National Sludge Alliance Fact Sheets

Public Facts # 119


Oh, what a tangled web EPA did weave

* Oh, what a tangled web EPA did weave, when it first practiced to deceive Congress and the American public
concerning the safety of our food and water supplies. In the beginning, EPA allowed the continued use of hazardous
waste as a fertilizer because of a lack of scientific knowledge, now it actively promotes the dumping of toxic hazardous
waste (biosolids/sludge) as a fertilizer and warns that exposure to any one of the pollutants in the sludge may kill you or
cause serious health problems, when your exposure is through the food-chain (40 CFR 503.(9)(t). Despite the written
warning in the regulation, EPA's scientific representatives still claim toxic waste is good for your lawns, gardens and
food-chain production lands. EPA, USDA and the Department of Health also claim the 80 million cases of food
poisoning and other serious health problems are caused by tobacco smoke and the uncontrolled use of cow and pig
manure, rather than the federal policy of dumping poisons and disease causing organisms on food-chain production

* Congress did not have to enact any of the environmental laws to protect our air, food, water and the public health
from hazardous waste, but it did. Congress was so concerned about the damage to public health and the environment
caused by pollution that EPA was created in 1970 by consolidating 15 environmental components of 5 federal
executive departments and independent government agencies. Instead of enforcing the environmental laws mandated
by Congress, EPA based its court ordered regulations (rules or standards) concerning toxic hazardous and solid waste
on past policy and it created a new loophole. In 1983 EPA decided that if toxic hazardous waste was used on food
crops as a fertilizer, then, no environmental laws would apply to its disposal as long as it was called a fertilizer.

* EPA redefined the term hazardous waste to mean those substances that will leach out of the soil at levels 10 times
higher than allowed in the Interim Drinking Water Standards, but, there is not a farmer in the world who would knowingly
dispose of hazardous waste on his/her farmland if they were told the truth: the so called safe fertilizers many
municipalities pay to dispose of on farmland or give away is "A solid waste, or combination of solid waste, which
because of its quantity, concentration, or physical, chemical or infectious characteristics may-- (a) cause or significantly
contribute to an increase in mortality (death) or an increase in serious irreversible (cancer, heart, brain, liver, lung or
food poisoning), or incapacitating reversible illness: or (b) pose a substantial present or potential hazard to human
health or the environment when improperly treated, stored, transported, or disposed of, or otherwise managed. (1978
-Federal Register (FR.) 42, p. 58950, RCRA section 1004(5)) Yes, this also means Biosolids/sewage sludge.

* Furthermore, there is not a mother in the world (or father) who would knowingly place their family in jeopardy by
buying food products grown on toxic hazardous waste if she/he were told the toxic elements "--pose(d) a substantial
hazard to human health and the environment. The concept of toxicity includes several factors: Unnatural genetic
activity including oncogenic (virus activated cancer), mutagenic (cell mutation) and teratogenic (fetus malformation
caused by chemicals, disease, etc.) activity: Potential for bioaccumulation in tissue: or Acute and chronic toxicity to
various organisms, including humans." (1978 - FR. 42, p.58952)

* EPA's mandate was to protect public health and the environment from waste generated by an estimated 270,000
waste generating facilities. The basic premise of the proposed regulations was that no waste disposal would take place
within 500 foot of any well used for drinking water and there would be a 10-fold dilution factor between the
contaminates leaching into the ground water before it reached the well site. Any one of the toxic metals that would
leach out into the groundwater at more than 10 times the levels allowed by the drinking water standards would be
considered a hazardous waste. However, EPA noted that the average residence of ground water may be on the order
of 200 years and there may not be a 10-fold dilution factor. (1978 -FR.42, pp. 58946, 58953)

* EPA did note that it was "Congress' "overriding concern" -- the safe handling of hazardous waste (H.R. Rep. at 3) and
the elimination of the "last remaining loophole" in environmental regulation (H.R. Rep. at 4) -- must prevail." And, "The
first category of materials which are regulated as "waste" under RCRA are garbage, refuse (and) sludge (from pollution
control facilities)." (1980 -FR. 45, pp. 33092, 33093)

* Not only that, but "It is (was) the Agency's (EPA) firm belief that growth of food chain crops on land to which hazardous
waste has been applied is an issue which should be dealt with cautiously, and should be only allowed when there is
convincing evidence that the practice is safe." However, "--the existing data base on rates of crop uptake of hazardous
substances are not comprehensive enough to permit the Agency to specify safe application rates. Regulation by crop
monitoring is limited by the fact that safe levels of most hazardous substances in crops have not been determined by
the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Agriculture, or Environmental Protection Agency." Moreover, the
Agency had actually proposed a regulation which prohibited growing food chain crops on hazardous waste used as a
fertilizer. "The purpose of this (proposed) regulation was to protect humans from consuming toxic materials that might
be present in or on crops grown on land to which hazardous waste has been applied." In reality, EPA did allow crops to
be grown on hazardous waste under the solid waste regulation 40 CFR 257, based on controlling the limits of the
known pollutants (which may kill you through the food-chain), cadmium, PCBs and pathogens. (1980 -FR. 45, p. 33208)

* By 1983, "The Agency -- (was) -- concerned about not regulating fertilizers made from toxic metal containing sludges
and by-products (where these materials are significantly changed in the process). (Fertilizers using such materials as
the sole or virtually sole ingredient, or using such materials in virtually unaltered chemical form would, however, be
regulated under the proposal.)" However, there was still a problem with recycling hazardous waste mixtures, it was
stigmatized by the name , so EPA decided "-- to avoid conceivable stigmatization we are willing to re-name recycled
hazardous wastes "regulated recyclable materials." (1983 -FR. 48. pp. 14485, 14493)

* While the EPA was trying to work loopholes into the environmental laws, Congress was trying to plug them. In 1984
Congress enacted the Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA) to the Solid Waste Act to give the EPA more
power and a framework for cleaning up the environment. The HSWA specified that all sludges generated by air,
drinking water and sewage pollution control facilities were solid waste and must be disposed of in safe sanitary landfills.
EPA, on the other hand, created its Beneficial Sludge Use Policy for using toxic sewage sludge as a fertilizer on food
crops. Basically, under the policy, if the municipality didn't want to use, or could not get farmers to take the sludge for
use as a fertilizer, then the sludge was required to be disposed of in a landfill.

* EPA made a pointed effort in 1984 to fool farmers into accepting hazardous waste as a fertilizer. According to the
EPA, to avoid conceivable stigmatization, instead of calling the hazardous waste "regulated recyclable materials" EPA
chose "the less cumbersome name, "recyclable material"". Furthermore, "(An exception (to the regulation) is for
commercial hazardous waste derived fertilizers which would not have to undergo chemical bonding to be exempt.)"
(from the regulations) (January 4, 1985 - FR. 50, p. 646)

* At this point (1984), the EPA became an advocate of dumping hazardous toxic waste on farmland even though it did
not have the scientific methods or technology available to determine the harm which could be caused to public health
and the environment from using hazardous waste and toxic sludges as a fertilizer, except for cadmium and PCB's. In
1995, EPA/CERCLA listed 275 toxic priority pollutants that may kill you when exposure is through the food-chain. This
list does not include all of the disease causing organisms which may also kill you or cause serious health effects.

* When EPA was forced to issue the Standards for the Use or Disposal of Sewage Sludge in 1993, it had a major
problem. While there was a long history of using heat dried sewage sludge which killed most of the pathogens (since
1927), there was little scientific information available on most of the known (126) pollutants in the pathogen
contaminated sewage sludge. According to the EPA, "Some commenters assumed incorrectly that the pollutants on
Table III-3 in the preamble to the proposed part 503 regulation were the only pollutants for which EPA lacked adequate
data to establish a "safe level". Table III-3 listed the pollutants that were recommended for further study but for which a
positive determination was made subsequently that EPA lacked sufficient data to establish a safe level. There are other
pollutants that may have not been recommended for study because EPA lacked data regarding the risk they
presented." "The decision to not to regulate does not mean that the unregulated pollutants may not threaten public
health and the environment." (1993 - FR. 58, p. 9384)

* The EPA's sludge regulation had another strange twist, it split hairs in defining a beneficial sludge use site and a
sludge only surface disposal site. The hair splitting could be considered a form of blackmail for those municipalities who
chose to follow the EPA's 1984 sludge disposal policy. Both types of sites receive multiply applications of sludge,
however, the EPA's Exceptional Quality sludge can be too contaminated with arsenic, chromium and nickel to be
disposed of on a sludge only surface disposal site (landfill), which is highly regulated under part 503. (1993 - FR. 58,
Tables, pp. 9392, 9396, 503.13 & 23)

* In effect, according to EPA's hair splitting subtle form of blackmail, "When the sewage sludge is not used to condition
the soil or to fertilize crops or vegetation grown on the land, the sewage sludge is not being land applied. It is being
disposed of on the land. In that case, the requirements in the subpart on surface disposal (landfill) in the final part 503
must be met." (1993 - FR. 58, p. 9330) Some municipalities, such as Kansas City, Mo., acknowledge sludge disposal
on cropland without meeting the surface disposal requirements of 503.

* Furthermore, EPA acknowledges that science has little to do with the beneficial use section of the regulation since,
"--some assumptions are based on longstanding Agency policy and reflect risk management choices."(FR. 58, p. 9273)
Not only that , but EPA acknowledges, "Sewage sludge with high concentrations of certain organic and metals
pollutants may pose human health problems when disposed of in sludge only landfills (often referred to as monofills) or
simply left on the land surface, if the pollutants leach from the sludge into the groundwater. Therefore, the pollutant
concentrations may need to be limited or other measures such as impermeable liners must be taken to ensure that
ground water is not contaminated." (1993 - FR. 58, p.9259)

* Yet, under EPA's subtle form of municipal blackmail, much higher limits of pollutants are allowed for beneficial use on
food-chain production land, even though EPA acknowledges that, "--if sewage sludge containing high levels of
pathogenic organisms (e.g., viruses, bacteria) or high concentrations of pollutants is improperly handled, the sludge
could contaminate the soil, water, crops, livestock, fish, and shellfish." (1993 - FR. 58, 9258)

* If the sludge is too contaminated to be disposed of in a part 503 landfill, as required by federal law (RCRA), then it is
being mishandled. The EPA and municipalities deny all responsibility for health and environmental damages by
claiming, "If the placement of sludge on the land were considered to be "the normal application of fertilizer," that
placement could not give rise to liability under the CERCLA." Plus, "Under CERCLA, protection from liability is also
provided when there is a release of a CERCLA hazardous substance and the release occurs pursuant to Federal
authorization." (1993 - FR. 58, 9262) In effect, EPA claims the self-permitting 503 regulation is a Federal authorization
to dump toxic hazardous waste on food-chain production land with no liability for human health or environmental
damages, even if a Superfund site is recreated. -LSI-