Sludge concern spreads in U.S.
by BRANDY RISSMILLER
and MARIA HERNE
The Times Tribune.com
March 8, 2008
The national controversy over a Georgia farmer whose land was poisoned by sludge
from a waste treatment plant has Schuylkill County sludge opponents taking notice.
East Brunswick, Rush and Mahanoy townships, and Tamaqua Borough, have ordinances designed
to limit the use of sewer sludge as fertilizer.
The East Brunswick ordinance was passed by the township supervisors in 2006 and challenges
the rights of corporations to spread sludge — called “biosolids” in the sewage treatment industry —
and allows individuals to use it only if they pay for environmental testing and take on all personal
liability for environmental damage.
Last week, a federal judge ordered the Agriculture Department to compensate a Georgia farmer,
whose cows had died by the hundreds after grazing on hay fields where sludge had been spread.
According to The Associated Press, some of the same contaminants showed up in milk that regulators
allowed a neighboring dairy farmer to market, even after some officials said they were warned about it.
“I really hope that people start opening up their eyes and giving some real thought to what’s going on around them,”
Tamaqua Mayor Christian P. Morrison said. “I have lost a lot of faith in the DEP and EPA,
agencies that have done nothing but cover this up, push it down our throats and tell us it’s okay.”
“This is deadly stuff,” said Donald Rubinkam, an East Brunswick Township supervisor who supported
a township ordinance that challenges the rights of corporations to spread sewage sludge, and allows
individuals to apply the materials only if they will pay for necessary environmental testing and take
on all personal liability for environmental damage.
Rubinkam said the ruling last week — in which U.S. District Judge Anthony Alaimo ordered the Agriculture
Department to compensate an Augusta, Ga., farmer whose land and cows were poisoned by sludge from the
waste treatment plant that he spread on his fields — sent an important message.
“Finally, we have a federal judge throwing the book at the authorities ...
no judge is going to do that, write a 45-page ruling like that-
unless he’s convinced that what’s going on is wrong,” Rubinkam said.
The controversy over sewage sludge is a serious health and environmental concern, he said.
“This stuff has tainted crops, it’s killed cows and the next thing you know, it’s going to kill people,”
Rubinkam said. “This is a serious problem that goes much deeper than Pennsylvania. It’s a national problem.”
Annette Etchberger, whose property borders a proposed 300-acre site for sewage sludge application near
River Road in East Brunswick Township, said she hopes the Georgia case brings a greater public awareness
to the increasing problem of sewage sludge.
“There are stack and stacks of evidence that pose so many unanswered questions, that show it’s just not safe,”
Etchberger said. “I’m glad for the national attention, if it will bring more attention to the situation
that’s going on here. More and more municipalities are facing this problem and it’s not going to go away.”
Etchberger said the Georgia ruling does bring up serious concerns about whether the agencies that are
in place to protect the health and welfare of the public are really doing their job.
“I think the Georgia court ruling clearly shows that the two farmers involved in this case were mislead
and misinformed,” she said. “They were given guarantees that this (sewage sludge) was safe, and they ended
up with dead cattle, tainted crops and farmland that was no longer usable anymore.”
BLO fecit 20080223 - PA Sludge index