All municipal sewage sludge treatment programs are governed by an EPA-administered regulatory program under the 503 Rule. Under this rule, EPA requires sewage sludge to undergo minimal treatment and testing before it is land-applied, allowing for two classes of sludge that can be applied agriculturally: Class A and Class B. While there are no restrictions on Class A sludge, certain pathogen requirements must be met before Class B sludge – more commonly used – can be applied. Typically, EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) is consulted before such a rule is made and participates in drafting and modifying the text, but the 503 Guidance Rule was adopted despite ardent opposition from the ORD. When EPA eventually made the move to comply, funding dwindled and ORD’s concerns remained largely unaddressed.
In October 2003, a coalition of food, farm, environmental, and labor organizations formally petitioned Acting EPA Administrator Marianne Lamont Horinko to place an immediate moratorium on the land application of sewage sludge and ultimately to prohibit the practice. The action was taken after a Georgia court ruled that land application of sewage sludge – in compliance with EPA's sludge rules – caused the deaths of 300 prized dairy cows at the Boyce family farm in Burke County, Georgia.
“The judicial branch ruled in February 2008 that the executive branch was at best incompetent and at worst crooked when it threw out the Petition,” said Laura Orlando, the group's spokesperson. “We want Congress to get the ball rolling on implementation of the Sludge Petition, placing an immediate moratorium on disposing of sewage sludge on land.”
Judge Anthony Alaimo of the 11th Circuit Court said in his February 2008 ruling that “Senior EPA officials took extraordinary steps to quash scientific dissent and any questioning of EPA's biosolids program.” He called data used to support EPA's 503 sludge regulations as “fudged,” “fabricated,” and “invented.” (McElmurray v. USDA)
In 2009, CFS and the Resource Institute for Low Entropy Systems filed a petition with the city of San Francisco to end its toxic sludge giveaway program.