Sewage Sludge Free Washington

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The Sierra Club opposes the use of contaminated toxics-containing or pathogen-containing waste as a compost ingredient and the application of municipal sewage sludge as a fertilizer (Compost Policy, Sewage Sludge Policy and Agriculture and Food Policy). Visit the documents posted on our Grassroots Network Wastewater Residuals Team. NEW! Read the Siera Club Sewage Wastewater Residuals Fact Sheet.



Spreading of Biosolids From The United States: Three Professional Orders Invite the Population and the Government to the Greatest Caution (December 8, 2022)

Update: Professional organizations representing agronomists, chemists, and veterinarians in Quebec are calling for a halt to the use of U.S. sludge and sludge-compost and pressing for tightened sludge regulations. Link to press release here, auto-translated version.

The Order of Chemists of Quebec (OCQ), the Order of Agronomists of Quebec (OAQ) and the Order of Veterinary Physicians of Quebec (OMVQ) express in unison their greatest concern regarding the recent evolution of the reality of the use of municipal biosolids in agriculture and for other applications , which has been the subject of journalistic reports in recent days. “Biosolids” are a category of fertilizing residual materials that come in the form of sludge resulting from the treatment of municipal and industrial wastewater.

Due to the disturbing presence of various contaminants of emerging interest, including per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), in some of these biosolids, such as those imported into Quebec from the United States (USA), the three professional orders recommend that the public and businesses refrain from using municipal and industrial biosolids from the United States, in particular from the State of Maine. Likewise, it is also recommended not to use compost to which such biosolids are added or any other by-product. Read more.

Concerns About Reuse Of Sewage Effluent (September 2022) -Thousands of chemicals and pathogens are released daily into sewage plants from homes, medical facilities, businesses and industries. These pollutants can transform into new and sometimes more toxic contaminants.

Sewage plants separate sewage into solids and liquids, often for reuse. The liquids are called “sewage effluent”. Effluent is typically released into surface water bodies or “reclaimed” for irrigation or fertilizing crops. Some states allow municipalities to  develop and request approval for programs to use it as potable water. Click here to read more.

Sludge in the Garden: Toxic PFAS in Home Fertilizers Made From Sewage Sludge - This study reports on sewage-based fertilizers and the Variety of harmful PFAS and unknown Fluorochemicals in commercial composts. Sierra Club and the Ecology Center tested nine commercial home fertilizers from around the country, including the TAGRO brand from Tacoma WA, made from sewage waste for toxic PFAS chemicals. They found PFAS, the “forever chemicals" at high levels in every product. They also measured fluoride levels in the waste. 

Sewage processing plants collect anything that goes down a drain or is sent there, including industrial wastes, Sewage waste generated in the United States is processed through municipal and private plants. These have minimal effects on minimizing the array of pathogens and approximate 90,000 toxins in the waste.  The plant processing doesn’t break down persistent chemicals like PFAS, which pose a threat to food crops and waterways. From there, about half of the waste is then spread on land, including agricultural crops and grazing lands. Other is packaged fro commercial fertilizer and compost. Read more.

 Effluent, sludge and biosolids pose potential risk of COVID-19 for farmers and wastewater workers. -- In a latest peer-reviewed research, posted to the journal Geoscience Frontiers, researchers carried out a scientific meta-analysis on a number of research that assessed the viral RNA load of the extreme acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in effluents, sludge, and biosolids, and located that the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA is highest in sludge, adopted by biosolids and effluent respectively.

The research additionally factors to the inefficiency of presently deployed therapy programs in inactivating and eradicating the novel virus from the environmental waste, which may ultimately pose a possible well being concern to the susceptible inhabitants akin to wastewater staff that deal with the wastewater or farmers who use such handled environmental materials of their fields.

Due to this fact, the workforce suggests the usage of enough private protecting tools for the wastewater staff and urges them to make use of warning whereas utilizing the reclaimed water to be used in rural settings. Read more.

Baby Poop Is Loaded With Microplastics by Matt Simon of Wired Magazine — An alarming new study finds that infant feces contain 10 times more polyethylene terephthalate (aka polyester) than an adult’s. Read about a new pilot study that came out on September 22, 2021 that describes scientists sifting through infants’ dirty diapers and finding an average of 36,000 nanograms of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) per gram of feces, 10 times the amount they found in adult feces.

Controlling Sewage Waste: Washington State Ecology’s Approach versus Science  — The Washington State Department of Ecology asked for public comment on its DRAFT Sewage Solids (Biosolids) General Permit. Although the comment period expired on July 12, 2021, click below to read the comments provided by WA State Chapter of Sierra Club. Please note that the comments are in two parts:

 Op-ed: Yes, food is grown in sewage waste. That's a problem. — You may not realize it but some foods you eat may have been grown in soil containing toxic sewage wastes. Labeling is not required. Read the op-ed (December 2019).

 Why the USEPA should not recycle sewage effluent: Read the December 15, 2019 comment letter submitted by Darlene Schanfald, Ph.D. regarding EPA's Draft National Water Reuse Action Plan. You can also read the comments as a PDF.

What Goes Down the Drain May End Up On Your Plate — Your Right to Know: Read the Summer 2019 National Equal Justice Association (NEJA) Bulletin that reprints an article by Darlene Schanfald, Ph.D. who is a member of Sierra Club Wastewater Residuals National Grassroots Team. She is also founder and lead organizer of the Club’s Sewage Sludge Free WA and serves as a consultant on this issue with other environmental organizations.

On April 8, 2019, the OIG issued a management alert informing the US EPA that its Toxic Release Inventory data pertaining to releases of hazardous substances from publicly owned wastewater processing plants are inaccurate. As a result, the public and researchers are not receiving complete and timely information about environmental conditions affecting human health.  Read the full report.

In 2018, EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) published its audit of the agency’s “Biosolids” Program and found that the EPA was unable to assess the impact of hundreds of unregulated pollutants in land-applied “biosolids” on human health and the environment. To date, the EPA has identified 352 pollutants in biosolids, out of an unknown and incalculable total that frustrates any meaningful risk assessments; 61 of these pollutants have been categorized as hazardous by other federal program. These pollutants currently are not considered for further regulation because the agency lacks the data and tools necessary to assess the health and environmental risks. Read the report.

A damning 2014 report released by the OIG entitled, More Action Is Needed to Protect Water Resources From Unmonitored  Hazardous Chemicals reads, in part;

  • EPA does not have mechanisms to address discharge of hazardous chemicals into water resources. Management controls put in place by the EPA to regulate and control hazardous chemical discharges from sewage treatment plants to water resources have limited effectiveness.
  • We evaluated the effectiveness of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) programs in preventing and addressing contamination of surface water from hazardous chemicals passing through publicly owned treatment works (hereafter “sewage treatment plants”)….hazardous chemicals discharged to sewers are not regulated under EPA hazardous waste regulations.  Rather, they are regulated under the Clean Water Act which focuses on a list of 126 priority pollutants that does not include many hazardous chemicals.

Yet, there may be a wide range of pathogens and many thousands of contaminants in each sewage batch. Sewage is characterized in terms of its physical, chemical, and biological components. It brings to the sewage treatment plants all the wastes sent into the sewer from drains and toilets: industrial wastes, hospital wastes, commercial wastes, human excreta, stormwater runoff, and every other kind of hazardous, toxic, and biological waste material produced in a municipality and carried away from its source via the sewer, which can contaminate soil, air, water, crops, livestock, and fish and other wildlife. Pathogens, metals, organic chemical content and odors are cause of major health, environmental and aesthetic factors. Read the EPA OIG report at a glance or read the full report.

Sewage sludge in Washington forests

Sewage sludge is disposed in Washington State forests and on farms and rangelands. Land disposal of sewage sludge disrupts natural soil ecosystems and inhibits healthy gas exchange in the air-soil interface, thereby distressing normal plant-microbial development and animal ecosystems. Hikers and plant collectors may be unaware of the toxic nature of these sites through which they recreate or collect foods, many of which can take up sewage toxins.




Contact: Darlene Schanfald at