=======================Electronic Edition========================
.                                                               .
.           RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #561           .
.                     ---August 28, 1997---                     .
.                          HEADLINES:                           .
.         NEW U.S. WASTE STRATEGY, PT. 2: SEWAGE SLUDGE         .
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In the mid-1980s, a citizens' organization in New Jersey--Clean
Ocean Action, led by Cindy Zipf--launched an aggressive campaign
to protect the oceans from the dumping of toxic sewage sludge.
They were up against extraordinary power: U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) opposed them; New York and New Jersey
environmental officials opposed them; nearly every municipal
government opposed them.  But they persevered and won.

Thus in the early 1990s, municipalities had to find other places
to dump their sewage sludge.

As we saw last week, sewage sludge is the mud-like material that
remains after bacteria have digested the human wastes that flow
from your toilet into your local sewage treatment plant.  If
human wastes were the only substances entering the sewage
treatment plant, then sewage sludge would contain only nutrients
and should be returned to the land.

Unfortunately, most sewage treatment plants receive industrial
toxic wastes, which are then mixed with the human wastes,
creating a poorly-understood mixture of nutrients and industrial
poisons. Furthermore, many American cities have built sewage
systems that mix storm water runoff with the regular sewage;
every time a rain storm scours these cities' streets, additional
toxins are added to the sewage sludge.

As a result, sewage sludge contains a strange brew of nutrients
laced with low levels of PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls];
dioxins and furans; chlorinated pesticides [such as DDT, DDD,
DDE, dieldrin, aldrin, endrin, chlordane, heptachlor, lindane,
mirex, kepone, 2,4,5-T, and 2,4-D]; carcinogenic polynuclear
aromatic hydrocarbons [PAHs]; heavy metals [arsenic, mercury,
lead, selenium, cadmium, etc.]; bacteria, viruses, parasitic
worms, and fungi;[1] industrial solvents; asbestos; petroleum
products, and on and on.  American industry uses roughly 70,000
different chemicals and any of these can be found in sewage
sludge --depending on who's pouring what down the drain at any
given time and place.  In addition to the original chemicals,
unique metabolites and degradation products develop anew in
sludge.  To give but one example: trimethylamine can be converted
to the powerful carcinogen, dimethylnitrosamine.[2]

The U.S. produces 5.3 million metric tonnes (11.6 billion pounds)
of sewage sludge each year (that's dry weight, not including the
weight of the water that carries it).  Today about 16% of U.S.
sewage sludge is incinerated and the ashes are buried in
landfills; 38% of sludge is landfilled directly; 36% is spread
onto farmland or forest land or otherwise mixed into soils; and
10% is handled in other ways (piled on the land and abandoned,
for example).[3]

The sewage treatment industry --and the municipal governments
that employ them --represent a powerful political force in the
U.S.  Together in the late 1980s they figured out that the
cheapest thing to do with sewage sludge is to spread it onto or
into the land, preferably as close to its point of origin as
possible, to minimize transport costs.

However, there were obstacles to overcome.  The public thinks of
sewage sludge as dirty, smelly and dangerous.  Few people thought
sewage sludge sounded good as fertilizer for food.  So the
industry hired a public relations firm, Powell Tate, and renamed
sewage sludge "biosolids."  They convinced U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) to go along with this verbal
detoxification.  The Federation of Sewage Works Associations also
renamed itself --they are now the Water Environment Federation

The scientific literature on sewage sludge is large, but much of
it consists of articles intended to break down public resistance
to the use of sewage sludge on farm land. It is "happy
literature," not necessarily honest literature.  Nevertheless,
there is a core of serious research that has tried to discover
what the consequences might be if farmers adopted sewage sludge
as fertilizer.  In recent months, we have examined this
literature, and here is what we found:

**  Sewage sludge is mutagenic (it causes inheritable genetic
changes in organisms),[5,6] but no one seems sure what this means
for human or animal health.  In its regulations for sewage
sludge, EPA has simply ignored this information.[7,8]

** Two-thirds of sewage sludge contains asbestos.  Because sludge
is often applied to the land dry, asbestos may be a real health
danger to farmers, neighbors and their children.[9,10,11]  In its
sludge regulations, EPA does not mention asbestos.[7,8]

** EPA issued numeric standards for 10 metals (arsenic, cadmium,
chromium, copper, lead, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, selenium,
and zinc).[8]  However, the movement of metals from soils into
groundwater, surface water, plants, and wildlife --and of the
hundreds of other toxins in sludge, which EPA chose not to
regulate --are poorly understood.[12]  Their movement depends
upon at least the following factors: plant species, soil type,
soil moisture, soil acidity or alkalinity, sludge application
rate, slope, drainage, and the specific chemistry of the toxins
and of the sludge itself.[13,14]

** Soil acidity seems to be the key factor in promoting or
retarding the movement of toxic metals into groundwater,
wildlife, and crops.[15,16] In creating its regulations, EPA
assumed that sludge-treated land would be under the perpetual
care of a farmer who would lime the soil to keep it alkaline and
prevent the metals from moving dangerously.  For this reason, a
buildup of toxic heavy metals in soils is often dismissed as
irrelevant.  But in the real world, farmers go out of business
while acid precipitation keeps soaking soils with dilute acid
year after year.  A buildup of toxic heavy metals in soil
today[17] seems to be a prescription for trouble 30 to 50 years
down the road.[18]

The National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of
Sciences gives sewage sludge treatment of soils a clean bill of
health in the short term, "as long as... acidic soils are
agronomically managed." However the NRC acknowledges that toxic
heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants can build up in
treated soils: "Potentially harmful trace elements and certain
persistent organic chemicals in raw municipal wastewater become
concentrated in the sludge during the treatment process, and,
with repeated applications of sludge to the land, these chemicals
may accumulate in the soil," says the NRC.[3]  If such a buildup
occurs and the soils are no longer "agronomically managed" but
are left alone to be washed by acid rain in perpetuity, what will
happen then?

** Research clearly shows that, under some conditions (which are
not fully understood), toxic metals and organic industrial
poisons can be transferred from sludge-treated soils into
crops.[19]  Lettuce, spinach, cabbage, Swiss chard, and carrots
have all been shown to accumulate toxic metals and/or toxic
chlorinated hydrocarbons when grown on soils treated with sewage

**  In some instances, toxic organics contaminate the leafy parts
of plants by simply volatilizing out of the sludge.[2]

**  There is good reason to believe that livestock grazing on
plants treated with sewage sludge will ingest the pollutants
--either through the grazed plants, or by eating sewage sludge
along with the plants. Sheep eating cabbage grown on sludge
developed lesions of the liver and thyroid gland. Pigs grown on
corn treated with sludge had elevated levels of cadmium in their
tissues.[25]  Cows, goats, and sheep are also likely to eat
sludge directly.  In grazing, these animals may pull up plants by
the roots and thus ingest substantial quantities of soil. A cow
may ingest as much as 500 kg (1100 pounds) of soil each year.[26]

** Small mammals have been shown to accumulate heavy metals after
sewage sludge was applied to forest lands.  Shrews, shrew-moles,
and deer mice absorbed metals from sludge.[27]  Insects in the
soil absorb toxins, which then accumulate in birds.[28]

** It has been shown that sewage sludge applied to soils can
increase the dioxin intake of humans eating beef (or cow's milk)
produced from those soils.[29,30]  Humans in the industrial world
already carry unsafe burdens of dioxin in their bodies, according
to EPA.  (See REHW #390, #391, and #414.) From a public health
perspective, any unnecessary addition of dioxin to human food
chains is unthinkable and unacceptable.

**  Sewage sludge is produced in the huge quantities day after
day, year after year.  Sludge never takes a holiday.
Municipalities find themselves under relentless pressure to get
rid of the stuff, day after day after day.  It is exceedingly
expensive to treat it to clean it up. Towns and cities have every
inducement to cut corners, skimp on tests, fudge the numbers,
claim that their sludge is cleaner than it really is.  Farmers
have no capacity to analyze sludge independently; they must rely
on the word of the sludge supplier.  Only an aggressive,
independent oversight agency can protect public health.  Where
can such an agency be found?  Who has confidence that their state
government, or U.S. EPA, will play that role?

EPA has acknowledged that it hasn't adequate funding to oversee
the nation's sewage sludge management program.[31,32]  "At
headquarters, staff has been cut dramatically over the last year,
and we can only do so much," one EPA official told BIOCYCLE
magazine.[31]  And a Washington state official said, "...with EPA
cutting back from financing the sludge program, the problem will
be whether state or local officials have the resources to
adequately oversee every [sludge] application site."[3]

Who, then, will protect public health from the purveyors of toxic
sludge?  Who will protect the nation's agricultural soils from
contamination, providing food security for future generations?

And, finally, who will lead the transition to a truly sustainable
way of managing human waste?[33]
                                                --Peter Montague
                (National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)

[1] Herbert R. Pahren and others, "Health risks associated with
land application of municipal sludge," JOURNAL OF THE WATER
POLLUTION CONTROL FEDERATION Vol. 51, No. 11 (November 1979),
pgs. 2588-2601.

[2] J.G. Babish, D.J. Lisk and others, ORGANIC TOXICANTS AND
[Special Report No. 42] (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University,
December, 1981).

[3] Gary D. Krauss and Albert L. Page, "Wastewater, Sludge and
Food Crops," BIOCYCLE (February 1997), pgs. 74-82.  Krauss was
staff director for the National Research Council study, USE OF
D.C.: National Academy Press, 1996).

[4] John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, TOXIC SLUDGE IS GOOD FOR
YOU (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1995), pgs. 100-101.

[5] K.C. Donnelly and others, "Mutagenic Potential of Municipal
Sewage Sludge Amended soils," WATER, AIR AND SOIL POLLUTION Vol.
48 (1989), pgs. 435-449.

[6] Philip K. Hopke and others, "Comparison of the Mutagenicity
(1984), pgs. 909-916.

[7] Environmental Protection Agency, "40 CFR Part 503; National
Sewage Sludge Survey; Availability of Information and Data, and
Anticipated Impacts on Proposed Regulations; Proposed Rule,"
FEDERAL REGISTER November 9, 1990, pgs. 47210-47283.

[8] The "Part 503" sewage sludge regulations are available on
diskette from the National Technical Information Service [NTIS];
telephone 1-800-553-6847; purchase item No. PB93-500478INC;
price: $60.00.

[9] Charles G. Manos and others, "Prevalence of Asbestos in
Sewage Sludges From 51 Large and Small Cities in the United
States," CHEMOSPHERE Vol. 22, Nos. 9-10 (1991), pgs. 963-967.

[10] Charles G. Manos and others, "Prevalence of Asbestos in
Composted Waste from 26 Communities in the United States,"
No. 2 (August, 1992), pgs. 266-269.

[11] Ed Haag, "Sludge under suspicion," FARM JOURNAL (March
1992), pgs. 16-19.

[12] J.E. Welch and L.J. Lund, "Zinc Movement in
Sewage-Sludge-Treated Soils as Influenced by Soil Properties,
Irrigation Water Quality, and Soil Moisture Level,"  SOIL SCIENCE
Vol. 147, No. 3 (March 1989), pgs. 208-214.

[13] J.P. Schmidt, "Understanding Phytotoxicity Thresholds for
Trace Elements in Land-applied Sewage Sludge," JOURNAL OF
ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY Vol. 26 (January -February 1997), pgs. 4-10.

[14] Ed Haag, "Just Say No," DAIRY TODAY (March 1992), pgs. 82-83.

[15] S.R. Smith, "Effect of Soil pH on Availability to Crops of
Metals in Sewage Sludge-Treated Soils. II. Cadmium Uptake by
Crops and Implications for Human Dietary Intake," ENVIRONMENTAL
POLLUTION Vol. 86 (1994), pgs. 5-13.

[16] Sara Brallier and others, "Liming Effects on Availability of
Cd, Cu, Ni, and Zn in a Soil Amended with Sewage Sludge 16 Years
Previously," WATER, AIR AND SOIL POLLUTION Vol. 86 (1996), pgs.

[17] K.P. Raven and R.H. Loeppert, "Heavy Metals in the
(March-April 1997), pgs. 551-557.

[18] Brian J. Alloway and Andrew P. Jackson, "The Behaviour of
Heavy Metals in Sewage Sludge-Amended Soils," THE SCIENCE OF THE
TOTAL ENVIRONMENT Vol. 100 (1991), pgs. 151-176.

[19] Donald J. Lisk and others, "Survey of Toxicants and
Nutrients in Composted Waste Materials," ARCHIVES OF

[20] Min-Jian Wang and Kevin C. Jones, "Uptake of Chlorobenzenes
by Carrots from Spiked and Sewage Sludge-Amended Soil,"

[21] Min-Jian Wang and Kevin C. Jones, "Behaviour and Fate of
Chlorobenzenes (CBs) Introduced into Soil-Plant Systems by Sewage
Sludge Application: A Review," CHEMOSPHERE Vol. 28, No. 7 (1994),
pgs. 1325-1360.

[22] Rufus L. Chaney, "Public Health and Sludge Utilization,"
BIOCYCLE (October 1990), pgs. 68-73.

[23] A.C. Chang and others, "Cadmium Uptake for Swiss Chard Grown
on Composted Sewage Sludge Treated Field Plots: Plateau or Time
-February 1997), pgs. 11-19.

[24] Yutaka Iwata and others, "Uptake of a PCB (Aroclor 1254)
from Soil by Carrots under Field Conditions," BULLETIN OF
pgs. 523-528.

[25] See D.J. Lisk and others, "Toxicologic Studies with Swine
Fed Corn Grown on Municipal Sewage Sludge-Amended Soil,"  JOURNAL
OF ANIMAL SCIENCE Vol. 55, No. 3 (1982), pgs. 613-619.

[26]  M.M. Varma and W. Wade Talbot, "Organic Pollutants in
Vol. 16, No. 4 (1986-87), pgs. 295-308.

[27] Linda J. Hegstrom and Stephen D. West, "Heavy Metal
Accumulation in Small Mammals following Sewage Sludge Application
-September 1989), pgs. 345-349.

[28] Thomas S. Davis and others, "Uptake of Polychlorobiphenyls
Present in Trace Amounts from Dried Municipal Sewage Sludge
Through an Old Field Ecosystem," BULLETIN OF ENVIRONMENTAL
CONTAMINATION AND TOXICOLOGY Vol. 27 (1981), pgs. 689-694.

[29] Simon R. Wild and others, "The Influence of Sewage Sludge
Applications to Agricultural Land on Human Exposure to
Polychlorinated Dibenzo-P-dioxins (PCDDs) and -Furans (PCDFs),"
ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION Vol. 83 (1994), pgs. 357-369.

[30] Michael S. McLachlan and others, "A Study of the Influence
of Sewage Sludge Fertilization on the Concentrations of PCDD/F
and PCB in Soil and Milk," ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION Vol. 85
(1994), pgs. 337-343.

[31] Nora Goldstein, "EPA Streamlines Biosolids Management
Programs," BIOCYCLE (July 1995), pgs. 58-60.

[32] "EPA and Stakeholders Outline New Biosolids Management
Approaches," BIOCYCLE (August 1995), pg. 6.

[33] Robert Goodland and Abby Rockefeller, "What is Environmental
Sustainability in Sanitation?" IETC'S INSIGHT [newsletter of the
United Nations Environment Programme, International Environmental
Technology Centre] Summer, 1996), pgs. 5-8.  The International
Environmental Technology Centre can be reached at: UNEP-IETC,
2-1110 Ryokuchikoen, Tsurumi-ku, Osaka 538, Japan. Telephone:
(81-6) 915-4580; fax: (81-6) 915-0304; E-mail:
cstrohma@unep.or.jp; URL: http://www.unep.or.jp/.

Descriptor terms: sewage sludge; clean ocean action; cindy zipf;
epa; pcbs; dioxin; asbestos; bioaccumulation; wildlife; forests;
birds; mammals; agriculture; farming; farm land; soil;
dimethylnitrosamine; dioxin; pesticides; nutrients; mutagens;
carcinogens; arsenic; cadmium; chromium; copper; lead; mercury;
molybdenum; nickel; selenium; zinc; acid rain; acid
precipitation; livestock; regulation; regulations; beef; cow's

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                                        --Peter Montague, Editor