Help for Sewage Victims was founded by farmers almost 20 years ago to gather factual data on EPA's sewage sludge disposal policy. It has found: 1) Sewage pollutants may be implicated in the 15 leading causes of deaths; and 2) New food protection laws can not alleviate foodborne illnesses or other infectious diseases caused by the use of sewage effluents (sludge and water) on agricultural land. Congress made it very clear in 1976 that infectious characteristics of waste which may-- (A) cause, or significantly contribute to an increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible, 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 is a hazardous waste.
Yet, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), chaired by Senator Barbara Boxer abruptly cancelled scheduled Hearings on sludge contamination problems September 11, 2008. The government stopped counting foodborne illnesses after the total reached 81 million case (GAO)in 1997. That was up from 2 million foodborne illnesses in 1986. In 1998 CDC estimated there were 360 million cases of acute diarrhea, most from unknown sources. The most serious documented illness increase was for MRSA hospital stays, 368,300 in 2005 with 19,000 deaths. That was up from 1,900 hospital stays in 1993 when EPA and its partners started promoting the disposal of pathogen contaminated sewage effluents as organic fertilizer on agricultural land, parks, school grounds as well as home lawns and gardens.
Since 1980, EPA, USDA and FDA have promoted a national federal policy to disposed of the chemical and antibiotic resistant disease ladened contaminated sewage effluent (sludge) as a fertilizer and semi-treated sewage effluent as reclaimed water for irrigation. The orginal policy was based on the consensus that "there are not many people out there to be harmed." Current sewage treatment policies do not require testing for or the removal of all pathogens. The results of EPA's 1993 policy (40 CFR 503 ) to dispose of contaminated sewage effluents on cattle pastureland, land used for food crops, forest land, parks, school grounds, as well as home lawns and gardens have been a dramatic increase in "food" contamination incidents and illnesses such as MRSA with associated deaths as well as other pandemics. This Agency policy is in direct conflict with the laws of our land enacted to protect public health and the environment.
Recycling sewage effluents under the current policies places the national economy and public health at risk from pathogen contaminated food, water and air. The fate of public health and the economy is based on the renamed hundred and five year old Eijkman (fecal coliform) test procedure for one type of gram negative thermotolerant E. coli. The test does not reveal E. coli 0157 which does not ferment lactose. Most other enteric gram negative soil, water, and fecal disease causing bacteria (coliform - Salmonella, Shigella, etc.) in humans become dormant at the elevated fecal coliform test temperature. EPA does not require testing for any other pathogens (bacteria - viruses - fungus - parasites - worms) in sewage effluent, food or water.
EPA acknowledges in Part 503.9(t) that other inorganic, synthetic organic and volatile organic compounds in sewage effluents could also cause death, cancer, disease etc. upon exposure through the air, food or water. However, they do not cause pandemics. These chemicals may take up to 20 years or longer to cause illness and death.
For these reasons, recycling sewage effluents on food crops, etc., especially when they are labeled organic soil amendments must be stopped.
We the undersigned request an immediate halt to the national EPA Agency policy of disposing sewage effluents (i.e. sludge and reclaimed water) as beneficial use on pasture land, land used to grow food crops, forest land, parks, school grounds, as well as home lawns and gardens. This was an arbitrary policy based EPA's conclusion (1981) that "Land spreading of urban sewage sludge is probably the most practical means of disposal."
We feel that you and the new Agency leaders should be made aware of the result of this policy which has led to the current public outcry for new food safety laws to protect our food supply. New laws will not effect or solve the problem as long as the victims (i.e. farmers, packing houses, food processors, wholesalers and retailers) are blamed for infections and deaths caused by the 30 year old EPA policy.
Government documents show foodborne illnesses have increased from two million (EPA) cases in 1986 to 81 million (GAO) cases in 1997. That number was revised to 76 million (CDC) in 1999.
What is even more disturbing is the hospital stays with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections increased from virtually zero in 1985, to 1,900 cases in 1993, to 368,300 cases in 2005. About 19,000 people died from this flesh eating bacteria. Many more bacteria have now picked up the flesh eating gene.
Background Acting on the 1981 conclusion that land spreading of disease contaminated sludge was the most practial means of disposal placed the EPA policy in direct conflict with the environmental laws designed to protect human health and the environment from concentrations of chemical, or infectious agents that may--(A) cause, or significantly contribute to an increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible, 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.
Between 1973 and 1988 EPA documented that treatment processes only reduce some disease organisms for a short period of time at best. In 1982 EPA's own Mark Meakes documented that antibiotic resistant bacteria were being created and released from sewage treatment plants. Several more recent studies have documented this phenomenon.
When EPA released its policy as 40 CFR 257 et.al. (Part 503) regulation in 1993 it acknowledged EPA did not have the data needed to assure the public sludge use was safe. In fact, in 503.9(t) EPA warned that exposure to the pollutants in sludge (chemical, heavy metals and disease agents could cause death, disease, cancer, etc. Moreover, in 1995, EPA acknowledged that chemicals and disease causing organisms were not included in the risk assessment. Furthermore, it did not consider any of the documented cancer causing heavy metals to be carcinogens in sludge.
By law, sludge is a solid waste which must be placed in a permitted sanitary landfill to protect the public and environment. The national EPA sludge policy regulation is based on exclusions in three environmental laws and mislead the public as to the true nature of its tests for disease causing organisms.
1. The first step came in 1980, "The Agency decided that growth of food-chain crops need not be banned at hazardous waste land treatment facilities but rather should be carefully regulated." By 1983, the EPA decided, "- to avoid conceivable stigmatization, we are willing to re-name recycled hazardous wastes "regulated recyclable materials." And, in 1985, the "regulated recyclable materials" title was shortened to "recyclable material"." Not only that, but "---commercial hazardous waste derived fertilizers [which] would not have to undergo chemical bonding to be exempt." from the law.
2. EPA used the "domestic waste exclusion" for hazardous waste in the pipes between a home and the sewage treatment plant to claim that if domestic sewage entered the treatment plant, then it must be domestic sludge leaving the treatment plant regardless of the amount of industrial hazardous waste processed at the same time.
3. EPA surmised that if sludge was promoted as a fertilizer called biosolids, then it could be considered a "normal application of fertilizer" under the Superfund Act.
4. As a biosolids fertilizer disposed of on agricultual land, pollutants (i.e. chemicals and infectious disease causing organisms) polluting waters of the United States became a nonpoint source of pollution excluded from the Clean Water Act by the Agricultural Stromwater runoff exclusion.
5. EPA promoted the policy regulation Part 503 as a federal permit for the release of hazardous substances on land.
6. EPA has misled the public and Congress by claiming the fecal coliform test is only for disease causing indicator bacteria which assures the safety of sludge and the public. Actually, fecal coliform is the generic term for gram negative bacteria, primarily thermotolerant E. coli, that are still active enough to produce some gas and/or acid when incubated for 24-48 hours at 112.1 degF. after most other gram negative bacteria have gone dorment because of the high heat. E. coli grows best at 97 degF. where it may double every 20 minutes.
7. EPA claims that sludge is safe for direct contact if the fecal coliform number is 1,000 thermotolerant colony forming units (most probable number) per gram in the above test. While high heat has caused most E. coli to go dorment in the test, E. coli in the sludge has been doubling about every 20 minute. A second point is that the most probable number refers to count colonies of thermotolerant bacteria at the end of the test which assumes there was only one bacteria at the beginning of the test for each final colony.
8. EPA claims sludge with 2 million colony forming units of thermotolerant E. coli is safe for disposal on pasture land and food crops after a 30 day waiting period. However, EPA has documented that bacteria and viruses may persist in soil for up to a year. Bacteria on plants may persist up to six months.
Conclusion We understand that in the Solid Waste law, Congress did order EPA to study "alternative methods for the use of sludge, including agricultural
applications of sludge and energy recovery from sludge. We also understand EPA was ordered to study "methods to reclaim areas which have been used for the disposal of sludge or which have been damaged by sludge."
To date, EPA has refused to study or acknowledge any complaint, health or environmental, that could negatively impact its sludge disposal policy. In fact, According to the Inspector General (IG) 2002, "EPA officials said investigating health impacts from biosolids is not an EPA responsibility; rather, they believe it is the responsibility of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and local health departments." The IG also said, "we explained in our prior report, that office (Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA)) has disinvested from the biosolids program."
Recycling disease causing organisms such as E. coli and Salmonella from humans through the sewage treatment plants, where more virulent strains of exotic bacteria are created, to animals grown on pasture land and food crops and back to humans is not a sustainable practice as we are now seeing with all the foodborne outbreaks and the associated cost to the economy.
The undersigned would like to thank you for you efforts to protect the public in the past and look forward to your consideration of this petition gratefully.
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