Tainted Sludge, Whoa-oh
When the cows at Boyceland Dairy outside Augusta, Ga., began dying by the hundreds, the Boyce family thought they knew what was to blame: the fertilizer used on the farm’s hayfields. That fertilizer was made from reclaimed sewage sludge; the Boyce family sued the city, claiming the sludge was tainted by industrial waste from Augusta factories. This week, a jury awarded them $550,000 in damages. That verdict could open the door to others like it; further lawsuits are pending, and one former top scientist at the U.S. EPA called the tainted-sewage-as-fertilizer issue the “Mount Everest” of environmental problems. Nonetheless, the sludge fertilizer industry and the U.S. EPA, which regulates reclaimed sewage (known as “biosolids”), say the product is safe. Biosolids have been growing in popularity since 1992, when Congress banned the dumping of sewage in the oceans and cities began dealing with their sewage by using it in fertilizer. Today, 60 percent of the 5.6 million tons of sewage disposed of in the country is turned into fertilizer.