EPA denies petition to ban sewage sludge on farmland

WASHINGTON, DC, January 7, 2004 (ENS): On New Year's Eve, December 31, 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) denied a petition from a coalition of 73 labor, environment, and farm groups requesting that the agency ban the land application of sewage sludge from wastewater treatment plants.

On the same day, the agency published its review of regulations governing the use and disposal of sewage sludge. The review was prompted by criticism of EPA's sludge rules by the National Research Council (NRC).

In both responses, the agency decided to permit the continued application of sewage sludge on agricultural fields.

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.

The petitioners say the sludge contains heavy metals, radioactive materials, and other contaminants such as medical waste and is harmful to people, livestock and the environment.

Since the EPA allowed the practice 10 years ago, the petitioners complain that millions of tons of sewage sludge have been applied to American farmland. No system is in place to track health and environmental problems arising from the sludge, although 350 people have reported sludge related health incidents to the Cornell Waste Management Institute, and three people have died immediately after contact with the sludge.

"The EPA has once again chosen to make its controversial rulings on a holiday in the hope that no one will notice it's obfuscating," said Laura Orlando, a spokesperson for the coalition. "But EPA's dodging the ball when no one is looking is not going to make the facts go away: cows are dying, people are getting sick, and the food supply is being poisoned."