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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://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/pubs/FinalPetitionSludge.pdf). On Christmas Eve, December 24, 2003, they received an answer from EPA: there will be no changes.
- 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. This case remains in litigation.
- 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.
- The Associated Press (A.P.) published a story about the District Court ruling that received widespread media attention, "Sewage-Based Fertilizer Safety Doubted," March 6, 2008 (http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/03/07/7533/).
- The A.P. published a report on drugs in the water that received widespread media attention, March 9, 2008 (http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-03-10-drugs-tap-water_N.htm).
- Pharmaceuticals in water are inextricably linked to sewage treatment effluent and sewage sludge.
- The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer, held hearings on pharmaceuticals in drinking water on April 15, 2008.
- Sixty-eight farm, health, and environmental organizations sign a letter in support of the Boxer hearings investigating hazardous pollution from wastewater and sewage sludge.
- A.P. publishes Baltimore sludge story, "Sludge Tested As Lead-Poisoning Fix," on April 14, 2008. "Scientists using federal grants spread fertilizer made from human and industrial wastes on yards in poor, black neighborhoods to test whether it might protect children from lead poisoning in the soil. Families were assured the sludge was safe and were never told about any harmful ingredients."
- Maryland's NAACP demands probe into EPA / HUD/ USDA financed sludge study and possible harm to families in Baltimore.
- April 2008, Senator Boxer announced that EPW will have hearings on sewage sludge
- September 2008, EPW postpones sludge hearing
- October 2009, the Center for Food Safety and the Resource Institute for Low Entropy Systems (RILES) petition the City of San Francisco to stop its toxic sludge giveaway program http://truefoodnow.org/2009/09/23/the-center-for-food-safety-petitions-san-francisco-mayor-to-stop-giving-away-poison-compost-to-public/
- January 2010, the Organic Consumers Association launches its Toxic Sludge Campaign
- January 2012, the Food Rights Network takes a lead role in informing the public about the hazards of sewage sludge.
- 2016, Farm, labor, heath, environment, and food safety groups continue to work together to change EPA sludge policy to end the practice of disposing of sewage sludge, or products derived from sludge, on agricultural land, gardens, school yards, and parks.