Sludge News

Sludge News

The disposal of sewage sludge (aka "biosolids") on land has been promoted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since 1993. Millions of tons of hazardous sewage sludge have subsequently been spread on agricultural land and forests by corporate waste haulers and used as a soil amendment or fertilizer by landscapers and homeowners. This practice is a health and environmental disaster.

Sewage sludge is a byproduct of wastewater treatment. It serves as a sink for chemicals that are not attracted to water (hydrophobic) and so bind to solids. These chemicals include surfactants, flame retardants, pharmaceuticals, and antimicrobials.

The EPA is required to identify and regulate toxic chemicals in municipal sewage sludge. The last sludge survey made by the agency was in 2009. The EPA chose to analyze 231 chemicals of emerging concern, of which 123 were detected, including perfluoroalkylsubstances (PFASs) which persist in the environment and bioaccumulate in animals. They have been associated with serious health effects in humans, including developmental and reproductive toxicity, ulcerative colitis, and cancer.

In November of 2018, the EPA's own Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report that concluded that the EPA is "unable to assess the impact of hundreds of unregulated pollutants in land-applied biosolids on human health and the environment."

There are so many chemicals of emerging concern, such as PFAS, coming out of wastewater treatment plants in both the effluent and sludge, that are also increasingly found in people, that a new field of inquiry has evolved, called sewage epidemiology.

We must change federal policy to end the systematic contamination of soil and water from toxicants in sewage sludge.