PO Box 44 ~ Saxapahaw, North Carolina 27340 ~ Phone (336) 525-2003 ~ Email:


April 11, 2008

Sue Dayton
(336) 525-2003

Groups Support Sewage Sludge Investigation

Today the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League hailed Senator Barbara Boxer’s decision to hold Senate hearings on toxics found in drinking water and sewage sludge. The League joined with 68 public interest groups from several states around the country in support of the investigation by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Specifically, the Committee will examine the potential risks of pharmaceuticals in drinking water and the role that sewage sludge has played in the contamination of our nation’s food and water supplies.

Sue Dayton, Coordinator for NC Health Communities, praised Senator Boxer’s efforts in calling for the hearings. “Efforts like these are needed to examine the potentially harmful effects of chemicals present in effluent discharged by wastewater treatment plants into rivers and steams, and the impacts of land application of sewage sludge on our health and environment,” she said. “Communities certainly need to have a stronger ‘Right-To-Know’ as a part of the process.”

The letter supporting Boxer’s call for hearings on sewage sludge was prompted by Dr. Laura Orlando, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Environmental Health and Associate Director of the Center for Ecological Public Health at the Boston University School of Public Health. Orlando said, “Senator Boxer and other members of the Committee need to know that they have our support to examine sewer and sludge policy, and change these policies to protect our precious farmlands.”

Dozens of organizations from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia signed onto the letter supporting the hearings. “Sewage sludge is being spread on thousands of acres of farmland in over seventy counties in North Carolina,” Dayton added. “NC Healthy Communities is working to increase public awareness about the potential impacts to health and the environment from the land application of sewage sludge. Residents of rural communities are no longer willing to be complacent when it comes to making sure that their land, food, drinking water, and health are safe from contaminants found in sludge.”

Scientists, environmentalists and public health advocates are questioning the effects of spreading sewage sludge, a practice that has increased since 1991, when Congress deemed sludge too dangerous to dump in oceans. Since that time, many wastewater treatment plants use land application as a means to dispose of sewage sludge and advertise sludge as a no-cost, healthy alternative to regular fertilizer because of its high nutrient content.

Although sewage sludge undergoes a certain degree of “treatment,” wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to treat and remove the thousands of chemicals and organic wastewater contaminants not removed from sludge. These contaminants include pathogens, endocrine disrupting compounds in prescription drugs and personal care products, fire retardants, heavy metals, radionuclides, pesticides, PCBS, etc. Currently, testing for these substances is either minimal or non-existent.

Dayton said that the contaminants found in sewage sludge being spread on farmlands are the same contaminants found in effluent discharged from wastewater treatment plants into North Carolina’s rivers and streams. “Many of these organic wastewater contaminants have been found in North Carolina’s surface waters and we know that these contaminants are responsible for damaging the reproductive systems of fish and other aquatic organisms. Land application of sewage sludge constitutes a number of concerns, not only for our health and food supplies, but for our land and water resources.”

Exposure to sewage sludge has been linked with rashes, coughs, nausea, breathing problems, skin infections and other illnesses. In 1994, sludge was implicated in the death of an eleven-year-old boy from a Staphylococcus aureus infection after he rode his dirt bike across a freshly spread sludge field in Pennsylvania. In 1995, another young man in New Hampshire died from breathing problems associated with exposure to sludge. In a more recent ruling, an 11th Circuit Judge ruled that sewage sludge was responsible for killing hundreds of dairy cattle in Georgia and contaminating milk supplies in several states.

There are also reports of contaminated groundwater and private drinking water wells, as well as the destruction of fish and other aquatic life from sewage sludge applications. The same judge who ruled that sewage sludge was responsible for the deaths of dairy cattle found that EPA “fudged, fabricated and invented data” for a study meant to support the EPA’s sludge regulations.

For more information contact Sue Dayton: (336) 525-2003 or