need equally compelling evidence before the Health Department will take
them seriously. "There's no proof biosolids are harmful," she says. There's no proof. This is the chant repeated by the pyramid of
biosolid cheerleaders, from the highest EPA scientist in Washington down to Lopasic standing in a Culpeper corn field.
"We have been accused of the most dastardly things, but none of them have been proven," says Bio Gro spokeswoman Pam Gratton. The company faces a lawsuit implicating them in the death of 26-year-old Shayne Connor, who died with respiratory problems after Bio Gro spread biosolids near his New Hampshire home. A trial will begin in April.
"There's no evidence of people getting sick,' says Dr.John Walker, EPA scientist and head of the biosolids program. "Sometimes it looks like we're beinprotective, but we're just trying to find the facts."
But Schrader says he shouldn't have to prove biosolids are dangerous. Instead, the state should prove they're safe before dumping them on people's backyards.
"Maybe we don't have the best system," Lopasic says, admitting the Health Department doesn't always give squeaky wheels the grease they want. "There has been some cold shouldering going on. But there's never been a documented case where it's been proven biosolids are making people sick. Anything could have contaminated that well."
Lopasic believes people's health symptoms are merely psychological reactions to sludge's odor. "Our mothers always taught us human waste was bad. Bad odors can produce a 'road rage' type of reaction in some people," she says.
They're supposed to protect the health of people in the state, but that's a load of crap. They're more on the side of the people who are spreading this stuff."
He may have a point. Just two weeks Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report concluding that Class B sludge poses a health risk-- especially to workers or people like Schrader who have existing health problems-- from E.coli, salmonella, hepatitis B, and other viruses. The CDC recommends all sludge be treated to Class A standards, and advises workers handling Class B sludge to wear protective clothing and respirators. Despite the CDC's comments, the EPA says current data about biosolids do not warrant a change in policy.
Critics contend that because the EPA is responsible for sludge disposal and because land application is such a cheap way to get rid of it, the agency is likely to dismiss evidence that may jeopardize the program. An EPA microbiologist, David Lewis, is suing the agency, contending they tried to fire him after he criticized their sludge policy.
In fact, much of the information about biosolids that has Culpeper officials so thoroughly convinced of their safety is disseminated by public relations gurus, not scientists. In the PR realm, where careful speakers spin facts into glossy pamphlets, truth is only what lawyers can prove in court. The potential health hazards of biosolids are mired in a pile of euphemisms and politics that smells fishier than a fresh field of sludge. In 1972, the Clean Water Act helped clean up America's quarantined beaches, polluted lakes, and fire-hazard rivers, but it created a new problem. As the wastewater treatment process improved, the resulting sludge became more toxic.
The 1995 book Toxic Sludge is Good for You, an expose of the public relations industry by journalists John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, describes how the EPA teamed up with the Water Environment Federation (WEF) to transform sludge from hazardous waste into miraculous fertilizer. Founded in 1928 as the "Federation of Sewage Works Association,' the WEF underwent many name changes but remains the sewage industry's main lobby and public relations organization, according to Stauber and Rampton.
The first thing sludge needed was a cleaner name. WEF members contributed hundreds of suggestions, including "bioslurp," "humanure," "powergro," "geoslime," and "nutri-cake." Eventually the WEF settled on "biosolids," which they defined as a "nutrient-rich byproduct of the nation's wastewater treatment process."
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