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New Jersey Sludge - brief history

September 9, 2008

The Honorable Senator Barbara Boxer, the Committee on Environment and Public Works, and the Staff

Cornucopia's NJ Sludge History NJ 1990 to 2008 - Sludge Disposal on Land - our grass roots effort to prevent it.

This is not a story of health harms that manifest directly in people. Those of us in the Cornucopia Network of New Jersey who fought the EPA policy of sludge dumping on land began with the purpose of cooperating with the EPA as it developed its policy of spreading sludge, renamed 'biosolids' on depleted farmlands and other places needing the nutrients we knew were in sewage. However, we were forced to change sides as we faced the real world discovering what is in sludge besides nutrients. We sadly realized that it is almost impossible to sufficiently remove contaminants to make sludge safe for spreading on land.

Our history shows how we gradually reversed our early hope that we could use sludge beneficially. This is a brief history of a local group taking on the sludge/biosolids treatment and hauling industry and its lobbying group, the WEF.

For 5 years in the early 90s we monitored our huge 4 county, North Jersey sewage treatment plant as it struggled to clean its sewage to make it clean enough for land application. They did not succeed, though the sludge is being land applied as fertilizer. I have 3 boxes of records of testimony and videos of our struggle. I wrote the history below for our July Cornucopia Newsletter as we celebrate our 25th anniversary working for the "production, quality and distribution of food" in the State of New Jersey.

We took the sewage and sludge issue very seriously and abhor the poisoning of our fragile and ever diminishing soil reserves and want to yell fire about the dire consequence for all life from bugs to people from this ill-conceived policy. Trina Paulus - Vice President - Cornucopia Network of New Jersey Inc Vice President - Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Inc. Author - Hope For the Flowers

Hurrah! September 11 Sludge Hearing. Finally congress is putting Sludge Dumping on land on trial!!! Our own Senator Frank Lautenberg is on the committee. September 11, testimony is sought! Learn about this insanity: Cornucopia took on some big issues that were not very popular in its 25 years. A major one was what to do with Sewage Sludge when dead spots were found in the ocean after years of dumping first 6 miles out and then 100. Sewage from 4 Industrial Counties is treated on the edge of Newark at PVSC, Passaic Valley Sewage Commissioners. Treated water goes back into our rivers and the Sludge . . . Well, no one knew what to do about it. Too toxic for the Ocean - now what? Don Clark and I joined the Clean Sludge Coalition with Madelyn Hoffman GREO, Grass Roots Environmental Organization, and Arnold Cohen, Ironbound Community Coalition. NRDC was involved. We first believed that because of the nutrients in the sludge, it should be used “beneficially”. All we had to do was clean out the toxic heavy metals and other pollutants. Voila! a great fertilizer for our food growing land.

It was the early 1990s and sludge, by Federal law, had to get out of the water. The PVSC was pushing its industries to remove the mercury, lead, cadmium before disposal. Some progress was made, but not enough to be safe. Various processes were looked into to treat the sludge for land application after original regular sewage treatment.

A favorite seemed lime stabilization in which adding lime heats to sterilizing temperature. The result is then given away as a liming agent to “grateful farmers” without much info about the other pollutants riding in the gift. Friendly Waste Management Inc had a site in Newark right next to the Path commuter line and wholesale food supply houses. All was readied to let trucks filled with the stinking slurry wind their way thru the tight and peopled streets of Newark's Ironbound to dump, within smelling distance of thousands.

Many of us in Cornucopia favored composting. Because of the nutrient content of this human manure it seemed so logical to recycle it naturally. And the mighty microbe workers in the composting process heats and kills pathogens - usually. Ah yes! Tis true, and for some sewage, direct from clean-living humans composting is the most responsible way to purify and then reuse human waste. But after monitoring the PVSC at boring monthly meetings for 5 years, we realized to our disappointment, that in this real world, where human excrement was mixed with industrial waste, clean sludge can't be. A New Jersey sludge could never be clean enough for food production.

We videoed hearings, petitioned the NJ DEP, wrote papers, testified, and one of us even sued a sludge hauler ad won. I once went out at midnight with a friend whose home was neighbor to the would-be Waste Management Lime Stabilization site to see the trucks leave the PVSC plant. Our “stuff” was hauled deep into Pennsylania and spread on farms in Ohio near Akron where my parents grew up and elsewhere, to Virginia and further.

A fellow Cornucopian and I visited a PA mine courtesy of their EPA agents to see where OUR New Jersey sludge went. It was reclaiming strip mines and also just piling up in a pristine preserve with wildlife running thru the stuff and carrying it … where? Who knows? We sometimes presented formal papers. We sometimes acted up and made a fuss. We once transformed a truck into a WASTE mis MANAGEMENT truck pulling a factory float with a doll and toilet and signs galore. After going thru Newark's Ironbound in front of governor and mayor on Portuguese day, we did the suburbs and took second prize in Montclair's famous 4th of July parade.

Did we win in our protests against the permissive "503 regs" that encouraged dumping sewage on farm land? No, this is still the favored solution pushed by the EPA. We did however succeed with the help of Jeanne Fox of our EPA district, in stopping Waste Management doing Lime "Stabilization" in downtown Newark. Environmental Justice had a little victory.

Over 900 of us testified at Rutgers University in 1997 against the proposed Organic Standards that were to include Genetically engineered food, irradiated food and crops raised on sludged land. This was one of 4 public hearings nationally. With these and a record number of written protests, the USDA backed down so Certified Organic cannot be raised on sludged land or include GMOs or be Irradiated.

Another victory came In 2003 when twenty impassioned testimonies kept this stuff off of NJ PRESERVED farmland, something that regrettably PA did not manage. How ridiculous to pay to preserve farmland, and then contaminate it with sewage sludge!

During these years of supporting our sewage plant's struggle to clean metals and toxins out of the sludge, I thought that, at least. it is clean of pathogens. A final blow to the idea of reusing it beneficially is that even this is not true. This final problem is not the fault of industry pollution but our human use of drugs designed to fight microbes! Antibiotics, birth control pills, and other powerful agents do just that, and kill the organisms that ordinarily digest the sewage. This allows resistant pathogens to get thru the treatment process. People and animals get sick and die. Sludge on land poisons directly and thru contaminated food and water.

This pollution has to stop! Also, we must move to non-waterbased sewage solutions to save our precious water resources. Thanks for this hearing - finally! may it be just a beginning of change for a failed policy.

Trina Paulus, Montclair, New Jersey