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CFS Files Petition with EPA to Stop the Land Application of Sewage Sludge

October 07, 2003

A coalition of labor, environment, and farm groups today 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.

More than 23 million gallons of sewage sludge from the Messerly Wastewater Plant in Augusta, Georgia, were applied on Boyce farmland under the provisions of EPA’s sludge program. After the Boyce cows were fed hay grown on the sludge-covered fields, hundreds of the cows died. When the family connected the deaths to sludge and stopped feeding their cows from these fields, the mortality rate for the Boyce herd returned to normal.

We have watched for years as the heavy metals and other
toxic materials present in sewage sludge, and accumulating
in the soil, have sickened and killed animals, and even
people, said Laura Orlando, a spokesperson for the
coalition. This Georgia court ruling is a fire bell in the night
warning us to end this deadly practice before we irreparably
contaminate our nation’s food sources and farmland.

An assessment of the EPA sewage sludge program conducted
by its own Office of the Inspector General in 2002 concluded
that, “EPA cannot assure the public that current land
application practices are protective of human health and the
environment.”

EPA promotes the land application of sewage sludge  called biosolids by industry for disposal of this hazardous material from wastewater treatment plants. Millions of tons of sludge have been spread on farmland across the United States. The Georgia court ruling adds an important legal precedent to the growing body of evidence that this EPA-permitted practice harms public health, livestock and the environment.

Because of the hazardous waste materials routinely disposed of into sewers, sludge routinely contains industrial wastes, hospital wastes (pharmaceuticals, antibiotics, disease-carrying organisms), radioactive wastes, heavy metals, and synthetic organic compounds (e.g., PCBs and related compounds), as well as human fecal waste. All of the hazardous chemicals used by American industry can be found in sewage sludge.

The Cornell Waste Management Institute alone has received over 350 sludge-based health complaints. Documented symptoms include respiratory complications, abscesses, reproductive complications, cysts, and tumors, asthma, weight loss, fatigue, eye irritations, flu-like symptoms, gastrointestinal complications, headaches, immunodeficiency problems, lesions, nausea, nosebleeds, and rashes. Nationwide, thousands of people have reported sludge-related health problems, and at least three human deaths have been attributed to sewage sludge.

This petition is a legal document that compels a formal response within 60 days, added Orlando. EPA will not be able to dismiss this the way it has ignored the mounting evidence that sludge is a health hazard to people and animals.

The petition to EPA offers a detailed case regarding the dangers of land application of sewage sludge and requests this practice be prohibited. Signatories include the United Mine Workers of America, Clean Water Action, the Organic Consumers Association, the Center for Food Safety, Farm Aid, and Citizens for a Future New Hampshire.

To view the petition, click HERE.