In 2017 we organized and successfully prevented sewage sludge from being spread on farmland adjacent to where we live. We want the state of Washington to stop allowing sewage sludge to be dumped on farmland.
Updates and News
On March 24, 2021, the Northwest Toxic Communities Coalition presented a free Virtual Webinar, SEWAGE SLUDGE FERTILIZER CAPACITY: TIPPING POINT? Can humans withstand exposures to increasingly complex combinations of chemicals and biological agents?
Four Expert Presentations:
The Irreversible Impact Widespread Sewage Sludge Has on our Planet’s Ability to Support Life by Dr. David Lewis, retired from the U.S. EPA in 2003 as a senior-level Research Microbiologist with 32 years of service. He also served on the Graduate Faculty of the University of Georgia. His research on public health has been published in Nature, Lancet and other leading scientific and medical journals. Dr. Lewis’s book, Science for Sale, covers the history of effects of sewage sludge. Dr. Lewis received the 2000 Science Achievement Award from the EPA, and the 2018 Distinguished Service Award from the Sierra Club.
Three Adventures Organizing Citizens to Stop Sewage Sludge Land Spreading by Ed Kenney, Nisqually Delta Assoc., Olympia, WA. Ed is a consummate environmental activist who has organized teams of volunteers to clean up the debris and planted trees for large restoration projects. He was awarded Conservationist of the Year by the Black Hills Audubon Society in 1992. More recently, Ed brokered a multi-million-dollar agreement between Joint Base Lewis-McChord military base, the City of DuPont, Cal Portland and six conservation groups to restore over three miles of Sequalitchew Creek. He has fought against land application of sewage waste in Washington state.
Industrial Waste Spreading by Patricia Martin, former Mayor of Quincy, WA. Patty Martin is the founder of Save Our Soil (formerly Safe Food & Fertilizer), and Chair of the Northwest Toxic Communities Coalition. The book, Fateful Harvest (2001), chronicled her fight to expose the use of hazardous waste-derived fertilizers in agriculture and the chemical industry’s efforts to shut her up. In 2013, Patty received the Environmental Justice Award from the Sierra Club and the Center for Environmental law and Policy for her work on air quality.
Protecting a Watershed: A Successful Anti-Sludge Campaign in Eastern Washington by Morton Alexander, Co-founder of Protect Mill Canyon Watershed. Morton Alexander is a community organizer and retired state employee. He tends to his home orchard and is a neighbor to other organic food producers in Mill Canyon, Lincoln County, WA.
Thank you, again, Upper Columbia River Group of the Sierra Club of Washington State for your support of ending the land application of sewage wastes!
A Victory in Yelm!
Through community organizing, residents of Yelm, WA stopped sewage sludge from being spread in their watershed. Read more on their website,
Preserve the Commons.
Up to the minute news and information from this fine national sewage sludge clearing house.
This could change everything!
In March it was announced by a Maine-based grassroots environmental organization, the Environmental Health Strategy Center, that a farmer in Arundel Maine discovered milk from his cows was contaminated with unsafe levels of toxic PFAS chemicals. The contamination came from treated municipal sewage sludge that he had spread on his fields for years. The farmer has had to stop selling his milk and his business was ruined.
Read the original article as broken by Reuters News Service on March 19.
Patrick MacRoy, deputy director at the Environmental Health Strategy Center, said the contamination at the Stoneridge Farm raises questions about the safety of biosolids [sewage sludge] used at farms nationwide. “The Stone case is incredibly troubling because the source of exposure – waste sludge – is something that is also spread across hundreds of farms in Maine and thousands nationally,” he said.
Two days after this announcement, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection announced that it will require new testing of all sludge material licensed for land application in the state. The tests will look for several synthetic contaminants known as PFAS, which are found in a range of consumer products. PFAS have been linked to cancer and other health problems.
So, yes! Congratulations to Maine for taking swift action in light of the discovery of this contamination. The additional testing being required in Maine should put all other state regulators who oversee sewage sludge disposal on notice: When can we expect YOUR agency to order additional testing of sewage sludge and the farms where it has been applied?
While there is new attention, across the country, being paid to the PFAS contamination problem and it’s good that it is getting people to scrutinize their sewage sludge programs, we can’t get too distracted from the old problem we have always had with sewage sludge since the first days of land disposal, namely, the hundreds of other toxic contaminants found in sewage sludge that are not regulated and are not being tested for.
One quote from an official in Maine should drive home what we are up against:
“In taking Friday’s action, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Jerry Reid stated, ‘The Department is moving forward with the additional [PFAS] testing requirement to ensure that any future land applications of sludge are safe.’ “
One thing must be made clear to the regulators and better understood by the public: The land application of sewage sludge is not “safe.” It has never been “safe.” It can’t be made “safe.”
The EPA’s own inspector general has concluded that the EPA, agency that sets the ground rules for sludge regulation among the states, does not have the data to perform risk assessments on the hundreds of toxic pollutant contaminants they know are present in sludge and therefore EPA isn’t in a position to say one way or the other how safe the land application of sewage sludge is even if there was no PFAS. If sewage sludge in Maine is sampled for PFAS and found to be below the state’s standard for those chemicals, that sludge is still not safe!
The attention being paid to PFAS is an open door for active citizens to educate folks about the other sludge contaminants. We need to get the officials to acknowledge the need to test for other substances as well. Not just testing the sludge, but also the soils, the groundwaters, the crops. We need to make sure the regulatory/industrial complex that promotes the land application of sewage sludge doesn’t use the campaign against PFAS chemicals to give themselves a clean bill of health and go back to business as usual if they happen to find PFAS at ‘acceptable’ levels in some sludge.
As we organizers do our agitating and educating, let’s remember to have compassion for any farmers whose livelihoods end up being affected as a result of greater scrutiny our efforts will bring about. The blame, as always, is on the manufacturers of these toxic compounds which begin as profit for them and end as pollution for us. It’s on the chemical regulators and the government agencies that have, for so long, recklessly promoted an obviously wrong-headed and dangerous approach to sludge disposal.
We need to end the land-application of sewage sludge here in the State of Washington and we need to join with others in a national call for a different way. No Sludge in Ag!
 The curious case of tainted milk from a Maine dairy farm by Richard Valdmanis and Joshua Schneyer, Reuters, March 19, 2019
 Maine DEP Establishes Aggressive Requirement for PFAS Testing in Biosolids, National Law Review, Monday, March 25, 2019
Protect Mill Canyon Watershed Earns “Water Protector” Award
We are Grateful to the Sierra Club for Recognizing Our Work and for Their Continued Activism Around the Sewage Sludge Issue (see the S.C. Sewage Wastewater Residuals Fact Sheet)
The Sierra Club opposes the use of contaminated toxics and/or pathogen containing waste as a compost ingredient and the application of municipal sewage sludge as a fertilizer. (Compost Policy, Sewage Sludge Policy and Agriculture and Food Policy.) Visit the documents posted on the Sierra Club’s Grassroots Network Wastewater Residuals Team web page.
The Struggle Continues
2021 is the year we take sewage sludge off your kitchen table and put it on the legislative table. We won’t accept the dumping of sewage sludge on agricultural land and we’re going to bring it into the public policy conversation in a big way.
This excellent video “A Toxic Betrayal” is 10 years old, but since nothing has changed, it’s sadly all still current.
It’s well-suited for public showings and discussion since it’s less than 20 min. long.
United Sludge Free Alliance is credited at the end of the video. Check out their website.
Send a message to Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Washington State Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon:
You must immediately impose a state-wide emergency moratorium on approving all pending permits for land application of sewage sludge!
Contact your Washington State legislators and ask them to introduce legislation:
1) To ban the land-application of sewage sludge;
2) To get safety warning labels on all products that contain biosolids;
3) To label foods that were grown using sewage sludge.
Fire Mountain Farms, the same company that wanted to spread sewage sludge in the Mill Canyon watershed in eastern Washington has now applied for a permit to to spread biosolids (Municipal Sewage Sludge) on 180 acres of land only 1000 feet away from the Nisqually River in Yelm, WA!
A local organization in Yelm, Preserve the Commons, is leading the struggle against yet another ecological onslaught by the sewage sludge slingers. Learn how to prevent municipal sewage sludge from coming to yelm. Understand the legal effort underway to prevent biosolids in Yelm.
The Dept. of Ecology is allowing public comment until February 13th. You can send an email, letter or call. Details on the Preserve the Commons website.
TAKE ACTION: Congress Must Act! (Open)
TAKE ACTION: Demand Your Right to Know About Toxic Sewage Sludge in Your Food! CONGRESS MUST ACT.
Ask your Member of Congress to cosponsor the Sewage Sludge in Food Production Consumer Notification Act
Sewage sludge: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) euphemistically calls it “biosolids.” But what is it really? And why should you care?
“. . . whatever goes into the sewer system and emerges as solids from municipal wastewater treatment plants. Sludge can be (its exact composition varies and is not knowable) any of the 80,000 synthetic chemicals used by industry; new chemicals created from combining two or more of those 80,000; bacteria and viruses; hospital waste; runoff from roads; pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter drugs; detergents and chemicals that are put down drains in residences; and, of course, urine and feces flushed down toilets.”
This toxic stew is sold to farmers who use it to fertilize food crops— a fact most consumers don’t know— because food producers and retailers aren’t required to tell you. Even consumer gardening products like compost and fertilizer sometimes contain sludge, but with no warning labels. Of special concern are children exposed to sludge either in their food or in the garden when they’re out helping in the garden.
In November, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General published a new report: “EPA Unable to Assess the Impact of Hundreds of Unregulated Pollutants in Land-Applied Biosolids on Human Health and the Environment.” In it, the OIG complained that the EPA isn’t making the public aware that “potentially harmful and unregulated pollutants,” such as pharmaceuticals, steroids and flame retardants, are present in biosolid.
Congressman Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) introduced the bill (H.R. 2064) which would require the food industry to label products that have been grown in farmlands that use sewage sludge as fertilizer. On his Facebook page, Serrano said:
“Americans need to know where and how their food was grown so that they can make informed decisions when buying food products, especially if the fertilizer used to grow that food contains varying degrees of pathogens, heavy metals, organic chemicals, industrial solvents, asbestos, and radioactive waste. It is time to make sure that federal law adequately protects consumers from sewage sludge that is being used as fertilizer.”
Consumers of organic food might think we don’t need to worry since biosolids are prohibited in organic agriculture, but we are also at risk as current organic rules would not prohibit a farm that had used biosolids from certifying as organic if no biosolids had been applied in the three years prior to certification. There’s also drift and run-off issues that can contaminate organic farm soil. Based on the lack of EPA data, there is no way of knowing if the tree-year period is sufficient when it comes to biosolids.
Ask your Member of Congress to cosponsor the Sewage Sludge in Food Production Consumer Notification Act.
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Wisconsin State Journal, Jan 27, 2019
Excerpt: “Industry has created more than 3,000 PFAS compounds (fire-retardants, non-stick cookware, etc.), and new ones have regularly been introduced. Some have been in use since the middle of the last century. Relatively few have been extensively studied. Research shows they accumulate in animal tissue, and are associated with diseases of the liver, kidneys, glands and immune system. They escape treatment plants through the processed wastewater that is deposited into public waters and the treated sludge spread onto farm fields…”
Motivated Activists Wanted. (Open)
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Other Recent Updates:
Environmental Protection Agency not protecting human health and the environment from biosolids, audit finds. (Open)
November 15, 2018: The EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report of an audit of the EPA’s Biosolids Program. “The EPA’s controls over the land application of sewage sludge (biosolids) were incomplete or had weaknesses and may not fully protect human health and the environment. The EPA consistently monitored biosolids for nine regulated pollutants. However, it lacked the data or risk assessment tools needed to make a determination on the safety of 352 pollutants found in biosolids,” the report states.The OIG made thirteen recommendations, including requiring labeling of biosolids products to include information regarding the presence of up to 352 unregulated pollutants in sludge and statements of risks about biosolids.
“Three-Hundred-Fifty-Two Pollutants— Some Hazardous— Found in Biosolids”
“…the EPA identified 352 pollutants in biosolids. The EPA does not have complete risk assessment information on these pollutants; therefore the agency cannot say, whether the pollutants are safe or unsafe when found in biosolids … [including] sixty-one designated as acutely hazardous, hazardous or priority pollutants in other [Federal] programs.”
“…Existing biosolids data and studies do not fully examine the pollutants found in biosolids, especially unregulated pollutants. Until such research and data exist, the EPA cannot determine if any regulations should be issued. In over 20 years, no new pollutants have been regulated.”
Visit our ‘Documents‘ page for a library of background information.
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Spokane considers burning sewer sludge after outcry over fertilizer use. (Open)
Spokesman Review Newspaper, Wed., March 28, 2018.
Excerpt: Late last month, the city [of Spokane] signed a contract to explore the possibility of burning that sludge at its Waste-to-Energy plant amid concerns the so-called “biosolids” retained chemicals that could be harmful if absorbed in the ground water.
The link in the above sentence points to a story about our Protect Mill Canyon Watershed campaign. We are still making waves!
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We are often asked, ‘what else can be done with sewage sludge besides spreading it on farmland?’ (Open)
Incineration is often cited as an option, but, as noted in the March 2018 article Spokane considers burning sewer sludge after outcry over fertilizer use “air emissions are a concern when incinerating the material, an issue that has plagued Spokane’s Waste-to-Energy facility in the past.” We are very concerned about emissions from sludge incineration. Hopefully, this ‘exploration’ of incineration as an option will be an open and transparent process. If so, it will be a good opportunity to scrutinize this ‘option’ for dealing with sludge.
New! Kamloops Biosolids Awareness posted some information on alternatives to land application on their Facebook page:
Wondering what great ideas Kamloops has now for its piles of TSS – Toxic Sewage Waste? … hearing that the FN Band has voted resoundingly to REJECT the tons of pollutants from being dumped on their lands. Maybe, just maybe, Kamloops will take responsibility for its toxic burden, and embrace a 21st century solution. Pushing its pollutants onto other communities is NOT being very neighbourly. Just saying.
Think for a moment about just how absurd this “biosolids” business model really is. The wastewater treatment facilities have spent a great deal of time and effort collecting, concentrating, and segregating the pollutants out of the water … so why on earth would we turn around and put those piles of toxins back into the environment we just eliminated them from? That is truly a short-sighted practice that merely supports a business model based on “pushing” pollution. Situating a gasification / pyrolysis (or clean incineration) plant directly beside the water facility would dramatically cut trucking costs, and cut the huge carbon emissions this constant transport inevitably involves.
An example of gasification – producing energy and biochar – Tennessee Gasification plant – https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=5&v=E_-dXjyjTgs
An example from the UK – gasification of sludge – Yorkshire Water’s Gasification Plant – https://wwtonline.co.uk/features/gasification-of-sludge-innovation-in-action
Pyrolysis of sewage sludge – syngas and biochar – Pyrochar – Cordis Europe – https://cordis.europa.eu/news/rcn/123842/en
There are new solutions appearing almost daily – We can make BRICKS (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190122084410.htm) out of biosolids, or we can
Making Bio-Crude is also an option – https://www.treehugger.com/renewable-energy/simple-new-process-turns-sewage-sludge-biocrude-oil.html
These are just a few possibilities.
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We Won! Read about the Mill Canyon Campaign. (Open)
We are residents who live in an area near Davenport, Washington called Mill Canyon. Beginning in 2013 we felt threatened by proposals to spread municipal sewage sludge on nearly 900 acres of nearby agricultural land uphill from where we live, garden and farm. The area in question includes our natural watershed. As citizens, we were alarmed and successfully organized to prevent the dumping of sludge in our watershed. We didn’t want sewage sludge to be applied to agricultural lands in our watershed. We fought hard against it. Now, due to our efforts and those of our supporters, sludge will not be applied to lands immediately adjacent to the canyon where we live, according to a newly approved permit, issued December 13th by the Department of Ecology. The scale of the win for our committee is significant. The total acreage that will have sludge applied has been reduced from the original 887.45 acres to 157.77 acres in the final permit, five and a half miles away from us (but close to other folks, sad to say).
We still strongly advocate for a state-wide moratorium on any further sludge permits until a thorough review of current science is completed, which we hope will determine that there is too much risk to continue the practice of spreading municipal sewage sludge on farmland.
Lots of news coverage of the final outcome. Our press release is below. Here are links to other media coverage.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: DECEMBER 19, 2017
Citizens’ Group Reports Victory in Battle Against Sewage Sludge
An informal committee of neighbors in the Mill Canyon area northeast of Davenport, WA is calling it a victory: They didn’t want sewage sludge to be applied to agricultural lands in their watershed. They fought hard against it. Now, due to their efforts, sludge will not be applied to lands immediately adjacent to the canyon where they live, according to a newly approved permit, issued December 13th by the Department of Ecology.
The scale of the win for the committee is significant. The total acreage that will have sludge applied is reduced from the original 887.45 acres to 157.77 acres in the final permit. The original application indicated sewage sludge would have been applied less than one mile from Mill Canyon residents’ farms, gardens and wells and less than half a mile from the source of a private spring used for drinking water that figured prominently in comments sent to the Department of Ecology citing concerns over potential contamination from the sludge. With the approved permit, the closest to the canyon any sludge will be applied is over 5 miles away.
For close to two years, the citizens fought the permits sought by Fire Mountain Farms of Onalaska, WA. Fire Mountain Farms is a company with a checkered reputation that offers to apply sewage sludge on farms at no cost to the farmer (the company is paid by sewage treatment plants to take the sludge away). Concerned Mill Canyon residents met with their neighbors and testified at public hearings. They wrote letters and generated publicity that raised public awareness about the risks of applying sewage sludge to farmland.
In the spring of 2017, when it looked like the permits to dump the sludge were all but destined to be approved, the neighbors stepped up their opposition efforts. They named their informal committee “Protect Mill Canyon Watershed.” They announced their intention to appeal in the case of an adverse decision and launched a detailed website laying out their position. They initiated a statewide letter-writing campaign that helped garner support for their position and put pressure on the Department of Ecology. The committee also received valuable guidance, advice and support from the Columbia Institute for Water Policy, the Northwest Fund for the Environment, Safe Food and Fertilizer (a project of Earth Island Institute) and the Sierra Club.
Ultimately, it was one-on-one negotiations between neighbors that achieved the compromise reducing the acreage and proximity of sludge application. As the deadline for a decision on the permit from Ecology approached, representatives from Protect Mill Canyon Watershed met and corresponded with the grain farmer who was seeking to have the sludge applied to his lands. Despite urgings from the Department of Ecology and the sludge applicator that the original provisions should be defended in administrative court, the farmer ultimately decided that being a good neighbor was most important and agreed to withdraw from applying sludge close to Mill Canyon.
Morton Alexander, a landowner whose spring was at risk commented, “We refused to just lie down and accept this threat to our beautiful canyon, its air and water. We are grateful for support from the larger community, regional and statewide, that brought credibility to our fight. Hopefully, our success inspires resistance by others in similar struggles.”
Protect Mill Canyon Watershed is an informal committee of Mill Canyon residents.
Committee members: Morton Alexander, Corrina Barrett, Ernest Barrett, Laura Harris, Paige Kenney, Chrys Ostrander and Timothy Pellow. Jill Herrera, Grant Writer; Rachael Paschal Osborn, Columbia Institute for Water Policy, Legal Adviser; Donald Hanson, Science Adviser; Patricia Martin, Safe Food and Fertilizer, Technical Adviser.
– Protect Mill Canyon Watershed website: http://www.protectmillcanyon.org/
– Final Permit from Ecology, Site-specific Land Application Plan for Fire Mountain Farms – Rosman Farms Unit
– Protect Mill Canyon Watershed maintains the position that sewage sludge should never be released into the environment and that the practice of applying sewage sludge to agricultural and forest lands in Washington should be ended. Protect Mill Canyon Watershed advocates for a statewide moratorium on future permits for the land application of sewage sludge.
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