993
>pledge "to move aggressively to address any problems with sewage-sludge use
>should the evidence warrant."
>In the end, sludge may prove perfectly safe. But by its behavior so far,
>the EPA has given the public little reason to feel confident.


EPA sludge standards are tough

By Chuck Fox
>Thirty years ago, thousands of American cities dumped their raw sewage
>directly into our nation's rivers, lakes and bays. What has happened since
>then is an American success story.
>As a nation, we have cleaned up our waterways and made them safer for
>recreation and seafood harvest. Countless American waterways - as well as
>the economies of the neighboring cities - have experienced a renaissance.
>The Great Lakes support much more boating and fishing. In Boston Harbor,
>beaches have reopened. The Chesapeake Bay is vastly cleaner and healthier.
>Each year, 76% of American families plan their vacations near the water.
>When sewage is removed from water, those wastes become sludge. The
>Environmental Protection Agency works with local governments to ensure that
>sludge is safely managed. Local governments make the decision whether to
>recycle the sludge as a fertilizer, incinerate it or bury it in a landfill.
>Only sewage sludge that meets the strongest safety tests can be approved
>for use as fertilizer, and it is used on less than 1% of the nation's
>agricultural land.
>The EPA sets tough health standards for all disposal options, and backs
>them up with strong enforcement actions that hold treatment plants
>The National Academy of Sciences has reviewed current practices, public
>health concerns and regulatory standards, and has concluded that "the use
>of these materials in the production of crops for human consumption, when
>practiced in accordance with existing federal guidelines and regulations,
>presents negligible risk to the consumer, to crop production and to the
>Additionally, the EPA continually seeks out new, credible science that
>might lead us to improved standards.
>Although cities decide how best to manage their sludge, the EPA is
>obligated to provide the public with educational information, based on the
>best science, about the safe recycling and disposal of sludge.
>Additionally, the EPA is constantly vigilant about ensuring the quality of
>sludge-control programs.
>We constantly investigate all concerns raised about our own program and the
>programs in local communities.
>Our goals are simple: to clean up America's rivers, lakes and bays, and to
>ensure that sludge is managed in scientifically proven methods that provide
>for the full protection of public health and the environment.
>Chuck Fox is assistant administrator in the Environmental Protection
>Agency's Office of Water.