Belfanti to hold hearing on Pa. sewage sludge policy
HARRISBURG, Aug. 30 - State Rep. Robert E. Belfanti, D-Montour/Northumberland/Columbia, will host a House Democratic Policy Committee Hearing on the application of sewage sludge on land in Pennsylvania, particularly its application on abandoned mine land.
The hearing will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3 in the Mt. Carmel High School Auditorium, 600 W. Fifth St., in Mt. Carmel.
The State Department of Environmental Protection allows Class B biosolids, or sewage sludge, to be spread on a variety of land in Pennsylvania, mostly in small quantities and on an infrequent basis on farms and abandoned mine land. Proponents claim sludge is an effective fertilizer and aids in mine reclamation.
But Belfanti said serious questions about the safety and environmental impact of sewage sludge have been raised, particularly questions that have not been answered adequately by DEP or companies making a profit dealing in sewage sludge. "Hundreds or even thousands of tons of untreated sewage sludge may soon be trucked into our region and dumped on abandoned mind lands by the tractor-trailer load," Belfanti said. "My question is: at what risk to the health of local residents and the environment? "There are scientists and studies weighing in on both sides of this issue, but DEP chooses to ignore the studies and scientists that have found serious flaws in the federal safety standards for sewage sludge that DEP is relying on," he said. -more- -2- "At this time, I don't believe DEP can say with authority whether the application of sludge is harmful or not."
Belfanti said a recent issue of U.S. News and World Report (Aug. 5, 2002) printed a chilling investigative report on Class B biosolids, and a study released in July by the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering, the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council found there is a serious lack of information about how people exposed to sewage sludge may be affected. That study also concluded that the Environmental Protection Agency used an incomplete and unreliable 1988 study when it set its national standards for sewage sludge application; that chemicals not found in the 1988 study have since been found to be of potential concern; and that studies of workers exposed to raw sewage sludge, which the EPA based its standards on, are not adequate to determine how larger populations are affected by sewage sludge.
Presently, about 50 percent of the Class B biosolids generated in Pennsylvania are either incinerated or disposed of in landfills, which are lined to protect from leachate and other forms of ground and water contamination.
"Both of these methods cost sludge producers a lot of money - it is far cheaper for them to spread it on land," Belfanti said. "A few people stand to make huge profits by this method of disposal.
"I question why the 50 percent that finds its way to Pennsylvania land can't first be converted into Class A biosolids or otherwise rendered totally harmless, even if it costs the same amount or a bit more than incineration or landfilling."
Belfanti said current DEP policy on sewage sludge seems to tilt toward promoting the sewage sludge industry, not protecting the people of Pennsylvania from potentially harmful contaminants and pathogens.
"The bottom line is, DEP simply doesn't have enough evidence to say that sewage sludge is safe for sure -- they're gambling that it is," he said.
"That's a gamble I don't believe should be taken with the health and safety of our residents and environment." Belfanti said Tuesday's hearing will present the other side of the issue, the side that was not represented at the public meeting held by DEP on May 22 in the same room at Mt. Carmel High School.
Testifiers at Tuesday's hearing will include: