About Sewage Sludge


  • The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act passed in 1972.
    MPRSA is the only pollution law exclusively devoted to the ocean and is the only law that explicitly requires consideration of alternative land-based disposal methods (Sec. 102(a)).
  • Clean Water Act (CWA), passed 1972; major revisions in 1977, 1981, 1987.
    “Beneficial use” is codified in the CWA. US$80 billion invested in building sewers and wastewater treatment plants. Secondary treatment is made a legal requirement for most publicly owned treatment works, more than doubling the amount of sludge produced.
  • In 1977, Congress statutorily mandated phasing out all “harmful” ocean dumping of wastes, including sewage sludge, by December 1981.
  • In 1981, New York City brought suit against the EPA to stop implementation of the regulations. In City of New York v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal District Court in New York ruled that dumping of municipal sewage sludge in the New York Bight could not be banned without full consideration of the costs and environmental consequences of alternative disposal methods. EPA did not appeal the decision.
  • In 1981, EPA published a 40-page report, “Institutional Constraints and Public Acceptance Barriers to Utilization of Municipal Wastewater and Sludge for Land Reclamation and Biomass Production.”
  • The Clean Water Act Amendments of 1987 directed EPA to research and promulgate land application rules.
  • In 1988, Congress passes the Ocean Dumping Ban Act,
    eliminating all but land-based options for the disposal sewage sludge.
  • In 1990, the sewage industry’s “Name Change Task Force” sponsored a contest to come up with a different, more marketable name, for sewage sludge. Rejected candidates include "all growth," "purenutri," "biolife," "bioslurp," "black gold," "geoslime," "sca-doo," "the end product," "humanure," "hu-doo," "bioresidue," "urban biomass," "powergro," "organite," and "nutri-cake." In 1991, the task force settled on “biosolids.”
  • In 1992, the Ocean Dumping Ban Act of 1988 went into effect, mandating the end to dumping sludge in the ocean.
  • 1992, public relations firm Powell Tate is hired by industry and publishes a detailed PR plan for gaining public acceptance of sewage sludge disposal on land.
  • February 19, 1993, sewage sludge regulations—known as the “Part 503s,” promulgated under the authority of the Clean Water Act, Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 503—were published in the Federal Register.
  • July 1996, people from around the country met to discuss the opposition to the land application of sewage sludge, Pawling, New York.
  • March 1999, a conference, Seattle, Washington, brought together people from across the U.S. opposed to land application and the use of sewage sludge and other hazardous products in fertilizers, including many sludge victims.
  • November 2001, first national conference on the health effects of land applying sewage sludge, Boston University School of Public Health. Proceedings published in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, Volume 12, Number 4, 2002.
  • National Academy of Sciences report (2002), "persistent uncertainty" about the safety of sewage sludge.
  • Office of the Inspector General (2002) said, "EPA cannot assure the public that current land application practices [of sewage sludge] are protective of human health and the environment.”
  • June 2003, a court in Georgia ruled that the land application of sewage sludge was the legal cause of the damage to farmland at the Boyceland Dairy and the deaths of the farm's prize-winning cattle.
  • October 2003, 73 farm, labor, and environmental organizations opposed to the land application of sewage sludge signed a petition to EPA demanding that the practice be stopped (http://sludgenews.org/resources/documents/FinalPetitionSludge.pdf).
  • In 2006, a lawsuit is filed against the University of Georgia and UGA faculty in U.S. District Court, pursuant to the Federal False Claims Act, involving a University of Georgia sludge study, funded by EPA, based on false data -- data US District Court Judge Anthony Alaimo defined as being clearly "fudged," "fabricated," and "invented."  The EPA and University of Georgia then provided the false data to the National Academy of Sciences, which used it to support EPA's Part 503 sewage sludge regulations.
  • February 25, 2008, the McElmurrays, diary farmers from Georgia, received an order issued by Judge Anthony Alaimo of the 11th Circuit Court. The order addresses and confirms that there have been decades of deceit by the EPA and finds against the USDA and the EPA. It acknowledges that the sludge applications on the McElmurrays' farm were responsible for killing hundreds of dairy cattle and contaminating the milk supplies in several states.
  • 2008-2019, the dumping continues, with tens of millions of pounds of toxic sewage sludge disposed of on land in the United States, distributing harmful chemicals such as PFAS and BPA into American's drinking water and food supply.
  • On November 15, 2018 the EPA's Office of the Inspector General reports,"EPA Unable to Assess the Impact of Hundreds of Unregulated Pollutants in Land-Applied Biosolids on Human Health and the Environment."'
  • 2022, Farm, labor, heath, environment, and food safety groups continue to work together to end the practice of sewage sludge disposal on land, including farms, gardens, and parks. 
  • 2022, Maine takes the lead as the first state in the nation to ban the land application of sewage sludge and sludge-derived compost