The “land application” of sewage sludge has been promoted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since 1993 as the preferred method for the disposal of this by-product of municipal wastewater treatment. Millions of tons of hazardous sewage sludge have subsequently been spread on farmland and public parks in the United States. Sometimes it is bagged and sold as “organic” fertilizer and compost in garden supply stores. No matter how it is processed or how slick it is marketed as a fertilizer or soil amendment, putting sewage sludge on land is a health and environmental disaster.
Has sewage sludge caused any farm damage? Once the sludge leaves the wastewater treatment plant, it is not tracked; there’s no national system for reporting sludge-related health or environmental problems; and farmers are not known for having deep pockets, which is what it would take to bring the issue of damages to US courts.
Nevertheless, in February 2008, the McElmurrays, dairy farmers from Georgia, received an order and judgment issued by Federal Judge Anthony Alaimo of the 11th Circuit Court. The order addresses and confirms that there have been decades of deceit by the EPA and finds against the USDA and the EPA. The court acknowledges that the sludge applications on the McElmurrays’ farm were responsible for killing hundreds of dairy cattle and contaminating the milk supplies in several states. This case allowed subsidies previously only awarded for crop failures due to bad weather or natural disasters to include the injurious affects of land applied sewage sludge. In his ruling, Judge Alaimo said, “senior EPA officials took extraordinary steps to quash scientific dissent and any questioning of EPA’s biosolids program.” (United States District Court Southern District of Georgia, McElmurray v. US Department of Agriculture, Case 1:05-cv-00159-AAA-WLB Document 67, Filed 02/25/2008.) ….