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Exposed and Abandoned

September 1, 2008


TO: The Honorable Senator Barbara Boxer- Chair: Environmental and Public Works Committee FROM:

Barbara L. Rubin, Loudoun Neighbors Against Toxic Sludge, www.LoudounNATS.org

RE: Sewage Sludge/Biosolids Hearings

DATE: September 11, 2008

In August of 2001, I was living in Waterford, Virginia, a beautiful historic village surrounded by farms and streams in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Waterford is approximately 50 miles west of Washington, DC.

I was a perfectly healthy individual with no chronic illnesses. On a balmy mid-August day I was infected with what would be diagnosed as an extremely virulent form of mycoplasma pneumonia. The initial illness lasted 4 months. I went through 8 courses of antibiotics, a 5-day hospital stay, and incurred over $10,000 in medical expenses.

That pneumonia was the beginning of a debilitating loss of my overall health that continues to this day. I was never able to shake the infections and have since experienced 4 additional bouts of pneumonia, a number of co-infections, and neurological problems which have turned into chronic diseases. I now spend half my days and a huge amount of money on constant health care.

While at home recovering from my initial pneumonia, I began to hear about other neighbors in my village who also became ill with a range of severe and unusual illnesses. These included burning eyes, nose and throat, mild to severe respiratory problems, at least 10 pneumonias (3 times the national average for the population size), flu-like symptoms, rashes, lesions, bloody noses, bloody stools and severe headaches. People described the illnesses as unusually severe, atypical, not responding to normal cures, needing multiple courses of antibiotics or other medications. Often their perplexed doctors referred them to other doctors.

I began referring to Waterford’s mysterious epidemic until I heard Dr. David L. Lewis talk on a morning TV show. He described the exact same ailments we were experiencing in Waterford. He linked these illnesses to the public’s exposure to sewage sludge applied to adjacent fields. I had no idea what sewage sludge was or where it came from. I began to research sewage sludge and its effect on public health.

While researching, I was horrified at the complete lack of scientific theory on which this program of waste disposal is based. Two National Academy of Science reports, two EPA Inspector General Reports, as well as the EPA’s own Office of Research and Development, all found the science behind the application of sewage sludge to be outdated, weak or non-existent for health. I also discovered that several large farms surrounding our village had applied sewage sludge to their fields for the first time. Not only were there many health problems among Waterford residents in the wake of this sludge application, but there were also numerous complaints about increased flies, putrid smells, and white powder deposited on cars, door frames, and window ledges.

These complaints in the Waterford area are by no means a unique phenomenon. As I delved deeper I learned that people all over the US who lived down wind from sludge-applied fields seemed to also develop similar patterns of illness accompanied by the putrid smells, flies and dust problems.

A neighbor and I eventually organized a health survey of Waterford residents. We found in the 44 family responses that over 100 people in a village of approximately 250 people were complaining of the illnesses I mentioned before. As it turned out, the illness complaints were all concomitant with the dates the surrounding farms began use of sewage sludge on their fields.

I am not a doctor or scientist. Nonetheless, I have common sense and had to ask, was this the application of sewage sludge and the outburst of unusual and widespread sickness a coincidence, or something more? Could the same problems crop up all over the US where sewage sludge was land applied and not be linked to the product? I sincerely doubt it. Based on the information I had gathered I talked a very reluctant county health director, who happened also to oversee the application of sewage sludge in the county, to do a health “evaluation.” From the outset, the health director’s declared reluctance to investigate the matter and his position as sludge program director suggested a whitewash might result. Indeed, it did. However, I was not prepared for what I believe are the gross manipulation and misrepresentations of facts that appear in the so-called “Evaluation of Health Concerns in Waterford Virginia and Their Possible Association with Biosolid Applications” issued by the county health director. Examples include the citing of studies that cannot be found in the literature; relying on fake sludge application dates; only acknowledging 3 out of a total of about 20 fields that were land applied; purposely ignoring 1/3 of the health surveys that were submitted; and ignoring all health complaints that are “signature” sludge-linked (that is, could not be attributed to normal seasonal ailments).

I believe it is clear when the highly flawed “Evaluation of Health Concerns” paper is read that its two main propositions, and the foregoing misrepresentations and manipulations, were adopted to predetermine the desired conclusion that sewage sludge exposure did not cause these illnesses.

In addition to the health survey of Waterford residents, I put together a 2.5 hour presentation on the scientific questions, uncertainties, and harsh criticism of the sewage sludge program. I included in my presentation peer-viewed studies linking illness, even death, to sewage sludge exposure. I met with both county and state, health and government representatives. They could not dispute the information with any scientific data, nor could they even identify one specific study that sewage sludge exposure was safe for the public health. All they could offer was a vague assurance there were “hundreds of studies to prove sludge safe.” I asked to have them sent to me. That was in spring of 2002. I am still waiting. Of course there are none, yet this heinous program continues with the endorsement of the EPA and under the oversight and funding of Congress.

It is very important for this Committee to understand that victims of sewage sludge application are twice or three times victimized. After they battle their illness, or in a few documented case loss of life, they then face fierce opposition from a coalition of determined government agencies and an entrenched industry composed of sludge haulers and sewage plant operators. This powerful pro-sludge coalition supports each other to protect government agency programs, staff reputations and huge private sector profits. These promoters often form a brotherhood of cooperation by using vilification of victims as their main tool of offense.

It is time Congress and the EPA put the public health above corporate profits. The EPA is in the ridiculous position of declaring a product, for which the agency cannot even identify components, is “safe.” Because there is no credible science to defend the program, it should be stopped. Certainly a drug, car, or toy that caused thousands of injuries and deaths in this country would be recalled or taken off the market. Why is toxic sewage sludge still land applied?

I believe there should be an immediate moratorium on the program until there is credible scientific evidence it is safe for public health and environment.

Barbara L. Rubin, McLean, VA