Sludge Facts

Sludge Fact #1  

"There is no published peer reviewed paper that indicates that spreading sludge on land is beneficial, sustainable, or safe. The EPA Inspector General stated that the agency has not done even the basic research to assess the risks of land application. A 2002 National Academy of Science panel warned that treated sewage sludge is such a complex and unpredictable mix of biological and chemical wastes, that its risk, when used for farming, can not be reliably assessed. New data, documented in the recent scientific literature, confirm the many reports of serious sludge related illnesses, animal mortalities, and groundwater pollution." (Caroline Snyder, Phd Harvard)

Sludge Fact #2

Over a hundred environmental, farm, health, food processing organizations, including the Sierra Club, and the Suzuki Foundation, oppose using sludge as fertilizer or soil amendment, because there is no real science that supports the current regulations governing this risky practice. These organizations have warned that the current policies do not protect human health, agricultural productivity, or the environment. Twice in the last five years, a coalition of leading US health, farm, and environmental organizations, have petitioned the US Environmental Protection Agency to put a moratorium on spreading sludge on farmland, pastures, and forests. (source:

Sludge Fact #3 

"Sewage treatment plants receive all types of hazardous waste from hospitals, nursing homes, mortuaries, industry and households. Modern cremation techniques such as resomation are an additional source of controversy, as the liquefied human remains are mixed in sewage sludge and deposited on farm fields to grow human food.There may also be religious objections to this process." (source:

Sludge Fact #4  

It is all about MONEY and not your HEALTH or the ENVIRONMENT 

"Farmers can save money from not having to purchase fertilizer. Sewage sludge typically is provided free of charge. Municipal sewage districts save large amounts of money by not having to pay expensive landfill costs, typically between $75–$90/ton. Sludge spreaders, typically gross between $10–20/ton from municipalities to remove sludge and deliver and spread on farm fields. Residents living nearby sludge spreading sites may be unable to sell their homes due to poor odours and health concerns, such as an increased risk of developing asthma and the potential presence of Escherichia coli in drinking water." (source:

Sludge Fact #5

"Recent studies (2010) have indicated that pharmaceuticals and personal care products, which often adsorb to sludge during wastewater treatment, can persist in agricultural soils following biosolid application. Some of these chemicals, including potential endocrine disruptor Triclosan, can also travel through the soil column and leach into agricultural tile drainage at detectable levels.Other studies, however, have shown that these chemicals remain adsorbed to surface soil particles, making them more susceptible to surface erosion than infiltration.These studies are also mixed in their findings regarding the persistence of chemicals such as triclosan, triclocarban, and other pharmaceuticals. The impact of this persistence in soils is unknown, but the link to human and land animal health is likely tied to the capacity for plants to absorb and accumulate these chemicals in their consumed tissues. Studies of this kind are in early stages, but evidence of root uptake and translocation to leaves did occur for both triclosan and triclocarban in soybeans."  (source:

Sludge Fact #6  

"Many if not most pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria and viruses can survive treatment processes used to produce biosolids (Class A and Class B); and many dangerous pathogens, such as Salmonella and Staphylococcus, can re-grow to high levels in biosolids, which is mostly comprised of human feces. New research indicates that sewage sludge treatment facilities are actually breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant pathogens." (from "Ten Government-Industry Myths about Biosolids" by Caroline Snyder Ph.D.).

Sludge Fact #7  

"EPA and the USDA buried studies demonstrating heavy metals in biosolids exceeding current levels permitted by EPA caused liver and kidney damage in farm animals grazing on fields treated with biosolids. After EPA promulgated the current sludge rule in 1992, it worked with the Water Environment Federation to establish the "National Biosolids Public Acceptance Campaign." EPA's Office of Inspector General investigated EPA's efforts to silence Dr. David Lewis, one of its top scientists who documented adverse health effects, and concluded that EPA could not assure the public that land application of biosolids is safe." (from "Ten Government-Industry Myths about Biosolids" by Caroline Snyder Ph.D.).

Sludge Fact # 8  

"The only scientists who support this practice are those paid by the industry. Unlike animal manures from family farms, biosolids contains thousands of man-made industrial chemcials, some highly toxic, persistent, which can enter the food chain. Some of these pollutants damage organisms in tiny amounts, parts per trillion. Every entity in Canada can discharge hazardous waste into sewage treatment plants. Here the sewage is treated by removing most of the toxic industrial chemicals. The removed pollutants don't just magically disappear; they end up in the resulting biosolids. Biosolids-exposure has caused life threatening illnesses, killed livestock, polluted drinking water, and degraded healthy farm soil. Earth Day is not the time to advocate putting our industrial waste on the planet we are trying to protect for future generations." Prof. Snyder responding to CBC article on Biosolids last year.  


Sludge Fact #9  

"Odours from biosolids are a warning that the material is emitting disease causing pathogens and biological toxins, e.g., endotoxins. Peer-reviewed scientific studies have demonstrated that resulting health effects are not imagined but real. Many hundreds of sludge-exposed rural neighbors have reported chronic respiratory, skin and gastrointestinal conditions consistent with exposures to the types of chemical and biological contaminants found in biosolids. The relationship between land application of biosolids and such adverse health effects has been documented in valid scientific studies, including the peer-reviewed scientific literature." (from "Ten Government-Industry Myths about Biosolids" by Caroline Snyder Ph.D.).

Sludge Fact #10

"Treated human waste (otherwise known as sewage sludge or biosolids) has been floated as the “solution” to everything from the topsoil loss to dwindling supplies of mined phosphorus. But it has also been indicated as a risk to human and environmental health for a multitude of reasons. Heavy metals, although declining in recent years, are still a concern as are antibiotics, hormones, steroids and other pharmaceuticals, or things like triclosan, flame retardants and solvents that end up poured down drains. 

Researchers at Virginia Tech, for example, recently warned that excreted antibiotics spread on farm fields are contributing to antibiotic-resistant bacteria and are a serious environmental problem." (source:

Sludge Fact #11

Classes of sewage sludge - Class A sludge is typically dried and pasteurized, and is also known as "exceptional" quality. Class B includes all sludge not classified as Class A. Class B sludge is typically "undigested" and is volatile. Residents living near Class B sludge processing sites may experience asthma or pulmonary distress due to bioaerosols released from sludge fields. Both classes of sludge may still contain radioactive or pharmaceutical wastes. (source:

Sludge Fact # 12

Recently, the US Department of Agriculture awarded a Georgia dairy farmer disaster relief funds when a court ruled that sludge used as fertilizer was responsible for killing hundreds of his cattle, contaminating milk, and polluting his land so that he was no longer able to grow food crops. (See United States District Court Southern District of Georgia, McElmurray v. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Case 1:05-cv-00159-AAA-WLB Document 67, Filed 02/25/2008.)

Sludge Fact #13

Great recent publication from Germany - a lengthy study which advocates ending land application of biosolids to protect the environment for the future - here is a section from the report - (the whole report is well worth the read and is in English) "More than 30,000 tons of pharmaceutical drugs are used in Germany annually. After being used for therapeutic purposes or being disposed of improperly (in toilets), residues of these drugs end up in municipal sewage systems. Depending on the sewage treatment methods used, a greater or lesser portion of the pharmaceutical drug residues removed from sewage are deposited in sewage sludge. According to a German Advisory Council on the Environment (Sachverständigenrat für Umweltfragen, SRU) report on pharmaceutical drugs in the environment, although only a handful of pharmaceutical drugs accumulate in sewage sludge, it would be advisable to gradually phase out the use of sewage sludge as a fertilizer so as to avoid diffuse loads of potentially harmful substances in soil [SRU]." (source:

Sludge Fact # 14

The term biosolids was formally created in 1991 by the Name Change Task Force of the Water Environment Federation (WEF), formerly known as the "Federation of Sewage Works Associations" to differentiate raw, untreated sewage sludge from treated and tested sewage sludge that can legally be utilized as soil amendment and fertilizer. The Federation newsletter published a request for alternative names. Members sent in over 250 suggestions, including "all growth," "purenutri," "biolife," "bioslurp," "black gold," "geoslime," "sca-doo," "the end product," "humanure," "hu-doo," "organic residuals," "bioresidue," "urban biomass," "powergro," "organite," "recyclite," "nutri-cake" and "ROSE," short for "recycling of solids environmentally."[83] In June 1991, the Name Change Task Force finally settled on "biosolids," which it defined as the "nutrient-rich, organic byproduct of the nation's wastewater treatment process." (source:

Sludge Fact #15

Another study [STUMPE] concerning the soil breakdown and mineralization of steroid hormones that end up in fields as the result of sewage sludge fertilization (among other applications) found that oestrogen is a stable compound in the soil. The study’s

lab experiments showed that oestrogen in soil is subject to vertical displacement and should thus be factored into risk assessments concerning groundwater as well as surface waterbodies that are affected by groundwater. Another subject of debate among scientists concerning sewage sludge application on land is the spread of pathogens that are resistant to antibiotics. There is evidence that in part owing to the elevated bacterial concentrations found in sewage treatment plants, antibiotic resistance can be exchanged between bacteria that are input with sewage from facilities such as hospitals [UBA]. This phenomenon could potentially give rise to new constellations of antibiotic resistance being transmitted to heretofore nonresistant bacteria. According to another study [EIBISCH], the continuous input of antibiotics into soil over a prolonged period can result in elevated concentrations of bacteria that promote the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, resulting in the possibility of gene transfers of the resistance genes of such antibiotics. Expert reports issued by the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU) concerning pharmaceutical drugs in the environment indicate that the spread of antibiotic resistance in the environment resulting from resistant bacteria inputs poses a greater public health hazard than antibiotic inputs per se [SRU]. (source:

Sludge Fact #16

"Sewage sludge fertilizer is a pollution sink for harmful sewage components from households, businesses and diffuse sources, concerning whose environmental relevance too little is known. Notwithstanding tighter controls and stricter limit values for certain sewage sludge pollutants, uncontrolled pollutants such as hydrocarbons inevitably find their way into the soil. Incorporation of certain pollutants into the food chain cannot always be avoided, despite the fact that, for example, plants normally do not absorb organic pollutants. Nonetheless, new breakdown products of pharmaceutical drugs are discovered in sewage sludge all the time, and they are incorporated into sewage sludge via human excretion carried by the wastewater that is treated by sewage treatment plants." (source: