September 7, 2008
U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works 410 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg. Washington, DC 20510-6175
Dear Senator Boxer,
Land application of sewage sludge is a costly experiment with the public and the affected ecosystems paying the cost. The EPA cannot be trusted as it is alleged that they manufactured and published false data to support the use of potentially harmful sewage sludges as fertilizers. The sludges have been linked to health problems in humans and cattle, and even deaths.
Congress must make changes to protect the health and welfare of people and ecosystems from the harmful effects of sewage sludge. Changes must be made to strengthen the laws regulating sewage sludge to include enforcement.
Notification People have a right to know about what’s being dumped in their backyards that might hurt them. Right now, residents of counties where land application is taking place have no knowledge about when and where sewage sludge is being spread because the public isn’t being notified. Congress should require the states and affected local jurisdictions to publish a written public notice announcing new or renewed permits to spread sludge in local newspapers, on the state's websites and in county libraries so that the public has an opportunity to comment and request a public hearing. This includes sending a written notification to residents living within a 1 mile-radius from fields getting spread with sludge.
Exposure The majority of sewage sludge spread on farmlands is left on the surface soil. Wind and rain can transport sludge into the air and environment to affect the health of nearby residents. Congress should require applicators to disc sludge into the soil to lessen exposure to sludge and set up a help-line for citizens to report illnesses, nuisances and potential violations regarding sludge applications. Current regulations require that public access to private fields being spread with sludge is restricted for 30 days and one calendar year for public lands being spread with sludge, but very few signs, if any, are seen restricting access. Visible signs should be posted limiting public access to fields receiving sludge with information on how to contact authorities in the event of an illness, accident or potential violation.
Setbacks Sewage sludge has made people sick, and contaminated groundwater, private wells, and surface waters. Chemicals in wastewater effluent that have been found to concentrate in sludge damage the reproductive systems of fish and other aquatic animals. Increased setbacks should be established for sewage sludge applications next to schools, churches, residences, private wells, adjoining properties, and surface waters.
Testing There are potentially thousands of chemicals that concentrate in sewage sludge. Only a handful of toxic metals, nutrients and pathogens are tested for and partially removed by wastewater treatment plants. Congress should require testing for other contaminants not being tested for in sludge such as pharmaceuticals, hormones, pathogens, fire retardants, and radioactive contaminants – to name a few. Also, Congress should place limits on the amounts of phosphorus in runoff from sludge that can choke the life out of a river or stream.
While much more work needs to be done on this issue, including finding alternatives to the disposal of sewage sludge, the above are some practical and prudent methods of getting started on protecting human and ecosystem health in our communities.
Thank you for your time and attention.
Executive Director Center for Community Alternatives
P.O. Box 931 Mebane, NC 27302