RE: CASHER CASE - correspondence Harrison - Hess, August 2002

From : "hshields"
Subject :
Date : Thu, 15 Aug 2002 10:57:30 -0400
Attachment : Victims__Questionnaire_Casher_1.doc (30k), Sludge_incidents_agency_survey. (28k)

----- Original Message -----
From: Ellen Harrison
Sent: Thursday, August 15, 2002 9:59 AM
Subject: Casher case
Dear David Hess,
Thank you for sending the report below on the Casher case. After receiving your email, I discussed the Casher case with a student who is working for me on compiling health allegations related to land application. I have attached the summary of a phone interview which the student conducted with Linda Casher. You might also be interested in viewing information on the case which is located at - go to section S. (last page)

Here at the Cornell Waste Management Institute, we are doing research into all of the alleged health incidents we can identify to try and gather information on both the process of investigation and the results of investigation by state and federal agencies. One of our hopes is to identify the management practices that may pose particular risks to neighbors. However, the data collected by responsible agencies for these incidents is very sparse. We did contact PA DEP regarding this site but did not get information about it. It would be most helpful to us if you could supply information to us so that we can include it in our analysis. I am attaching a questionnaire we have been using in our research that includes information about management practices at the sites. Thank you for any assistance you can provide in obtaining that information.

One of our findings, not just in PA but in most states and at EPA, is that there is not a good system in place for keeping track of complaints. Citizens often believe that they have recorded a complaint with appropriate agency staff, but when we contacted the agency, in many cases they had no record. There is often misunderstanding between the agency and the complainant. This seems to be so in regard to the Casher case based on a comparison of your report below (and our contact previously with DEP staff) and the phone interview we conducted with Ms. Casher.

You ask that we remove the listing if the report was not "confirmed by medical professionals." We do not believe that this is warranted. Very few doctors have experience with sludge-related illness. The burden of proof should not rest with those residents.

I believe that we share with (you share) a desire to truly understand whether sludge application is causing illness and if it is, to eliminate the exposures causing the illnesses. Unfortunately, the responsible agencies have not conducted serious investigations. It is worth noting that in a letter dated August 7, 2000 from the Secretary of the PA department of Health to Representative George states that "the Department of Health was involved in a very limited capacity in this matter and, in fact, did not conduct an investigation into Tony Behun's death." We have not found any agency investigations (at EPA or in any state or municipality) that were more than a cursory review of the literature, a few water samples, and/or a site visit to confirm compliance with setbacks or similar requirements.

One strong recommendation of the recently released National Research Council report on land application of sludge is for scientific studies of alleged health incidents to be conducted. We need thorough investigations of the alleged health incidents conducted by qualified and unbiased health professionals. The number of alleged health incidents that we have on record in Pennsylvania exceeds those in other states. That would put you in a strong position to seek the assistance of qualified epidemiologists to perform a study of the relationship between land application and illness in the particular localities where residents are experiencing symptoms. Since it does not appear that sludge application in all locations is leading to resident complaints of illness, a relevant study must zero in on these cases where people are reporting illness. And it must be conducted by qualified professionals who are not viewed as biased. Unfortunately this makes state health departments suspect since any state agency would be seen as having a predisposition to find that land application conducted under state rules and standards was successful.

As I understand the working of the Center for Disease Control, they must be called in by appropriate state or local agencies. It would seem highly appropriate for you to call for the CDC to investigate the on-going incidents in Pennsylvania. They are qualified to do this work and are likely to be viewed as impartial.

I would very much appreciate hearing from you about your willingness to ask for such assistance. I think that it would provide a much needed move in a positive direction towards resolving some of the controversy surrounding land application. If there is any way I can be of assistance, please contact me.

Yours truly,
Ellen Harrison, Director, Cornell Waste Management Institute

This e-mail is for Ellen Harrison:
Ms. Harrison, you have posted on your website a list of "sludge victims" your page says are willing to talk to reporters about their experiences. The link being circulated is:

We want to give you additional background on the situation involving the Linda Casher you have on the list from Pennsylvania and suggest that you more thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding this case before you list them as "sludge victims."

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has no record of any complaints of illness result from biosolids application on the Johnson & Morgan site in 2001. The reference on your website is the first we've heard any reports of illness related to the Johnson & Morgan operation and we would like any information from you about whether these reports were confirmed by medical professionals. If not, please remove this name from the list.

This happens to be the same site which a few months ago was connected to a photo showing runoff from a site where biosolids had been applied. The photo later turned out to be from an operation in a southern state and not the Johnson & Morgan site, as was alleged.

Philadelphia biosolids were approved for application on the Johnson and Morgan site early last year. Johnson & Morgan was a state bond forfeiture reclamation site. The biosolids were to aid in revegetation of the site. Spreading operations were conducted last spring.

On May 7, 2001, we received a complaint from Ms. Casher as well as 20 other area residents. All the complaints were about malodor. Neither Ms. Casher, nor anybody else, reported any illness although she did say it was enough to make you nauseous and she wanted to know if there were any health concerns. We inspected the site the same day and verified the odor problem. Our inspector also visited Ms.Casher's home that evening because she said that the smell was worse at night. An order was written on May 8, 2001 to the City of Philadelphia Water Department requiring them to discontinue the shipment of malodorous biosolids to this site and to discontinue spreading operations by May 11. Spreading was discontinued on the 11th although a small stockpile remained. We did not let them spread the remaining stockpile until the following fall, when weather conditions were more favorable for odor control.

Thank you for your kind attention to this request and we hope this background is useful.

-- David E. Hess
Secretary for Environmental Protection
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
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