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Study: Sludge-Based Fertilizer May Be Causing Human Illnesses

Health & Wellness  (tags: humans, investigation, prevention, protection, risks, safety, science, society, study, treatment, research, children, disease, family, ethics, health, illness, warning )

- 1898 days ago -
Treated municipal sewage sludge - that is, the solids from sewage treatment - may be causing illness in people up to a mile from where the sludge is spread on land.

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JL A (281)
Thursday March 14, 2013, 10:07 am
Study: Sludge-based fertilizer may be causing human illnesses
March 11, 2013

Treated municipal sewage sludge - that is, the solids from sewage treatment - may be causing illness in people up to a mile from where the sludge is spread on land.

A farmer spreads sludge to fertilize his fields. Photo courtesy of Sustainable Sanitation Alliance.
A farmer spreads sludge to fertilize his fields. Photo courtesy of Sustainable Sanitation Alliance.
Those are the findings of epidemiology researchers from the Gillings School of Global Public Health at The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Their study, "Land Application of Treated Sewage Sludge: Community Health and Environmental Justice," was published online March 11 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. It involved residents from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia who live near fields where sludge is applied as a soil amendment.

More than half of people interviewed reported acute symptoms such as burning eyes, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea after sludge had been sprayed or spread. People who live near fields in which industrial swine operations spray waste have reported similar symptoms.

Amy Lowman
Amy Lowman
"Study participants told us that onset of the symptoms occurred while the sludge was being applied or soon after," said Amy Lowman, MPH, research associate in epidemiology and the study's first author. "These were not one-time incidents, either. Respondents reported these illnesses occurring several times, and always after the biosolids were applied to nearby farmland."

Other symptoms reported by more than one respondent in the wake of sludge applications included difficulty breathing, sinus congestion or drainage, and skin infection and sores.

Respondents also reported sludge run-off into local waterways and cattle grazing on fields soon after sludge applications.

"Both of these situations are against state rules," Lowman said. "If there is run-off of treated sludge, there can be contamination of waterways or neighboring property. Livestock are not supposed to graze on sludge-applied fields for 30 days after application."

In addition, all three states require signs warning that such fertilization is in use, but several respondents reported that such signage either was not posted or not visible.

Dr. Steve Wing
Dr. Steve Wing
"Most people in towns and cities don't know where their sewage sludge goes," said Steve Wing, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at the Gillings School and a co-author of the study. "If they had to live near where it is being spread out, they might be more concerned about this practice. Many respondents in our study said it's not fair for rural people to bear the burden of urban waste disposal."

Lowman cautions that the study's findings are based on a relatively small sample size of 34 people and that more comprehensive tracking of sludge applications and human health is needed to better document relationships between the sludge application and illness.

"We're talking about a material containing chemicals and organisms that can make people sick," she said. "Although the EPA promotes land application of sludge, it has not said the practice is safe for people's health or the environment. More than half of people interviewed reported similar symptoms. These reports came from individuals in three different states, on separate occasions, who lived up to a mile from areas where sludge was applied. The findings are consistent with previous reports of health impacts and support calls for health and environmental agencies to pay more attention to the potential for sludge to impact people who live near land application sites."

Past Member (0)
Thursday March 14, 2013, 10:11 am
I have seen this and smelled this and I have no idea how anyone could recommend putting it anywhere-----die a natural death now a days----not likely---our world and the people in it are killing us. Thanks JLA

Nancy M (197)
Thursday March 14, 2013, 10:50 am
No kidding- two problems. Microbial contamination. Human pathogens. And then all those toxic chemicals that might end up more concentrated. Read the label carefuly before you buy what you THINK if compost.

Kit B (276)
Thursday March 14, 2013, 10:54 am

Sludge = raw human waste. Think that might cause a few health problems? I keep questioning and wondering why we use the same systems for waste disposal as the ancient peoples? We could use gravity toilets and use that sludge for compost - over time. The water water is filtered separately and could be used as drinking water, but most would use for garden plants. In many areas of Canada and the US this Sludge is spread out on farm lands without permission of the farmers or the community.

We do have many accumulated problems, many have simple solutions. We don't know what might happen until we begin to have the will to try. We are so accustomed to having someone else fix the problem that we have lost our sense of urgency.

JL A (281)
Thursday March 14, 2013, 11:05 am
You cannot currently send a star to Kit because you have done so within the last d

Past Member (0)
Thursday March 14, 2013, 3:11 pm
Yuk sounds disgusting


. (0)
Thursday March 14, 2013, 3:28 pm
Sheesh and I was just joking about smelling the money from here.

Angelika R (143)
Thursday March 14, 2013, 4:08 pm
Kit is right, you neer know until you try-but as long as it's "WE" and "THEY" won't play the game there is little hope and chance for that I'm afraid. Thx JL

Süheyla C (234)
Thursday March 14, 2013, 4:47 pm
Noted thanks

Sandra ;atterson (59)
Thursday March 14, 2013, 4:53 pm

JL A (281)
Thursday March 14, 2013, 5:17 pm
You are welcome Angelika and Suheyla.

Mitchell D (87)
Thursday March 14, 2013, 5:50 pm
Noted, sadly. There was a time when using sludge seemed to bring a promise of recycling AND good crops.

greenplanet e (155)
Thursday March 14, 2013, 7:23 pm
There must be a better way to reuse waste and potential nutrients for the soil.

JL A (281)
Thursday March 14, 2013, 9:46 pm
You cannot currently send a star to Mitchell because you have done so within the last day.

Christeen A (369)
Friday March 15, 2013, 1:06 pm
What next?

JL A (281)
Friday March 15, 2013, 1:37 pm
Good question Christeen. Any answers out there?

Lois Jordan (63)
Friday March 15, 2013, 2:56 pm
Thanks for the info, J.L.

JL A (281)
Friday March 15, 2013, 2:57 pm
You are welcome Lois

Kit B (276)
Friday March 15, 2013, 5:33 pm

Answers? Nope just a suggestion. We all roll up our sleeves (and maybe our pants) and get to work fixing our own communities and not worry about what some other group or "party" thinks. We know that there is so much that has been let go for so long. We can not wait for others to do the job, we must work as one and we can find the will to fix what must be done. On the national scene - we voted for our president now stand with him, write some letters, make phone calls and whether your Senators and House representative are republican or democrat, put the pressure on, and keep it on till things begin to happen. As few a six letters and phone calls is considered pressure by these folks, make it from YOU. Don't wait for someone else to do it, do it yourself and hope others care as much.

JL A (281)
Friday March 15, 2013, 5:35 pm
Thanks Kit for the excellent advice!

Ann Breeden (65)
Friday March 15, 2013, 6:05 pm
Thanks for the article. Yucky!

Joanne Dixon (38)
Friday March 15, 2013, 6:09 pm
When I was stationed in Japan in the 70's the aroma from open sewers bothered me for a couple of days. When I arrived back in the US, the chemical odors bothered me for well over a week to the point of nausea. But, that was the 70's, in a rural area, where people were not putting into their bodies what we in the US are putting into our bodies today, so it probably was less toxic than today's American sludge. Although Dow and Monsanto love to claim people are inventing and/or exaggerating symptoms caused by their products, whereas I would suspect their side way before ours. I would need more information.

JL A (281)
Friday March 15, 2013, 6:12 pm
You are welcome Ann.

reft h (66)
Friday March 15, 2013, 7:18 pm our use of the healthcare system goes up... its no wonder.

Roberta Z (16)
Saturday March 16, 2013, 4:56 am
Someone should come up with another way of disposing of large amounts of "pig poo". maybe they could naturally compost it until it breaks down into something that's harmless. I read a story over eight years ago (in northwest Ohio) of residents who live next to fields treated with human waste sludge who became ill afterwards.

Lloyd H (46)
Saturday March 16, 2013, 6:57 am
First, "sludge = raw human waste" goes beyond misleading to outright lie. The sludge is end product of sewage treatment. Second, it is nice that the 'experts' for this article, Lowman and Wing, are not scientist, they are not biologists and they are not medical doctors. And just what percentage of the exposed population is 34 considering that those 34 cases are spread over 3 states. You might also note that all of the symptoms/illnesses described are also attributable to a number of other causes, including those chemicals used to treat the sludge before its use as fertilizer, and the improper application and use of any organic or synthetic fertilizer.

Gloria p (304)
Sunday March 17, 2013, 6:14 am
If sludge is a cause of illness it's not the only cause of illness.

JL A (281)
Sunday March 17, 2013, 7:48 am
You cannot currently send a star to Gloria because you have done so within the last day.
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