Sewage Sludge: An Educational Overview?

The spreading of sewage sludge is a white hot topic. On one side of the fence you have the argument that the land application of sludge is safe and on the other side you have the opposing argument. Words are tossed around like hot potatoes and meaning often gets tossed to the four winds. Sewage sludge. Biosolids. Fertilizer. Organic. I am not very interested in the semantics but let’s be sure we are arguing about the same thing and understand the definition of these words as they relate to the discussion. Definitions according to the dictionary are:

Fertilizer – Any of a large number of natural and synthetic materials applied into soil to increase its capacity to support plant growth.

Sewage Sludge
 – Solid, semi-solid or liquid residue generated from industrial wastewater, domestic sewage, and surface water processed in a treatment facility.

Biosolids – Solid, semisolid or liquid material derived from sewage sludge, often used as fertilizer, has been labeled as “biosolids compost,” organic fertilizer.”

Organic – Grown without the use of drugs, hormones, or synthetic chemicals; Of or designating carbon compounds.

Given these definitions it is reasonable that one might assume that biosolids can be used as fertilizer. Sludge by definition doesn’t seem safe to use as a fertilizer whatsoever. But do a Google search on sludge and biosolids.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Now that you’ve searched you’re probably confused, wondering who’s right and who’s wrong? The EPA says one thing. Corporate interests says another. And, the scientists are all over the place. The conclusion that I draw from all the information available about sewage sludge and biosolids is that sewage sludge is bad. No other way to say it. Biosolids, that information seems designed to be inaccessible and, well, the expert opinions are all over the place, so how can anyone come to an informed opinion about biosolids? How? It seems they just throw caution to the wind.

Volumes of research have been done on biosolids, yet there is still no scientific consensus on the safety of biosolids. The only thing one can get from the controversy is that the opposing sides strongly disagree over whether sewage sludge and biosolids are or are not the same thing. But that is not the real question?

The question is, “Are biosolids safe to apply on land?” It’s a little late to ask, but let’s, why? Because biosolids – be it aka sewage sludge or not – is being spread on land all over this country as we speak. Biosolids, which are derived from sewage sludge that our government environmental watchdog has long considered hazardous toxic material, have to meet certain requirements set forth by the EPA. Well, that’s all fine and dandy. But are we sure that those standards are as rigorous as they need to be? Or does setting forth a requirement simply make it sound legit? Like half-doing a job to get by. And, who is doing the monitoring to make sure these requirements are met? And, what about someone studying those monitoring reports to make sure we know what we think we know? The ramifications of land application of biosolids not being 100% safe are catastrophic. And, yo, it’s not okay to “slip up” here. Does the spreading of biosolids pose a clear and present danger to public health? Is there the slightest risk that harmful chemicals, hazardous toxic material can get into the food and water supply? They do not know for certain. One thing we know for certain is IF that happens there will be no turning back. We have had enough experience to know that.

If human life could be sustained solely on episodes of Glee, the music of Nicki Minaj, and the dance moves of the JabbaWockeeZ, then sure spread biosolids, sling sludge until you pass out. But the truth of the matter is humans have to eat and drink to live. Our digestive systems are not designed to separate bad things in foods from the good. We are mutations. Mutants. What we eat goes directly into our collective systems and the rest is called evolution, for better or for worse.

In North Carolina, Virginia, and many other states, sludge spreading is a serious problem. If it is known that sludge is potentially harmful, why is it being spread? In my mind, if Sugar Brand A is laced with arsenic and Sugar Brand B is not; why would I voluntarily put Sugar Brand A in my coffee? It appears that they want to count us brain dead before our time. Sewage sludge is known to have caused serious medical complications in people and animals that have been exposed to it. Getting the powers that be to admit to and take responsibility for this has proven to be somewhat difficult. When money is involved people do some strange things. And if a company can cut some corners and make a few extra bucks, say, like hundreds of millions, the amount of strange things they’ll do is endless.

NEWS FLASH: We all drink the same water and eat the same food. Sludge will get to you too!

Take for example, the upcoming educational summit at NCSU in Raleigh, April 27-28. It’s called the “Fork to Farm: A Biosolids Educational Summit.” It caught my eye, I read the agenda and the list of attendees. Immediately, I said to myself, “WHOA! Hold the freaking …! Those are not the soil-friendly folks that launched the “Farm to Fork” initiative in 2008 at NCSU’s Center for Environmental Farming Systems. But aren’t they the same people that we here at Waterfront Sportsman and The Environmental Investigation Coalition have been discussing for months in the e-mag.” Oh, I gasped, how stupid of me, those names are simply strikingly similar. Farm to Fork Fork to Farm, the inversion of the name got by me. Oh, words, words, words, words. Try false flag flying.

The squires and pages at the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources, aka DENR, and Darth Vaders’s spawn, i.e., representatives of the titan of the biosolids industry, Synagro, have been given the opportunity to speak and enlighten. Well, I’d fasten up the horse and buggy and scurry right on over to the summit next week had I not the sinking feeling that something ain’t right, pardon my grammar. It is to be an EDUCATIONAL seminar, right, meaning those who attend are under the supposition that they’re going to learn something. How much unbiased, 100% fact based knowledge do you think is going to be available at an event with DENR and Synagro folks as featured experts? Am I skeptical about this event? You bet (she doesn’t own the phrase.) I’m quite skeptical and if I had the ability to raise one eyebrow I would. Paranoia and humor are the only thing that can save you with this crowd.

Putting jokes aside, let’s focus on the fact that sludge spreading and the use of biosolids is profoundly serious. This is not the case of a bunch of tree huggers banning together to try to save a local park. This is the case of scientists, consumers, producers, politicians, environmentalists, and all the people of the land finding themselves in one dilly of a pickle. This is not the time to be colluding, cutting deals, stuffing dollars, lying, or equivocating. We cannot allow these issues to remain pawns in a sick and pointless, but ruinous, greed filled game of chess. Unless, of course, you’re comfortable with complicity. We’re talking about human life, and life in the broadest sense. No matter your take on the semantics – biosolids, sewage sludge – the bottom line is that the safety and security of the water and food supply, which are dependent on the health of the soil, should never be compromised and possibly irreversibly contaminated to satisfy, what, the short-term thinking, parasitic, greedy and corrupt agents that are running amok in our society. Have we gone mad?

Answer the question, below, it’s easier:

When you go out to eat don’t you want to know the water you’ll drink is clean and pure? Don’t you want to know your salad and/or your burger has come from a farm that is free from toxins? Let me guess, answered in the affirmative, correct? So what are you willing to do to get what you want?


18 responses to this post.

  1. Very good article and questions. As a clarification, 40 CFR 503 Sludge Use and Disposal Regulation is a sludge rule — there is no Biosolids Rule. The writer is right in that words are tossed around like they actually mean something. The missing factor is the words do mean something to different professions. Engineers, Chemists, and microbiologists and the waste industry all have different “Terms of Art” — in effect, they don’t speak the same language. As an example, if you mix up the “Terms of Art” toxic sludge may be truthfully advertised as organic biosolids based on the fact that toxic organic chemicals are in it as well as including biological active solid bacterial biofilms.


    “Only biosolids that meet the most stringent standards spelled out in the Federal and state rules can be approved for use as a fertilizer.”

    Check out the following link to the section which spells out the most “stringent standards” for the nine pollutant “regulated” levels allowed in sludge used as a fertilizer.

    Those pollutants are killers as outlined in

    Check out EPA’S 1994 PUBLIC RELATION CAMPAIGN to cover up the horror stories.

    And finally, EPA’s NON-RISK ASSESSMENT which states it did not evaluate any chemicals or pathogens and did not consider any carcinogenic metals to cause cancer.


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  4. Posted by Dr. Jeffrey G. White on April 22, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    A correction and a few comments regarding your characterization of our upcoming “Fork to Farm: A Biosolids Educational Summit,” April 27-28, 2010, NCSU/McKimmon Center.

    You wrote, “Darth Vaders’s spawn, i.e., representatives of the titan of the biosolids industry, Synagro, have been given the opportunity to speak and enlighten” … “How much unbiased, 100% fact based knowledge do you think is going to be available at an event with DENR and Synagro folks as featured experts?”

    There are no Synagro employees among the scheduled speakers. There are Synagro employees among the registered attendees; the even is open to the public. There is a Synagro employee on the organizing committee, which also includes several environmentalists and other stakeholders.

    As stated on the Summit website, it was

    “designed to provide information and answer questions regarding the land application of biosolids. Interest and concerns over the land application of biosolids/sludge have increased greatly over the last year. We realize this is an environmentally charged topic and that diverse opinions exist. The summit is organized to include a wide variety of stake-holders to ensure a balanced and scientifically based forum.”

    There are still a few places available; we invite you to attend. Perhaps you WILL learn something from one or more of the speakers, who include a wide variety of scientists, regulators, and environmentalists.


    • Dr. White, the title implies you are a medical doctor whereas it appears your background is soil science with UNSC. Therefore, one could assume you know little or nothing about the human medical hazards associated with the pathogen load of sludge dumped as a fertilizer under the EPA’s 503 sludge regulation.

      It would also appear you have never actually read the regulation, especially 503.9(t) where EPA explictly states exposure to organics, inorganics, pathogens or any combination thereof, could cause death, disease, cancer as well as mental and physical problems through the air, water or foodchain. See the links above.

      One could also assume you are not aware that the fecal coliform test used to prove sludge is safe is the former 1904 Eijkman test for thermotolerant Bacillus coli (E. coli) indication rcent fecal pollution. It was Eijkman’s assumption that these heat resistant E. coli were from warm blooded animals and the E.coli that multiplied at normal body temperature were from cold blooded animals.

      Yet, you scholars receiving funding from EPA or the WEF continue to spread the fiction that thermotolerant fecal coliform are not pathogens even though they are the pathogenic enteric bacteria E. coli and perhaps Klebsiella. Furthermore, you imply they only indicate pathogens may be present, but never offer any facts concerning the ratio of fecal coliform to other pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella or strep. let me offer to enlighten you on that subject.

      We may assume you are not aware of the facts, but EPA and WEF are fuller aware. Where do you think I got my information?


      • Posted by julia mahoney on March 17, 2011 at 1:28 pm

        hi this may not be of any interest to you but here goes. After putting 5 horses onto new pasture, in oct 2009. 1 died in jan then 1 died in the april and in march the rest were diagnosed with liver damage, and in the adjoining field my friend lost 15 in the space of 15years, and also 2 more in the same space as mine. Our vet diagnosed liver damage, and after some research we found out that toxic waste from slough plate metal works bucks(uk) was spread onto the fields by Thames Water for 5 years before it was abruptly stopped after it was found to be harmful to both humans and animals. Defra are now involved but things go so slowly. My point is i want to fight this as i do not want any owner or horse to go through what we have. Thanks for reading this……… Julia

      • Julia,
        Thanks for the information. There have been a number of cases in the U.S.
        You may write direct at JimBynum (at)

  5. Posted by Lillie B. on April 22, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    To Dr. White,

    I have taken a look at the Summit website. I see that you and Prof. David Lindbo are the faculty organizers.

    Like the blogger, I believe you do think we’re all brain dead. But one could be brain dead and still figure out why you contemptuously choose to pervert and sully the name of the NCSU “Farm to Fork” initiative, which is widely recognized and highly regarded in this area. A “Fork to Farm” “biosolids” summit designed to further the already extraordinary power of a thoroughly disreputable industry constitutes “Farm to Fork’s” polar opposite.

    This is identity theft and the academy at its worse. But deceit and corruption has characterized the sordid history of “biosolids” and all those involved from its conception.

    Be forewarned, you won’t be able to wash the stain of sewage sludge off your hands. It’s deadly.


    • Posted by Dr. Jeffrey G. White on April 22, 2010 at 7:32 pm


      FYI: We did not “comtemptuously choose to pervert and sully the name of the NCSU ‘Farm to Fork’ initiative” “Farm to Fork” was never mentioned in our search for a title, which was adapted from several that were discussed including “Fork to Mouth to Toilet to Sewer to Wastewater Treatment Plant to Farm…,” which we found a bit cumbersome….

      And I don’t know why you believe I think you’re “all brain dead;” I assure you, I do not.

      As for a “thoroughly disreputable industry,” I don’t defend the bad actors, but I believe that many, if not most, of the folks in the industry work diligently to follow the regulations, and I’m thankful to them for dealing with our waste.

      That said, I also believe that there is no question that both the regulations and their enforcement need to be strengthened, and that better alternatives for recycling/disposal of sludge/biosolids need to be developed and implemented. Let’s work together to gather the political will and dollars that will be required to achieve that end.



  6. Posted by Dr. Jeffrey G. White on April 22, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    Mr. Bynum:

    FYI: I am a Ph.D.; we also get to use the title “Dr.”

    Your post contains a lot of “implies,” “assumes,” and “appears” followed by false statements about me. I won’t repeat what my grandma said when she advised me not to “assume.”

    You know nothing of my knowledge nor opinions regarding biosolids and their fate, yet your first response is to attack. I believe that our efforts to recycle/dispose of our wastes in better ways that do not compromise human/veterinary/wildlife health and the environment will be achieved sooner by working together toward those ends, rather than “assuming” much of anything.

    Toward a better world. Peace.


  7. Dr. White I am aware of what a Ph.D is, I am married to one. Which is why I visited your profile at

    The “implies,” “assumes” and “appears” was to give you a way out, not to attack you. I didn’t really figure you would admit you didn’t know what a fecal coliform was. It is strange but only two people at EPA would admit they knew what it is and that the tests suppress all the pathogens they don’t want to find.

    I actually wrote the first published Peer Reviewed paper against sludge use and this sham of a regulation in 1992.

    Based on your most recent post it would appear you want us to believe you are fully aware of the 1994 EPA/WEF public relations campaign to coverup the “Horror Stories” visited on farmers using sludge and their neighbors.

    I am fully aware there are good people at EPA and the wastewater industry who were blindly or not so blinly, lead into this situation because of their job, or study, funding with the hope they could work from the inside to change things.

    It ain’t gonna happen. EPA’s William Sanjour couldn’t do, Hugh Kaufmann couldn’t do it, David Lewis couldn’t do it, and you can’t do it.


    • Posted by Dr. Jeffrey G. White on April 23, 2010 at 5:31 pm

      Jim Bynum:

      Thanks for you clarifications…

      You wrote, “…with the hope they could work from the inside to change things. It ain’t gonna happen. EPA’s William Sanjour couldn’t do, Hugh Kaufmann couldn’t do it, David Lewis couldn’t do it, and you can’t do it.”

      I’m a pragmatic optimist. Politics aside, I believe that under the new administration, USEPA will revisit, revise, and strengthen the sludge/biosolids regulations. We’ll be hearing from them at our summit, and time will tell.

      As for me working from the “inside” I am neither inside USEPA nor the industry, but at a publicly funded university, and I take our public service mission very seriously. If I believed that change were not possible with respect to biosolids, I would not have undertaken related activities.


      • Since North Carolina State University is a land-grant university, it is a little more than a publicy funded university, Just ask Ellen Harrison of Cornell. When she and her colleages questioned the EPA science with the study Case for Caution. Those fine young men at EPA who promoted toxic sludge use as a fertilizer did their damdest to get her fired. The fact is sludge use destroyed 150 years of agricultural science. You promote sludge use based on the fecal coliform test, yet it only enumerates less than 1% of the E. coli dumped on agricultural land and none of the Salmonella. Then you claim that E. coli is not a pathogen. Is that a damn lie or ignorance?

  8. Posted by Lillie B. on April 22, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    Dr. White:

    If Synagro played from a sane rule book, I would indulge your plea for peace.

    Naive and no talent for the real world of Synagros and human suffering, yet clever enough to have chosen to play along, get those research dollars, and push that “greenwashed” “biosolids-to-energy” canard that Synagro is building and retrofitting for all across the country. Have you any idea in the start-up phases alone of this new industry, how much tax payer money Synagro stands ready to reap? The tens of billions they’re now making are predicted to swell to hundreds of billions this go round.

    A highly successful public company, why do you think its major shareholder, the Carlyle Group, took Synagro private in 2007?

    But it wasn’t just greed, it’s worse. The SEIU and the SEC no less, argued convincingly from different agendas against taking Synagro private.
    No one can rest easy in a world where the annual statements of Synagro, the “titan” of the waste disposal industry, are private; where the information and knowledge about the chemical contents of a majority share of the national and huge share of the international waste management markets are a secret. But the powerful Carlyle group prevailed.

    My intent is not to insult but to awaken you. Again, the blogger is spot on, have we gone mad?


  9. the blog was how do i say it… relevant, finally something that helped me. ThanksEverything is very open and very clear explanation of issues. was truly information. Your website is very useful. Thanks for sharing.


  10. […] The sewage waste solids as fertilizers is discussed in this post: Sewage Sludge an Educational Review […]


  11. See Locate (recognize they’re), the root parities were definitely cared for on 2007, determined by BIS:


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