FYI http://ens.lycos.com/ens/mar2000/2000L-03-22-03.html MM
EPA Intimidates Sludge Critics, Congress Told
By Michael Vatalaro
WASHINGTON, DC, March 22, 2000 (ENS) - Members of the House Science
Committee blasted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today for
inappropriate responses to citizens and scientists who voiced concern over
the use of sewage sludge as fertilizer on farmlands.
The hearing, "EPA Sludge Rule: Closed Minds or Open Debate?" focused on
allegations that the EPA has failed to foster sound science with an open
exchange of ideas in drafting its rules for sewage sludge, and has been
overly antagonistic toward critics of sludge fertilizers.
Taken to task was J. Charles Fox, assistant administrator of the Office of
Water, where some of the violations occurred during the previous
administration. Drawing the strongest protest from the committee was the
alleged intimidation of a concerned citizen carried out by a senior
scientist at EPA.
Jane Beswick, a California dairy farmer, testified that she received 10
unsolicited letters from Alan Rubin, a senior scientist in the EPA Office
Beswick stated that she would receive a letter each time she spoke out
against the use of sewage sludge in her home state. Beswick perceived the
letters to contain threats of increased regulation and federal inspections
of her dairy farm.
"I feel the EPA is an agency that needs to be reigned in by Congress," said
Representative Sherwood Boehlert (Photo courtesy Office of the Representative)
The actions taken by the Office of Water were "at best inappropriate and
unprofessional," said Representative Sherwood Boehlert, Republican of New
Fox said he could not comment in detail about these issues, as the EPA is
now faced with an internal investigation by the Office of the Investigator
General, the agency’s own policing office, into whether Rubin acted
improperly in sending those letters.
Fox's testimony regarding the science behind the sludge rule and the
agency’s attitude toward criticism was tainted by the revelation that it
was prepared, in part, by Rubin himself.
"Mr. Fox cannot expect his testimony to be seen as unbiased," said
Representative Vernon Ehlers, Republican of Michigan. "That's not the way
it works in the real world."
Representative Vernon Ehlers addressing the House in February (Photo
courtesy Office of the Representative)
Rubin's actions are a symptom of the EPA’s increasingly defensive stance on
the use of sewage sludge as fertilizer. According to testimony given before
the committee, the EPA has suppressed the opinions of both EPA and
independent scientists and tried to discredit science that did not agree
with their safety assessments.
These actions have included filing unfounded ethics violations against EPA
scientists who spoke out against the sludge rule, as well as the four year
investigation and subsequent firing of Senior Science Advisor William
Marcus, who was later reinstated by a successful whistleblower lawsuit.
The safe disposal of sewage sludge is an enormous task. American sewage
treatment plants produce 11.6 billion pounds of sewage sludge each year.
More than a third is spread on farmland or otherwise mixed into soils. In
addition to being "human manure," sewage sludge can contain toxic
chemicals, heavy metals and pathogens.
Stephen Kohn, chairman of the Board of Directors for the National
Whistleblowers Center, cited the testimony of Joseph Cocalis, an industrial
hygenist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who said that
the position currently being taken by the EPA concerning sludge was
"indefensible from a public health standpoint."
The EPA regulates nine metals commonly found in sewage sludge, including
arsenic, copper, lead and mercury. Citizens and researchers are concerned
that EPA regulation is too lax, because the limits for each metal set by
the EPA are less stringent that of European countries and those set by the
state of New York.
Ellen Harrison, director of the Cornell Waste Management Institute,
testified that when the institute published "The Case for Caution," a paper
critical of the risk assessment process used by the EPA to set the current
standards, the EPA responded with criticism of their own. The Office of
Water’s Assistant Administrator at the time, Robert Perciasepe, sent a
letter denouncing the science in the Cornell paper to both the New York
State Department of Environmental Conservation and the President of Cornell
"The Case for Caution," on which Harrison is the lead author, details 14
areas of the risk assessment process used by the EPA to set the sludge
standards which the report calls questionable and non-protective. Included
are the striking inconsistencies between risk assessment techniques used to
set sludge standards and those applied by the EPA in other areas.
Picking strawberries grown with sewage sludge (Photo courtesy Agricultural
According to Harrison’s written testimony, in the case of metals leaching
into ground water, the EPA’s standards for soils present at a contaminated
site are lower than those allowed in the sludge itself. In addition, the
risk assessment did not allow for safety or uncertainty factors, and
calculated acceptable increased cancer risk at one in 10,000 instead of the
more common one in 1,000,000.
The risk assessment was conducted by the Office of Water, which actively
promotes the use of sewage sludge as fertilizer.
Harrison contends that the agency’s risk assessment duties should be
separate from its regulatory duties, and that it would be impossible to
assume objectivity within the office that promotes sludge use through
activities such as the annual "Beneficial Use of Biosolids Awards."
The EPA is currently considering regulating levels of dioxins in sewage
sludge, but has not announced plans to reassess existing standards for
New agricultural standards for foods labeled as "organic," proposed this
month by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, would ban the use of sewage
sludge on organic crops or crops fed to animals which produce organic milk
or meat products.
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