September 2, 2008
by Ben Oostdam, Ph.D.
Professor of Earth Sciences Emeritus (1992),
Founder and Man.Director ESRA (Environmental Science Research Associates Inc., 1967)
I have been involved in sludge disposal research since the early 1970's and testified before Congress in 1975 not to ban ocean dumping of sewage sludge because it was the least deleterious of the three options - the other two being
(1) to incinerate it and cause air pollution
(2) to dispose of it on land which would expose their (Congress') constituents to the very harmful substances from which they tried to protect sealife.
Congress went along with the ban anyhow, because:
(1) fish do not vote
(2) they wanted to set an example to other nations
Not even New York Mayor Koch - himself a former Crgm - could persuade his former colleagues to allow the City to dump their treated sewage sludge into the oceans - not even as far as 105 miles offshore...
So the City of New York arranged for a $ 93 million, 15 year contract with Mascaro to truck the City's sewage sludge into (My Own Backyard) Manheim, PA where it is treated by drying, heating and mixing with woodchips (containing lead) and then passed off as fertilizer.
Along the way, a mysterious miracle converts 'Sewage Sludge' into "Biosolids", a most objectionable term which should be restricted to "pure" or "natural" sewage, i.e. human and animal excretions or manure of the same type as the term "organic" used in marketing foods which have not been subject to artificial fertilizers and pesticides. "Biosolids" - in the USEPA sense - do, however, include the considerable (quantitative as well as qualitative) types and amounts of pollutants derived from other such sources as industrial waste, agricultural and municipal runoff which have "erroneously" entered waste treatment plants (because no one had the foresight to use separate sewage systems) which themselves were optimized for treatment of organic substances by aerobic and anaerobic bacterial processes.
Thus, I am, like most U.S. citizens, not strictly a "Sludge Victim", of which there are literally thousands, but a "Biosolids Victim", of which there are hundreds of millions.
This class of citizens has been duped, cheated and terrorized by their own government, federal, state and municipal in charge of health and protection of the environment.
Not even an expert bio-terrorist could do a better job on harming us than those in charge who solve the potentially dangerous problems of waste disposal not by proper regulation and enforcement based on good scientific research, but by lies and propaganda and false claims.
Specifically, the US EPA not only has a history of restricting funding research to researchers and topics stressing the beneficial aspects of biosolids, but actively denies that there are any sludge-victims, even going as far as to fire the only EPA scientist whose research clearly indicated the opposite.
Since 1996, I have maintained a website (http://www.boostdam.net/sludge/index.html) dealing with sewage sludge issues in much greater detail than the scope of this statement allows. In 2001, I personally scanned hundreds of reports by sludge victims, compiled by Helane Shields, and put them on an ESRA website, entitled "http://www.sludgevictims.net". Since that time, additional reports have appeared in http://www.sludgevictims.com and http://www.sludgevictims.org
I am personally convinced - both as a scientist and citizen - that spreading of sewage sludge is a pernicious practice which should be discontinued. This opinion is strongly supported by the fact that land application of sludge in the Netherlands was formally discontinued more than a decade ago, chiefly on the basis of good scientific research.
Admittedly, the USEPA has done some good, too, for example in their point source elimination program in Philadelphia when Cadmium was found to be introduced into the sewage system by printers, but the resulting regulations only caused those printers to move elsewhere.
I commend Senator Barbara Boxer on her initiative to collect testimonies of sludge victims, and respectfully suggest that the above-mentioned reports be incorporated in her final version. In conclusion, the newly touted use of sludge as an energy source sounds encouraging, so let's hope it does not pan out to have as many adverse effects as the recent ethanol boom had on food prices.
Millersville, PA 17551