published Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Recycling sludge stirs questions

In the past three years, Chattanooga has saved taxpayers and farmers money by converting leftover sludge from Moccasin Bend Sewage Treatment Plant into nearly 350,000 tons of biosolids that can serve as fertilizer for crops not eaten by people.

"We call ourselves Chattanooga's No. 1 recycler," plant Superintendent Alice Cannella said.

Most of the biosolids go to farms in Sequatchie, Marion and Bledsoe counties in Tennessee and Jackson County, Ala.

"It's called beneficial reuse," Ms. Cannella said. "With the costs of today's fertilizers, it saves the farmers money because it is high in nitrogen and alkalinity. We give it free to the farmers, and we spread it. It also saves us money because we're not burying it in landfills and using up landfill space."

But questions have been raised nationally about the safety of using biosolids on farm fields, and in Sequatchie County, a petition with 90 signatures prompted county commissioners to pen a resolution in April banning the stuff on fields there.

County Executive Michael Hudson said the resolution hasn't been voted on yet, pending a legal opinion from the University of Tennessee's County Technical Assistance Service.

"We're weighing our options to see whether we have any options," Mr. Hudson said. "It's a state-funded and state-regulated program. ... We're educating ourselves."



* Tennessee: 108,949 tons

* Alabama: 13,639 tons


* Tennessee: 103,702 tons

* Alabama: 25,495 tons


* Tennessee: 57,468 tons

* Alabama: 37,538 tons

Source: Moccasin Bend Sewage Treatment Plant


In 2009, 95,006 tons of treated sludge from Moccasin Bend Sewage Treatment Plant was placed on farm fields in Tennessee and Alabama.

In Tennessee, that included:

* Hamilton County: 3,891 tons on 488 acres

* Sequatchie County: 21,355 tons on 725 acres

* Marion County: 17,766 tons on 639 acres

* Bledsoe County: 11,693 tons on 419 acres

* Grundy County: 2,762 tons on 221 acres

In Alabama, it included:

* DeKalb County: 2,405 acres on 334 acres

* Jackson County: 26,293 acres on 1,355 acres

Source: Moccasin Bend Sewage Treatment Plant

Environmental and citizens groups have challenged similar programs in other communities, saying the smelly material, though treated with lime to kills organisms, still contains metals and other leftovers from industrial wastewater.

In Tennessee, the waste can be spread only on hay fields or where crops are not grown for human consumption. The hay, however, will be eaten by cattle, which are eaten by humans.

Scientists say many contaminants bioaccumulate -- become concentrated inside the bodies of living things -- and can travel up the food chain.

In Sequatchie County, one farmer spearheaded a challenge..

Lloyd Stewart, of Dunlap, said biosolids spread on a farm adjacent to his smelled so bad his grandchildren were sickened and the family contemplated moving them away.

"Sludge has copper and arsenic and lead in it," he said. "And this is spread on a field beside the river that is a drinking source. (Regulators) say it's soaking into the ground and not running in the river, but shucks, I know it's not all going into the ground."

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation regulates the local biosolids program and requires material not be spread too near houses, wells or water, according to department spokeswoman Tisha Calabrese-Benton.

"EPA has provided guidance on how solids generated in a wastewater treatment plant can be managed," she said.

Sludge must be placed in a landfill, but when the sludge has lime added as a disinfectant, it is transformed into biosolids, she said.

Ms. Cannella said Moccasin Bend biosolids are treated with two processes and stabilized with lime.

"The lime raises the pH to 12, so all the undesirable organisms are killed," she said.

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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ancienctpoisons said...

One only needs to know history to know how poisonous heavy metals are--Pliny the Elder wrote of the effects of lead on Ancient Rome; arsenic is 15 times more toxic than Pb, all 13 heavy metals in the atomic chart are toxic, and are potent neurotoxins, especially harming children and the brain and nerves. Since we only regulate about 600 of the 80,000 chemicals in modern commerce, we're not smarter today about bio-concentration and effects up the food chain. We don't eat the hay, we eat the cattle that concentrated the hay's poisons 1000-fold. That's smart?

Search 'UGA sludge, David Lewis, whistleblower', and read how Georgia researcher's falsified tests for EPA to claim that sludge wasn't killing the dairy cattle where Augusta covered the farm fields in Georgia. Dr. Lewis and the landowners have sued--the landowners got a big check for the poisoned cattle and land--the people that drank and ate the food--well, they got the 'safe' 'government approved' 'acceptable levels' 'ok with lime' poisons. Congressional hearings are on the web, too. It was another science scandal during the Bush years, but it started earlier.

Since we still can't make lead in to gold, the heavy metals are forever, too. Oh, and don't forget the 'organic compost' at the big box stores--another favored way to dispose of poison sludge--sell it to gardeners. In San Francisco they give it to school gardens for the growing children to eat. Too bad the lying researchers aren't in jail, and hat's off to Dr. Lewis. Don't be dumped on--even if it is legal (!!) there is a moral issue here--and the science is very clear, despite some researchers willing to be prostitutes for the waste industry. Prepare the lawsuits, and read Toxic Sludge is Good for You, a great little book about the PR industry manufacturing fake science to poison for profit.

June 13, 2010 at 8:11 a.m.
ancienctpoisons said...

As to the sewer plant's reported levels of toxic metals in the toxic sludge, published here by the newspaper, you should understand the test protocol--the leachate test. Basically, a kilogram of sludge is put in a liter flask of slightly acidic water for 24 hours, and then the water is strained off and tested. Think of a quart of 'soil' in vinegar water and then drained and tested for dissolved metals. Want a compliant, acceptable score?--add lime! By making the soil moderately alkaline, the metals don't go in to the solution, and presto!--safe for spreading in the watersheds, under EPA standards. Of course, our acidic rains will wash out the lime and the poison metals will be flowing and heading in to our food and water soon. The honest question is how much toxic metal is in the sewage being hauled all over the region--not how little is dissolved in the leachate test protocol. Like making strong or weak tea, but having to eat the grinds is a different matter. Far different implications for the future, and our food.

Want to test your own--UMass at Amherst does real soil testing for less than $20--by mail, as does UNC at Asheville's Environmental Quality Institute. The organization Safe2Play also offers low-cost, EPA-compliant testing through their Safe Playgrounds Project, since we've put so much arsenic out there in old pressure-treated wood decks and playgrounds that kids play on, in addition to the legacy of leaded paint.

Where does UTC stand on this? Is grant money there to say sewage sludge is safe, the way UGA was caught falsifying science reports defendig toxic 'fertilizer.'? Or will they, or UT-Knoxville's medical programs, get interested in finding the truth of how many tons of toxins are being hauled to the farms...and who is being harmed and at risk. Lawyer Up! and save the watershed.

June 13, 2010 at 9:36 a.m.
JimBynum said...

How soon EPA forgets it's on studies on liming sludge. By 1973 EPA had proven liming sludge did not kill Salmonella in sludge. Please click on the following link for EPA's own words.

June 13, 2010 at 10 a.m.
addcsay said...

This is happening closer to home than one might think. There is a cattle farm on William's Island, just downstream from moccasun bend, that spreads these biosolids over the fields, essentially coating them with a nice dose of heavy metals and whatever other compounds can accumulate in the waste of us, the prozac generation. Then the rain can wash this waste right off into the river, and then into the food chain. Plus, wherever this occurs, I would be very hesitant to later grow any food crops on previously treated fields. I don't think that burying it is a much better solution though. The way we deal with waste is pretty flawed overall. I think the ol' outhouse had its advantages.

June 13, 2010 at 11:16 p.m.
Hooty13 said...

In the more than three decades since the passage of the Clean Water Act (PL 92-500), the United States has seen a tremendous growth and expansion of its wastewater infrastructure. Growth coupled with increasingly more stringent levels of treatment required to meet NPDES permit requirements has resulted in more wastewater treatment residuals. While helping local governments, like Chattanooga, meet the challenge of managing wastewater treatment residuals, biosolids provide a nutrient rich, organic fertilizer that reduces use of chemical fertilizers. Other benefits include cost savings to communities; reduced fertilizer costs and increased crop yields for farmers; strip mine reclamation uses; and organic matter additions to the soil which helps improve water and nutrient retention and thus helps to protect groundwater and surface water quality. Biosolids recycling also saves landfill space and reduces energy consumption.

Since 1996, the National Academies of Science/National Research Council (NAS/NRC) have conducted two major studies involving biosolids. The 1996 NRC Report stated: “…the use of these materials (biosolids) in the production of crops for human consumption, when practiced in accordance with existing federal guidelines and regulations, present negligible risk to the consumer, to crop production, and to the environment.” “Current technology to remove pollutants from wastewater, coupled with existing regulations and guidelines governing the use of reclaimed wastewater and sludge in crop production, are adequate to protect human health and the environment.” “Established numerical limits on concentration levels of pollutants added to cropland by sludge are adequate to assure the safety of crops produced for human consumption.”

The July 2003 Report critiqued the state-of-the-science involving regulation of land applied biosolids. The Report found “…no documented scientific evidence that the Part 503 rule has failed to protect public health” and “a causal association between biosolids exposures and adverse health outcomes has not been noted.” The report also commented on the anecodotal information relative to human health, “There have been several allegations of human deaths and illnesses caused by land application of biosolids. However, there has been no documented scientific evidence to substantiate those claims.” Essentially, the NAS/NRC Report gave land applications a clean bill of health regarding public safety.

June 17, 2010 at 1:04 p.m.
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