Environmental Groups Petition the EPA for a Ban on Waste as Fertilizer
From: Robina Suwol
Date: 14 Oct 2003
Remote Name: 188.8.131.52
DOZENS OF ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS PETITION THE EPA FOR A BAN ON USING WASTE AS A
FERTILIZER, WARNING ABOUT ITS CONTENTS
By Allison Pyburn, Portland Oregonian, Oct. 12, 2003
For more than 30 years, Oregon's farmers have spread tens of thousands of tons
of treated sewage sludge on their fields as
fertilizer, assured by state officials that it is safe for people and crops.
Now, a growing number of scientists and former government officials contend
those assurances are unfounded. They say the government has done little
testing to establish safe limits for an array of potentially toxic chemicals
that can taint ordinary sewage.
Last week, 73 environmental groups petitioned the Environmental Protection
Agency for a national ban on the use of sludge as a
fertilizer, saying its contents are "inherently unpredictable and inherently
hazardous." The federal agency has 60 days to respond.
The issue has implications across the state. Portland disposes of more than
12,000 dry tons of sludge a year. Most of it ends up on fields in Eastern
Oregon. Cities of all sizes, from Eugene to Canby, similarly send their sludge
to farmers who grow grass seed, hay and other crops.
Under pressure from a lawsuit filed in Oregon, federal officials are now
weighing whether to impose limits on dioxins, some of the most hazardous
chemicals known to man. A decision is expected this week.
Critics say the EPA should go much further. They note that European countries
are considering much tighter rules on the amount of pollutants sludge can
Oregon follows federal rules on what constitutes safe sludge. Those
regulations require sewage plants to test for only about 1 percent of the
chemicals in sludge, according to Robert Hale, a marine science professor at
the Virginia Institute of Marine Science who studies organic chemicals in
Among the substances that go unregulated: testosterone, caffeine and
polybrominated diphenyl ethers, a widely used ingredient in flame retardants.
"I'd like nothing more than saying, why don't you bring in a couple truckloads
to my property?...- but I wouldn't do it," said Hale, who grazes horses on
several acres in Southeast Virginia.
Industry officials defend the existing program and say it has played a crucial
role in the cleanup of America's rivers and streams. Sludge, they say, is a
cost-effective fertilizer that can bring lifeless, even polluted, soil back to
life. Few people in the United States have reported adverse health effects
from sludge, they say.
Kent Madison, who uses Portland's sludge on his ranch in Echo, told the city
that the fertilizer helped his field so much that after 12 years, he was
grazing 1,800 cattle on land that used to feed 250.
* * *
2003 OregonLive.com. All Rights Reserved.
Last changed: March 14, 2006