Environmental Groups Petition the EPA for a Ban on Waste as Fertilizer

From: Robina Suwol
Date: 14 Oct 2003
Time: 17:47:54
Remote Name:


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 contain.
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 sludge.
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.


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