- July 3 - In a newly released report, the National Research Council (NRC) has
recommended additional scientific analysis and better Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) enforcement of the controversial practice of spreading sewage sludge
on land. In light of this report, the Sierra Club is asking the EPA to re-examine
its support for spreading sewage sludge, and is calling on the EPA to protect
communities where this sludge is spread.
"This should be a wake-up call for those who have been pooh-poohing the
ways sewage sludge harms people's health," said Doris Cellarius, Chair of
the Sierra Club Sewage Sludge Task Force. "We hope the EPA will inform communities
about the dangers of sewage sludge and create tougher standards to protect our
air, drinking water and health."
Sewage sludge, the by-product of treating municipal and industrial wastewater,
is often used as fertilizer. It may contain toxic chemicals such as PCBs, lead
and mercury that can cause serious illnesses, including cancer and birth defects.
Sludge is also laden with bacteria and viruses that can cause diseases like e.
coli and salmonella poisoning. In its newly released report, the NRC report highlights
the EPA's lax enforcement program and potential adverse health effects from sludge.
Organized by the National Academy of Sciences, the NRC is often commissioned by
Congress to conduct research. The NRC found that no one really knows the health
threats associated with sludge, which is a complex and changing mix of chemicals.
The NRC report is only the latest warning in a series of studies that illustrate
that spreading sludge on our land may harm human health. In 1997 the Cornell Waste
Management Institute's "Case For Caution" warned that the current rules
do not appear to protect human health, environmental health, or agricultural productivity.
In 2000, the Center for Disease Control identified one type of sewage sludge
as a potential hazard for workers who handle this material, and earlier this year
the Sierra Club released a Guidance Document strongly critical of the current
land application rules. Meanwhile two recent EPA Inspector General Reports stated
that the agency could not assure the public that land application protects human
health and the environment.
The Sierra Club opposes the land application of municipal sewage sludge as
a fertilizer and/or soil amendment because the current policies and regulations
governing this practice do not adequately protect human health and the environment.
The Sierra Club recognizes, however, that more than half of the sewage sludge
generated in the US is being disposed through land application. Because this practice
cannot be banned overnight, the Sierra Club has developed sewage sludge guidelines
for community activists, as well as recommendations for research and for the national
"These latest NRC recommendations support much of what rural residents
have suspected all along: unless sludge illnesses are thoroughly and impartially
investigated, unless sites where sludge is spread are better managed, and unless
rules and guidelines are strengthened and then strictly followed, communities
are fully justified in wanting sewage sludge spreading to be severely restricted
to protect their health, their farm land, and their drinking water," Cellarius