Field of Bad Dreams
Jim Bynum declares a sludge match against the city.

By Joe Miller
Published on November 16, 2000

Tractor trailer: Timothy Walters oversees the city's sludge-spreading.
Jay Thornton

Tractor trailer: Timothy Walters oversees the city's sludge-spreading.
Scooting along back roads in north Kansas City, Jim Bynum's compact car is a cocoon of clutter. Strewn around the
back seat is the detritus of a busy life: wax cups from fast food restaurants, empty packs of cigarettes, candy wrappers.
Among the debris are photocopies of newspaper articles detailing an environmental issue of growing national concern:
the use of sewer sludge as fertilizer. Some of the articles are quite alarming. They tell tales of average, healthy
Americans unwittingly wandering onto fields that have been fertilized with sludge only to fall mysteriously ill days later
and die.

Though he's not about to die, Bynum believes he has much in common with the victims immortalized in those articles.
He's convinced his life has been ruined by sludge.

He slows and turns off the pavement, aiming his Geo Metro at his destination: a 20-foot-wide strip of land that sits on
the eastern edge of a 900-acre farm owned by Kansas City, Missouri. This is the front line for Bynum's war on sludge.
To fertilize the corn and soybeans that grow there (and are later processed into cooking oil or animal feed), the city
injects sludge into the soil. It's a federally mandated practice that government officials say is an efficient,
environmentally friendly way to deal with ubiquitous human waste.

But it's come under intense fire over the past several years. Scientists and environmentalists across the country warn
that sludge contains toxins that, under other federal regulations, are deemed unsafe for release into the environment.
Worse, these whistle-blowers -- some of whom are even employed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
the office that wrote and now administers the sludge-application program -- also warn that cities are spreading this
potentially dangerous substance on American soil with virtually no regulatory oversight.

Bynum's car idles momentarily. He stares off across his narrow battleground. Two high chain-link fences mark its
borders as it extends through farmland toward a grove of trees near the north bank of the Missouri River. The fields on
either side of it are well-tended, smooth enough to drive across. But between the barriers, weeds grow as high as a
one-story house. He punches the accelerator and the weeds buckle beneath the front bumper. They fall in rapid rhythm
until suddenly the scrappy two-door is stuck in a patch of mud. He works the gears back and forth, spraying buckets of
mud up on the windshields and all around.

Bynum can't help but notice the symbolism of his current predicament. At the end of this fenced-in passageway, a mere
hundred yards away, is an 80-acre parcel of land that he owns. But he can't get to it. He inherited the land from his
mother-in-law, and it was to be his and his wife's nest egg. But because of sludge, he says, he'll likely never be able to
sell it for the price he wants.

When Kansas City was but a hamlet on the American frontier, its sewage system was nothing more than a collection of
haphazardly placed outhouses, the contents of which washed willy-nilly through the landscape, eventually settling into
the drinking water. Consequently, in 1850, half the population died of diphtheria. And cholera outbreaks were common.

So by 1857, the city had devised its first sewer system. Basically a network of ditches contained under brick archways,
the system funneled waste from homes and businesses into these tunnels and out, untreated, into the Blue River. This
practice carried on until the 1930s, when the city built its first wastewater treatment facilities on the outskirts of town.

By the 1950s, federal regulators began to wise up. They decided that simply dumping waste into rivers wasn't the best
method for getting rid of it. So in 1960, Kansas City opened its first citywide treatment facility, the Blue River plant, which
still operates near where the Missouri River meets I-435. "Basically, you take out the floaters and the sinkers," explains
Bob Williamson, manager of Kansas City's wastewater treatment division. "First you take out the heavy stuff -- rock,
sand off the street, pieces of potholes. Next you take out the floaters. We use screens and rakes to get the plastic
sacks, rubber duckies, 'sanitary products,' shall we say delicately. Sometimes you even hear about money going down.
We've had bowling balls come in. Two-by-fours. You get all kinds of stuff."

In the '60s, all the leftover liquid simply washed into the river. Though city workers use the same treatment methods as
they did 40 years ago, today the Blue River plant is what's known as a "primary" treatment facility, just the first step in a
much more thorough process.

In 1968 and 1972, the city built two more treatment facilities, both more advanced than the first. These are "secondary"
treatment plants, and they use a biological process that removes the contaminants that have dissolved completely into
the wastewater and cannot be separated out easily. "We find ways to get food together with some bugs (that naturally
occur in the water) to produce something that can settle," says Williamson. "The bugs eat it, they die, and then they

In 1988, the city added a secondary treatment system to Blue River in accordance with a 1972 federal law mandating
that all municipalities employ secondary treatment on all waste streams. Williamson says the process works fabulously.
"They ought to be called 'clean-water plants' instead of wastewater plants, because we put water in the river that's
cleaner than what's in the river," he brags.

Jay Thornton

Heart problems in the heartland: Robert Minter has farmed Jim Bynum's land -- and now has an abnormal heartbeat.
Jay Thornton

Sludge for dinner? Jerry Breeden has been sick ever since he ate a deer he shot on Jim Bynum's land.
All this water cleaning is fine, except it yields an unwanted by-product: sludge, the stuff that's been removed. Since the
middle of the century, municipalities have dealt with sludge by burning some of it to reduce its volume and then either
trucking it to a landfill or hauling it to the middle of the ocean and dumping it there. Kansas City, being landlocked,
opted for option one.

But both of these practices began to fall out of vogue in the 1970s. Researchers found that contaminants contained in
sludge can leech out of landfills and into groundwater tables. So landfill operators added liners to prevent pollutants
from washing down through the soil -- but these safeguards are very expensive, even cost-prohibitive for some cities.
As for dumping in the ocean, this practice became unpopular because the dump sites appeared to produce aquatic
dead zones.

So research commenced. Federal regulators sought a new way of dealing with America's plentiful but unwanted sludge.
After two decades of studies, they determined that if sludge was treated to a reasonably nontoxic level, it could be put
to beneficial use as a fertilizer. Officials proposed a new regulation mandating this method of disposal. But before it
could go into effect, it had to pass the scrutiny of scientists in the EPA's research and development division. And
evidence unearthed at recent congressional hearings revealed that these scientists had grave doubts about the
policy's ability to ensure the health and well-being of the environment and the public.

Lacking the support of its own scientists, the EPA sought approval from the general public. Public perception of sludge,
which was overwhelmingly negative, had to be overcome. So the agency commissioned Powell Tate, a public relations
firm, to develop "a national communications plan for the promotion of land application of biosolids." By renaming sludge
"biosolids," officials hoped to raise new connotations.

Powell Tate recommended "emphasizing the clear differences between biosolids and sludge" -- although there aren't
any. Still, the firm devised a plan for "water-quality professionals" and public health officials who would serve as the
messengers extolling the virtues of biosolids. (Powell Tate targeted these public servants rather than elected officials
because the public aims its "highest level of distrust and scorn" at elected officials.) The plan involved a 14-page guide
to help public health officials make effective presentations, offering pointers on how to overcome a fear of public
speaking and outlining the key points to be made about biosolids. For example, "biosolids are nutrient-rich materials
derived from treating wastewater," and they do not include hazardous waste or industrial residues. "Finally, biosolids
are not human waste."

The plan instructed the presenters to explain that the EPA "sets strict quality criteria and management standards to
assure the safety of biosolids." In doing so, the presenters contradicted their previous statement that biosolids do not
contain hazardous waste. "Under the EPA's comprehensive regulations, which took years to develop," they were told to
say, "numerous potential exposure pathways were fully evaluated by independent researchers throughout the U.S."
What that meant was that EPA officials knew biosolids contained contaminants, as did sludge, so they devised a system
to ensure that people wouldn't come into contact with it.

On Novermber 16 of last year, Jerry Breeden took his son, Jeremy, deer hunting near the north bank of the Missouri
River. The land they roamed was owned by Jerry's friend Jim Bynum. A couple of hours into the expedition, Jeremy
bagged a good-size buck. They took it home and processed it into cuts of meat, storing most in the Breedens' freezer.
Eager for a taste, Jerry Breeden had his wife, Lillian, fry up a couple of steaks. He ate them by himself because she
didn't care for the gamy taste of venison.

Two weeks later, the Breedens went out for dinner. Jerry ordered a bowl of Louisiana gumbo. That night his face
swelled up like a melon and a red rash spread all over his body. He developed a 104-degree fever that persisted for
nine days. He went to the emergency room, and doctors ran scores of tests, but they couldn't determine what was
causing the illness.

He recovered. But then in March of this year the mystery disease struck again, and he went to the hospital for another
nine-day stretch. He fell ill again in May, and he checked back into the hospital. He's had two more flare-ups since then,
but they've been less severe, lasting only a couple days. And throughout the year, Jerry's been plagued with
congestion. "I can't sleep half the time," says Lillian, "because he's gurgling all the time."

The Breedens can't say for certain whether the illness is due to sludge. "I wouldn't make a guess on that," Jerry says.

But they have their suspicions.

"It just seems awful strange the doctors can't diagnose this thing," Lillian says.

Tractor trailer: Timothy Walters oversees the city's sludge-spreading.
Jay Thornton

Tractor trailer: Timothy Walters oversees the city's sludge-spreading.
"And from what Jim's told me, he says this stuff down there can cause a lot of problems," says Jerry.

"Then you watch Erin Brockovich and it makes you wonder," says Lillian.

Bynum has no doubt. He is dead certain that his friend's illness was caused by contamination from Kansas City's
application of sludge on the land where Breeden went hunting. And he believes the Breedens aren't the only victims.
His cousin Robert Minter is another, Bynum says. Minter has farmed Bynum's land for years and recently developed an
abnormal growth on his heart that causes it to beat too fast. Minter is a little overweight, but he's never smoked, he
doesn't drink, and he doesn't do drugs. His family has never had heart problems, with the exception of his brother, who
developed similar problems after farming in the same area.

Minter can't prove it, but he suspects the city's sludge has caused his illness. "I don't believe a lot of what the city says
as far as it being safe," he says. "I used to farm their ground, and I asked the farm manager if he could guarantee that
it'll be safe down the road and not be hazardous. He never would give me an answer."

All of these allegations rile wastewater treatment division manager Williamson. "When there's someone out there who
says I've put something out there on the land that's making people sick, that means I'm putting my employees at risk,"
he says, raising his voice. "Now, I take that personal." He pauses for a second and continues. "If it's so dangerous, what
about this mechanic I got who gets in there and fixes the pump when it breaks down? I got a hundred people out here in
the raw stuff. They don't have to work in moon suits. I think we got a case of hepatitis here once, but the guy was
smoking and not washing his hands. My guys aren't getting sick. I'm not too concerned about the stray deer hunter who
trespassed on my property. I guess if someone was dumb enough to break into my property and eat a piece of shit,
well, he's going to get sick."

Given recent news reports, however, it's easy to understand why Bynum would jump to conclusions.

Much of his speculation is based on a handful of strange illnesses that have occurred near sludge-application sites in
other parts of the country. One such case is that of young Tony Behun of Osceola Mills, Pennsylvania. In 1994, the
11-year-old boy rode his dirt bike across hills that had been covered with sludge. Two days later, he developed a sore
throat and severe headache. By day six, he was in the hospital with a fever so high that doctors called in a helicopter to
fly him to Pittsburgh, 110 miles away. He died early the next morning.

Doctors blamed his death on a blood infection, the bacteria staphylococcus aureus. But doctors couldn't determine how
he had come down with the infection.

The boy quickly became the poster child of anti-sludge activists. His and a handful of other similarly sudden and
mysterious illnesses people contracted shortly after they'd come in contact with sludge have been hailed by some
activists as proof that sludge is deadly.

David Lewis, an EPA microbiologist, suspects the worst in Behun's case. He told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazettethat caustic
chemicals contained in the sludge, such as lime and ammonia, opened lesions allowing the deadly bacteria to enter
Behun's system through his skin. "I'm hearing from people all across the country who are getting sick just like Tony did,"
he said. "The case of Tony Behun is as clear a connection as you'll see."

An award-winning EPA scientist, Lewis came out in 1996 as a whistle-blower against his employer's sludge program by
writing a critical article in the international science journal Nature.

"They call it biosolids, but all it is is human waste after they've filtered out all the tampon applicators," he says. "You
take what's flushed down the toilet at the hospital, what's flushed out of a metal-plating plant, mix it, and sell it as
fertilizer. That's a bad idea."

In the years since the article was published, Lewis' employer has retaliated. His superiors at the EPA immediately
accused him of ethics violations; he turned around and filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, which
enforces laws that prohibit punishment of government whistle-blowers. The EPA settled by paying Lewis $115,000 and
writing a formal letter of apology. When the agency denied his promotion, he filed another complaint, for which he was
awarded $25,000 to cover legal fees. The EPA then transferred him to a research facility at the University of Georgia,
but the agency's general counsel prohibited the lab he would work in from doing any research on sludge. And, again,
he was denied his promotion -- which, again, he is contesting with the DOL. The EPA also punished Lewis' immediate
supervisor, Rosemarie Russo, for allowing him to talk to the media. On October 2, the DOL ruled in her favor, calling
the EPA's actions against her "retaliatory in nature."

Lewis' assertions gained even more clout in August when the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
(NIOSH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report warning of the dangers to
workers who are exposed to biosolids. The agencies found numerous cases in which workers suffered from
gastrointestinal illnesses, and they recommended safeguards that are more stringent than the ones the EPA employs to
protect the general public.

Tractor trailer: Timothy Walters oversees the city's sludge-spreading.
Jay Thornton

Tractor trailer: Timothy Walters oversees the city's sludge-spreading.
The report called for more intensive treatment of sludge. EPA rules divided the stuff into two categories: Class B and
Class A. The former has been deemed safe for controlled land application, and it's what Kansas City injects into the soil
around Bynum's land. It contains, according to the EPA's own regulations, controlled levels of dozens of
disease-bearing pathogens including salmonella, Vibrio cholerae, and the hepatitis A virus. It also contains such
carcinogenic heavy metals as arsenic, chromium, and PCBs. These come from industrial sources, such as factories, as
well as from everyday folks who, on a daily basis, wash chemical pollutants contained in everything from lawn fertilizers
to shampoo down their drains.

In contrast, Class A sludge has been so thoroughly treated that the aforementioned contaminants are, for all intents
and purposes, removed. It has been deemed safe enough for general distribution, meaning an average gardener can
purchase it and spread it anywhere without fear of harm. "Class A is safer, much safer," Lewis says.

The NIOSH/CDC report recommended that all sludge be treated to Class A standards, a practice that gives pause to
EPA officials because it's more expensive. And after reviewing Kansas City's files, Pitch Weeklyhas determined that the
sludge being applied to the farmland just north of the Missouri River contains levels of toxins predominantly below Class
A limits. On the surface, at least, Kansas City's sludge appears to be safe.

Jim Bynum, however, is certain that his land has been contaminated. As proof, he offers the results of soil tests he had
done in 1998. First he asked officials at the EPA and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to conduct the
tests, but they wouldn't. He called every lab in Kansas City, but none would do the tests for him. "They all said it was a
conflict of interest," Bynum recalls. "They do work for the city and the EPA." Finally, he got the nod from Qwal
Laboratories in Pittsburg, Kansas.

He sent four samples. Two of them yielded alarming results. They seemed to reveal that the dirt contained extremely
high levels of salmonella and E. coli: more than 800,000 colony-forming units of bacteria per 100 grams of soil.

Bynum has made city, state, and federal officials aware of his test results. But these regulators hold little stock in
Bynum's tests because they are unable to verify how his samples were collected. Also, officials say, the tests weren't
conducted according to their own strict guidelines. Bynum says that for each sample, he scooped up about an inch of
topsoil and dumped it into a Ziploc bag, numbered each one, took two photographs to document the location, then
drove the samples to the laboratory.

"Our basic testing would be much more rigorous," says John Dunn, environmental engineer for the EPA's District 7
office, which oversees Kansas City. He explains that it's common protocol to conduct several tests and retests over a
period of time.

Only Bob Williamson would comment directly on Bynum's tests. He stops short of calling Bynum's findings a sham. "I
have no idea where these soil samples came from," he says, "but I guarantee I could produce numbers like this. I could
just grab some live (untreated) sludge from our plant and those numbers would do that."

If Bynum's test results are accurate, they would seem to be a stunning anomaly. The city's own test results, which it
reports annually to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the EPA, have for the past two years revealed
that the sludge itself -- prior to being applied to soil -- contains 20,000 times fewer pathogens than Bynum's samples did.

How does the city gets these counts so low? "You basically cook it," Williamson says. After the city runs its raw sewage
through the primary and secondary treatment processes, it reduces the amount of its remaining sludge by burning
some of it and hauling the ash to a landfill. Workers pump what's left into large tanks where the temperature is
maintained at 95 degrees for 30 days; this effectively kills almost all of the pathogens. Then they pump the sludge into
lagoons where it sits for a year or more. "The lagoons are basically for storage," Williamson explains. "But it's also a
redundant treatment. In the lagoons, the sludge would also stabilize after a while. But if it hadn't been treated you
wouldn't be able to stand it because it smells so bad."

EPA microbiologist Lewis, who specializes in studying pathogens, is not surprised by the disparity in Bynum's and the
city's test results. He says sludge is not evenly mixed. "You can take a sample at any time and get a number of 40
(bacteria per 100 grams of soil)," he explains. "Then you can take another sample and get a reading of 400 or 400,000."

In fact, Lewis cited Bynum's test results in an article he wrote for the Lexington Institute in early 1999. He used it as
possible evidence that disease-bearing pathogens can survive and proliferate in soil long after sludge is applied. "I
remember (Bynum) sending me counts on salmonella and E. coli," Lewis tells Pitch Weekly. "I called the lab to confirm
the results." Yet he agrees with Dunn in that if the tests were to be held up as solid proof, the soil would have to be
resampled and retested and held up to peer review.

Tractor trailer: Timothy Walters oversees the city's sludge-spreading.
Jay Thornton

Tractor trailer: Timothy Walters oversees the city's sludge-spreading.
Regardless, Lewis says, the debate over the test results illustrates a larger issue of concern about the federal sludge
mandate. "It points out the real weakness of 503," he explains, referring to the federal code name of the sludge
program. "The real weakness is in the area of pathogen control. The problem with pathogens is, under current
regulations, a (treatment) plant can test for either E. colior salmonella, but not both. So they can have a high reading in
one and not the other. On top of that, the regulations try to conclude that by spreading sludge they're not spreading
diseases, based on one bacteria. But they're not spreading one bacteria. They're spreading many. It doesn't make
sense biologically."

Indeed, the city's own reports to the EPA, which it files annually, report pathogens under a generic classification: fecal
coliform. This, Lewis says, can mean either E. colior salmonella, but it doesn't specify which. Moreover, the section of
the city's reports to EPA -- which are several dozen pages thick -- contain only a small paragraph regarding pathogens.

The bulk of the report reflects comparatively in-depth tests to determine levels of heavy metals. Here the city's good
stewardship really shines. In every instance, the numbers register well below limits set for Class A sludge.

Further evidence of the city's tidiness emerged this year. In the spring, Williamson hired Timothy Walters as the city's
new agronomist/farm manager, overseeing the land-application process. Prior to his job with the city, Walters managed
an organic farm in rural Missouri. Walters considers himself a "steward of the earth" and says he took the job because
he wanted to help ensure a healthy environment. "I want to be inside the fence, making sure this is done to the highest
environmental standards."

To do this, he wanted to get a better sense of the land's condition, so he began testing for heavy metals. The tests
went 20 inches into the soil rather than the usual 6. "I went down deeper because when we inject the biosolids, we go
down 14 inches," he explains. "I wanted to go down deeper than that."

What he found surprised him. "Initially, what we've found is that the heavy metals are low or undetectable," he says.

Walters' environmental quest continues through due diligence. In accordance with EPA policy, he earnestly monitors the
levels of toxins in the sludge before it's applied to the land. He also keeps strict tabs on all the sludge that leaves city
property to be applied on farms around the area. Each year, depending on weather conditions, the city applies upward
of 4,000 dry tons of sludge to its 900 acres around Bynum's land. It sells another 7,000 dry tons to a contractor who, in
turn, sells it to farmers operating along the Missouri River. "Every load that leaves our farm is weighed, and samples are
taken from them to make a composite and sent to an independent lab for testing," he says.

As an environmental activist, Walters serves as a watchdog, which the city needs because recent reports have revealed
that not much oversight comes down from higher offices.

The case against sludge has gained clout in the past year. In addition to the NIOSH/CDC report released two months
ago, in March the EPA's inspector general completed an internal investigation revealing that the agency 'cannot assure
the public that current land application practices are protective of human health and the environment.' It found that
federal regulators review only 38 percent of the reports sent to them by waste treatment plants. The inspector found
that EPA officials rarely visit these sites for inspection and that its regional offices do not keep track of the cumulative
amount of pollutants at sludge sites. 'There is virtually no oversight of the program,' the report concluded.

That's because there's not enough money to properly regulate it.

The EPA regulates the spreading of sludge by requiring sludge spreaders to turn in reports showing the levels of toxins
contained in the sludge once a year. Kansas City's reports -- which are about two dozen pages thick -- are sent to the
EPA's District 7 office in Kansas City, Kansas. Once there, they're piled together with the reports coming in from all the
treatment facilities in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa and are reviewed. The EPA can afford only one employee
to do this job.

"For the most part," says Cynthia Sans, environmental protection specialist for District 7, "I review every report."

"I wish we had a whole department," says her colleague, John Dunn.

Typically, state environmental agencies carry out federal environmental mandates. But the sludge rule is enforced by
only a handful of states, and Missouri is not among them. "That's because there's no federal funds for it," says Randy
Clarkson, engineering section chief in the water pollution section of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). "I'm
hesitant to comment on the political arena of this, but by the time the sludge regs came down, it was another in a long
line of federal mandates with no money to administer it. Someone higher up than me said, 'That's enough. We're not
going to do that.'"

That's unfortunate. Clarkson believes states tend to regulate environmental safeguards better than federal officials do.
"I think it's just a situation where we have an obligation to protect the environment in Missouri," he explains, "and we'd
like to see that done by people closer to the state and the communities. The closer down to the citizens you can get with
the government, the better off you are."

Tractor trailer: Timothy Walters oversees the city's sludge-spreading.
Jay Thornton

Tractor trailer: Timothy Walters oversees the city's sludge-spreading.
The lack of oversight makes city officials nervous. "We want more enforcement," says Bob Williamson. "We want to
know how we're doing and how we can do better." He's even tried to send more material than is required of him for
monitoring, but the regulators complained. "They've told me to quit sending so much stuff," he says.

So Williamson is working harder on self-regulation. He and a group of his colleagues around the country are working to
come up with new ways of dealing with sludge. Representing Kansas City, he serves on the National Biosolids
Partnership, a consortium formed by the EPA, the Water Environment Federation, and the Association of Metropolitan
Sewerage Agencies. The group recently came up with an improved sludge-management plan, which it hopes will have
more safeguards for public health. Kansas City is one of 25 cities that will put the new procedures into effect.

Moreover, Williamson and Walters are working on ideas they say could make their sludge-fertilizing program safer. But
they're running into obstacles from the EPA. One idea Walters came up with was to plant hybrid poplar trees (to be
used for wood and fiber) on the land. This, he hoped, could keep any possible contaminants in sludge out of the food
chain. But when he asked an EPA official how much sludge he should apply for such crops, the official wouldn't answer.
The agency had guidelines only for corn, beans, and wheat. Walters was dumbfounded.

Jim Bynum, who eventually succeeds in freeing his car from the mud, is skeptical of these efforts to improve the nation's
sludge program. Perhaps it's because he has so much invested in his war: 'I've spent over a half million dollars on this
damn thing. I'm $300,000 in debt right now.' At 62 years old, he works as a common laborer. He and his wife live in their
son's home. In trudging this road of financial doom, he's followed every turn in the EPA's campaign to extol the virtues
of sludge. And in the end, he might not ever achieve the objective that set him in motion: to one day get what he
believes is the true value for his land.

His struggle began in 1972, when his mother-in-law, Alice Minter, sold a portion of her land to Kansas City under threat
of condemnation. She sold 55 acres, which was eventually used to establish the Birmingham Treatment Plant and for
farmland on which to spread sludge.

Minter retained 80 acres. But the city's plot lay between her land and the nearest road, leaving her property landlocked.
So she negotiated an easement. Although the city owned the land, the Minters were free to traverse a section of it to
get to their own parcel. Its width was set at 20 feet, which Bynum believes was supposed to become a public road but
which city officials have always insisted allowed only for private access to and from his property. "There was never a
road there," says Williamson.

In 1990, the city fenced off the easement and gave Bynum a key. This roused his suspicions as to sludge's dangers. He
commenced research, and with each of his findings, he fired off scurrilous screeds to environmental regulators at city,
state, and federal levels. "You will have to forgive an old farmer with a suspicious mind for asking questions," he wrote
in one, "but it would appear that there is a bio-terrorist cell operating within the EPA whose sole purpose is to destroy
the integrity of our food and water supply by spreading chemical poisons and infectious disease organisms on food
production land."

Officials at all levels are weary of his allegations. "He's an irrational person," says Williamson.

Yet Bynum has been right on a number of occasions, not least of which is his insistence that Kansas City's sludge
program is operating in a bad location.

A 1976 letter from a DNR official to the city's planning department states: "This tract overlies one of Missouri's most
significant aquifers, namely, the Missouri River Valley alluvium. A very large expansion of this aquifer is expected to
occur in the next few years." While the state bureaucrat who wrote the letter went on to give a couple of reasons why he
didn't think this would be a problem, he wrapped up his correspondence by stating: "One must conclude that there are
more favorable sites for the spreading of sludge."

This ominous warning bore fruit 21 years later when a sludge line broke, spilling 100,000 gallons of wastewater onto the
ground. After the spill, the city detected high levels of aluminum and fecal coliform in the groundwater.

City officials fixed the problem by draining the lagoons and relining them so they would not leak. So far, there have
been no problems.

But a bigger problem occurred in 1993 when the Missouri River rose and flooded the entire land-application site and
washed the contents of the lagoons away. Bynum had been dead-on in forecasting this mishap. As early as 1991, he
began warning state and federal officials about the dangers of a possible flood. That's exactly what happened two years

Tractor trailer: Timothy Walters oversees the city's sludge-spreading.
Jay Thornton

Tractor trailer: Timothy Walters oversees the city's sludge-spreading.
"The 1993 flood was a calamity for people up and down the river," says the EPA's John Dunn. "But it was a huge
amount of water, so the sludge was diluted. A lot of stuff washed downstream. I don't think we've ever quantified the

But Randy Clarkson of the DNR sounds a more ominous note. "When a lagoon becomes submerged in water, that's not
a good situation," he says. "They should not have been built inside the range of a 100-year flood. That's not desirable."

The flood argument -- Bynum's best example of the city's negligence -- also casts doubts on whether his land ever had
the value he hoped it would. Clay County records show the 80-acre plot is worth $47,000 -- a mere $587 per acre.
That's because it's in a floodplain, an area that's zoned agricultural. To get that changed to allow for more profitable
land usage, Bynum would have to go through a lengthy rezoning process. City officials are willing to discuss a purchase
of Bynum's land. "We'll pay more than fair market price," Williamson says. "The land there is worth $1,000 to $1,100 for
farming. We have been paying $1,700 to $2,000 per acre in that area. We're not going to pay $10,000 per acre for
unprotected bottom land."

Yet Bynum and his real estate agent insist they had a buyer lined up for a substantial chunk of the property. The buyer
offered $650,000 to use it as a salvage yard -- which is prohibited in an agricultural zone.

Regardless of zoning, however, Bynum knew the sale wouldn't go through if the parcel didn't have public access. He
fought mightily, and over the years, the battle reached absurd proportions -- culminating in 1998 when he was arrested
for breaking the locks and tearing down a gate that guarded the entrance of the 20-foot-wide easement across city land
to his property. The action was preceded by a mass-faxed press release announcing his intention to commit the act of
civil disobedience.

The media didn't show up, but city officers did. They carried with them an injunction, and with it came confirmation of
what he'd feared all along. It read: "According to federal and state sludge-application requirements, access to the
subject property must be limited."

In this one sentence, city officials effectively doomed Bynum's dreams while evoking one of the most revealing aspects
of the nation's biosolids policy: Sludge is perfectly safe so long as the bulk of the population never comes in contact
with it.