Letter to the Editor of NH Sierra Club News


August 1, 2006

To the Editor of NH Sierran:

Using treated sewage sludge (biosolids) as soil amendment was the topic of recent Sierran articles claiming the practice is dangerous and EPA colludes with the wastewater "industry" in allowing it. They cite a few controversial events that have been interpreted in different ways: public officials have concluded, in each case, that there is no evidence that biosolids caused harm.

The Sierran articles ignore the thousands of ongoing, successful biosolids recycling programs across the country - all of which are sanctioned by publicly-owned and -supported water quality protection programs. The fact is, biosolids recycling is the long-term norm for Claremont, Concord, Dover, Durham, Franklin, Hanover, Hooksett, Keene, Merrimack, Milford, Nashua, and Plymouth. These and other in-state wastewater systems also treat half of the septage from our homes and businesses - adding to sewage sludge production. Most of us contribute to sludge and depend on biosolids recycling. EPA and others estimate that more than 50% of U. S. sewage sludge is recycled. In New Hampshire, the rate is 55% (DES, 2003 data).

While the Sierran authors believe we have not yet made the practice safe enough, most people do. Over decades, there has been scrutiny of this practice, including independent research at scores of universities from UNH to UC-Riverside. Thousands of peer-reviewed research papers exist, including two reviews by the National Academy of Sciences: their 1996 report concluded that the use of biosolids presents "negligible risk to the consumer, to crop production, and to the environment." The 2002 report, which called for updating the science, had as its overarching conclusion: "There is no documented scientific evidence that the Part 503 rule has failed to protect public health. However, additional scientific work is needed to reduce persistent uncertainty about the potential for adverse human health effects from exposure to biosolids." Biosolids recycling is accepted by U.S. Department of Agriculture, U. S. Food and Drug Administration, and nearly every state environmental agency.

The late Donella Meadows wrote in a letter to the Concord Monitor in 1996: "The No. 1 rule of the debate is: Sludge Happens. It has to go somewhere. You don't get to say 'not here' without saying where, or personally agreeing to stop producing it.... As long as there is not too much of it, plants love sludge. Land-spreading is by far the best solution. It recycles nutrients back into life. It improves soils. It replaces manufactured fertilizers, reducing fossil fuel use and water and air pollution...." Biosolids are a source of organic matter and nitrogen from a local source - unlike chemical fertilizer. Recycling biosolids involves simple technologies: wastewater treatment facilities are living systems that enhance natural physical and biological processes. The resulting sludge is stabilized by simple systems--anaerobic digestion, composting, or the addition of lime.

Those who manage wastewater and biosolids work day in and day out to protect water quality and utilize biosolids in ways that protect the environment and benefit agricultural systems. We strive to further improve biosolids management and welcome your input. NEBRA offers tours and information - see www.nebiosolids.org or call 603-323-7654. Biosolids recycling is an important goal for sustainability.

Ned Beecher, New England Biosolids and Residuals Association (NEBRA)