CALIFORNIA SLUDGE BIOSOLIDS PROGRAM REVIEW
Same Old Deadly Sludge With A Twist
Jim Bynum 10/18/2007
Retired Safety Consultant
Controversy has bloomed in Southern California over the exportation of sludge biosolids from large cities to rural
counties for disposal. There are serious public health and water contamination concerns by county officials. Many
have placed restrictions on sludge disposal as a soil amendment and on a petition sponsored by Kern County
voters, sludge biosolids use was banned in the county. Los Angeles sued Kern County to have the voter approved
ban overturned and won with a Los Angeles Judge. Now Los Angeles wants Kern County voters to pay its lawyer
fees. Based on California research, and original research by Los Angeles, this was a slap in the face for
democracy and public health.
At the request of former Senator, Richard Alarcon, the California State Library, California Research Bureau,
recently produced the document: A Brief on Biosolids, Options for Biosolids Management. By Rosa Maria
Moller, Ph.D., dated August 2007.
According to Moller, “This paper reviews some potential alternatives that are presented in Section 5. The least
expensive is to continue with land application of biosolids while tightening the standards and enforcement for this
practice and educating the public to increase their acceptance of this practice. Another option could be
supporting compost producers and expanding the market for compost by providing economic incentives to these
producers to ameliorate start-up losses and stimulate the expansion of the industry. (p.3)”
It is clear Moller failed to read D. Strauch's 1991 paper, "Survival of pathogenic micro-organisms and parasite in
extreta, manure and sewage sludge" in which it was stated, "In any case, the agricultural utilization of hygienically
dubious sewage sludge poses a risk for the whole national economy."
Based on the content of this document, the so called beneficial use of pollutant contaminated sludge biosolids is in
direct conflict with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA):
- “CEQA requires that state and local government agencies consider the environmental consequences of
projects over which they have discretionary authority before taking action on those projects.’
- A discretionary project is one that requires the exercise of judgment or deliberation by a public agency in
determining whether the project will be approved, or if a permit will be issued
This 101 page document is clearly intended to offset the reports of public health and environmental damages,
which Moller truthfully notes in the report. A further reason for the report is Moller asserts, “Several federal laws
directly or indirectly encourage biosolids recycling and regulate various aspects of biosolids disposal.”
Actually, the federal laws state that exposure to chemicals and disease organisms by direct contact, or through the
air, food or water may (RCRA,) or will (CWA), or could 503.9(t) cause death, disease, cancer, etc. Yet, state
agencies advocate and employees promote chemical and disease organism contaminated sludge biosolids use as
an unlabeled soil amendment, fertilizer and as compost on food crops, parks, school grounds and even home lawns
under their discretionary immunity from civil liability resulting from their actions. To help in the cause, EPA Office of
Hazardous Waste has failed to perform it's job.
We must remember, statements made in reports and documents by the agencies and employees are not always
intended to be taken at face value by the authors. As an example, Moller asserts, “Benefits from these uses include
a reduction in landfill use, better air quality (as biosolids incineration is avoided), and soil quality improvement (p.1)”
For the full record, Moller makes a number of points (13) in the 101 page document to show the statement is not
true. As examples:
1 "The United States restrictions on ocean disposal of sewage solids and the scarcity of landfill space make
land application one attractive option to dispose of biosolids (the solid part resulting from the municipal
wastewater treatment).” (p. 6)
Biosolids is a term developed by EPA's partners and a public relations firm as an obstacle to overcome because of
"2) "EPA's inability to use the term "Biosolids" as a substitute for sewage sludge: Although research revealed that
government agencies do not have much credibility on this (sludge) issue, health concerns regarding biosolids are
such that a "higher authority" is needed to give assurances about safety." (CPB-p.7)"
Now that John Walker and Alan Rubin have retired, EPA admits in the Federal Register there is no biosolids rule:
"EPA revised the description of the Part 503 requirements in order to provide clarification. For example, in the draft
RMAN, EPA referred to 40 CFR part 503 as the ``Biosolids Rule.'' However, the actual title of Part 503 is ``The
Standards for the Use or Disposal of Sewage Sludge,'' and not the ``Biosolids Rule.'' In order to avoid
confusion, the term ``Biosolids Rule'' has been removed from the final RMAN V for compost and fertilizers."
[Federal Register: September 14, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 178)] [Notices] [Page 52561-52566]
The reality is that EPA placed many legal restrictions on landfill disposal in the 1991 Part 258. As an example, "The
design must ensure that the concentration values listed in Table 1 of this section will not be exceeded in the
uppermost aquifer at the relevant point of compliance" for 24 organic and inorganic constituents. EPA then offered
some very attractive options in the 1993 Part 503 for open sludge dumping without the potential for federal
enforcement action. The RCRA prohibition against open dumping of solid waste is a state responsibility. California
changed the law to allow the practice of open dumping solid waste except for one instance.
2. "Surface disposal methods account for four percent of the biosolids managed in California. These
methods require large amounts of vacant land, which is lined with an impermeable material prior to the
implementation of final disposal of biosolids. Since biosolids are applied for final disposal, applications can be
frequent and more intense than they would be when biosolids are applied to agricultural lands." (p. 30)
The implication is that large amounts of sewage sludge disposed of on farmland is not final disposal? However, this
is another disposal method that EPA severely restricts in Part 503.23 when there is no liner under the surface
disposal site. As an example, on an unlined surface disposal site chromium is restricted to 200 ppm within 25 meters
of the site boundary. At 150 meters from the boundary EPA will only allow 600 ppm of chromium in sludge biosolids.
EPA has no limit in part 503 for chromium in sludge biosolids dumped on agricultural lands for disposal, even
though the hazardous waste level is 5 (five) ppm.
3. "Frequent applications of biosolids to certain soils and crops could have toxic effects on plants, nutrient
imbalances, and soil contamination due to high levels of pollutants contained in the biosolids." (p. 2)
Part 503.13 lists only 9 (nine) of the heavy metal toxic pollutant constituents and ignores the rest of the listed
Hazardous Inorganic and Organic Constituents
4. "Furthermore, treated biosolids that meet regulatory standards could still contain a wide variety of
pathogens excreted by humans, including bacterial, viral, and fungal microorganisms that could affect human
and animal health." (p. 2)
It is strange that sludge is safe for public contact based on a thermotolerant E. coli (fecal coliform) level of 1,000
most probable number per gram. The standard test procedure showing E. coli growth is run at a temperature of
44.5° C. (112.1° F). The human body will die at an internal temperature of 42.5° C. (108.5° F) so where did the
thermotolerant E. coli come from? Total Coliform are the pathogenic gram negative enterobacteriaceae family of
enteric bacteria, including non-thermotolerant E. coli tested at 37°C (98.6°F) which are all pathogenic.
EPA does not address other types of bacteria, viruses, helminths, protozoa or fungal safety, but, EPA states in the
test procedure, "5.2, Field and laboratory staff collecting and analyzing environmental samples are under some risk
of exposure to pathogenic microorganisms. Staff should apply safety procedures used for pathogens to handle all
5. Pathogen is any organism or genetic substance that causes disease, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites,
cell substances, and fungi. Some pathogens are sufficiently aggressive that they can invade and infect any
healthy individual, while others can only affect people predisposed (with weakened or suppressed immune
systems). (p. 9)
EPA did not consider DNA genetic transfer, toxins from cell substances or human health effects or the pandemics in
this country caused by these pathogens.
6. The use of biosolids as a soil amendment may also have adverse effects on water sources and
groundwater with further implications for public health. (p. 2)
With few exceptions, such as Kansas City, Missouri, which documented sludge site groundwater contamination,
there is no provisions for groundwater monitoring. Since 5% of the drinking water test may contain coliform bacteria,
there is the potential for all pathogens, including dental disease causing pathogens such as Entamoeba gingivalis
and Trichomonas tenax buccal protozoa as well as Streptococcus mutans and Strep. sobrinus, lactobacilli, Gram
positive (Actinomyces naeslundii, A. odontolyticus, Propionibacterium spp., Eubacterium spp.) and Gram negative
Fusobacterium spp, Capnocytophage spp, Veillonella spp.) bacteria to enter the drinking water system and create a
biofilm of pathogens on teeth (plaque), which tends to calcify (tartar) over time.
7. Water quality can be contaminated through runoff from treated lands and deep percolation of excess
irrigation water or precipitation. (p. 2)
The term "biosolids" imply that sludge is a solid material. Most sludge biosolids (0.5% to 4% solids) is disposed of in
96% to 99.5% liquid sewage effluent. It may be disposed of 10 meters (about 30 feet) from the waters of the United
States with the implication that water does not run down hill on a 15% grade. The effect is that sludge biosolids is
more irrigation than fertilizer. While precipitation will cause pollutant runoff from a prohibited nonpoint source of
pollution, surface water contamination from return flow irrigation and fertilizer on farmland enjoy a statutory
exclusion for agricultural stormwater runoff in the CWA, which EPA and the states have used to justify sludge use.
8. There are numerous organic compounds in biosolids, coming from diverse sources such as
pharmaceuticals and personal care products, that end up in the waste stream. Although some of these
compounds are destroyed during the treatment process, many are found in the discharge resulting from the
waste treatment process. Concerns are highest for organic compounds contained in biosolids such as plastic-
like compounds, pesticides, detergent additives, PCBs, and other organic compounds that may have
negative effects for human health. There are also concerns about effects from radioactive materials that may
enter the waste stream. (p. 21)
"Sludge disposed of in a sanitary landfill will not harm anyone, nor will it contaminate the food or water supply".
(Federal Register (FR.) 58, 32, p. 9375).
According to Edward V. Ohanian, Director, Health and Ecological Criteria Division (4304T), EPA Office of
Science and Technology, EPA does not have the necessary data to evaluate the safety of chemicals in sludge
(1) EPA assessed available data on chemical pollutants that have been detected in sewage sludge and that
have not been regulated or previously assessed previously (68 FR 75531; December 31, 2003). Only 40 out
of 803 pollutants had sufficient data for evaluation and potential regulation. Of the 40 pollutants evaluated,
EPA determined that 15 pollutants, subsequently reduced to nine pollutants, presented a potential risk to
human health and / or the environment based on human health and ecological risk assessments. EPA is
continuing to evaluate the nine pollutants to determine whether to propose amendments to Part 503 in order
to regulate any of these pollutants under section 405(d) of the CWA.
(2) EPA again assessed available data on chemical pollutants and performed a preliminary review of publicly
available information on pollutants. Based on a literature search from 2000 through March 2005, EPA
compiled a list of 137 chemical pollutants for which we found some information. The Agency assessed
whether data for 137 pollutants were sufficient to conduct an ecological exposure and hazard assessment.
Despite the collection of valuable information for these pollutants, EPA concluded from this review that the
data were insufficient to allow the Agency to conduct exposure and hazard assessments. At this time, there
are not sufficient data to evaluate any additional toxic pollutants in sewage sludge for potential regulation.
9. Some of the synthetic organic compounds found in biosolids are known to cause some illnesses, There has never been a human health or an ecological risk assessment. The only toxic pollutants or
including cancer and birth defects. Endocrine disruptors are linked to the acceleration of breast cancer cell
growth at chemical concentrations of parts per trillion, levels at which most chemicals have never been tested.
hazard substances EPA is concerned with in sludge is those that are authorized for removal credit under the
pretreatment regulation Part 403. Yet, EPA and the States Environmental Departments claim there is no hazard to
According to California Congressman, Henry Waxman, in the ten years since Congress enacted the law to evaluate
endocrine disruptors, EPA has yet to evaluate the first one. On the other hand, the EPA Office of Drinking Water
does recognize the danger of synthetic organic compounds to public health.
10. Bioaerosols, very small and biologically active particles that are transported by air currents from the
biosolids, could be a source of potential contamination. (p. 24)
A brief list of California air toxic pollutants found in sludge biosolids: Toxic Air Contaminant (TAC) Identification List,
December 1999. No federal or state agency wants to discuss Bioaerosols.
11. Use of composted biosolids in bulk can pose a health risk. The high populations of many different
species of molds and fungi in an active compost process can cause allergic reactions. (p. 24)
Federal and State writers on waste disposal talk about symptoms rather than the diseases or the source of the
allergic reaction. Neither EPA or California address the real health effects of known high levels of deadly molds
and fungus in sludge compost or the bacteria, viruses, helminths and protozoa known by EPA to survive the
12. "Primary concern is the transmission of acute diseases such as gastroenteritis or flu-like symptoms and
some potential unknown diseases." (p. 23)
It is interesting that Moller considers gastroenteritis and flu-like symptoms suffered by victims acute diseases
rather than symptoms of the potential 1,407 known disease causing organisms.
13. "All wastewater treatment and biosolids management processes release carbon dioxide gas. If biosolids
are landfilled, their bacterial decomposition produces significant quantities of “landfill gas.” Unless landfill gas
is recovered and utilized as a source of energy, it is a source of global warming. The methane emissions from
landfills are particularly important, since methane is 21 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon
dioxide and since landfills represent the second largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions behind
the energy industry. Methane currently causes one third of carbon dioxide’s global warming production."
The implication is that the organics in sludge biosolids do not decomposed when dumped on California agricultural
land and contributed to global warming because many gram negative bacteria are inactivated temporarily. Based on
the pandemics sweeping the country global warming, which California wants to stop, may be the least of our worries.