Monday, April 27, 2009

Dealing with Our Excrement

A recent article "Sludge Happens: Recycling sewage into fertilizer might be making us sick. Why doesn't the EPA give a crap," in Mother Jones Magazine ( came up on my radar. This article is one of many that raises questions regarding the impacts of land application of biosolids.

Land application is the most economical avenue for getting rid of this sludge. Some experts claim that sludge is not good fertilizer and there are numerous health concerns with land application. Added to this problem is that after we invest hundreds of billions to increased biological nutrient reduction pollution controls placed on tens of thousands of wastewater plants, we greatly increase the volumes of biosolids.

EPA should explore greater pollution prevention controls to best address the land application of biosolids. This is warranted since improper sludge application has caused problems throughout the world.

Promoting best management controls for the land application of biosolids is important. Developing greater public dialogue and exploring greater best management responsibilities for safe land application of biosolids can translate into improved health and water quality.

Today over 16,000 sewage treatment facilities serve nearly 190 million Americans (the 72 percent of the U.S. population who are served by sewers not counting those with decentralized septic and wastewater systems). In addition, these facilities serve thousands of industrial and commercial establishments to treat their wastewaters. Roughly eight million dry metric tons of biosolids are produced annually or about 58 pounds per person per year. About 54 percent of the biosolids are land applied as a fertilizer or as a soil conditioner.

Sludge, or biosolids range from 70 percent to greater than 98 percent water. The dry matter in biosolids is mostly inert minerals (i.e., sand and silica) or biological materials comprised of fat, protein, fiber and carbohydrates. Biosolids also have trace amounts of heavy metals and organic chemicals. And, biosolids contain varying levels of pathogenic organisms, vector (e.g., insects and rodents) attractants and odor causing substances. These metals, organic chemicals and pathogens pose a threat to human health unless the biosolids are sufficiently processed and properly placed in the environment.

Part 503 Biosolid Rule allows land application (spreading) of sewage sludge (also known as sludge) needs to be updated. Today there are three main options (each with limitations) to dispose of sludge: landfilling, incineration, and land-spreading. Incineration requires high capital investment, and is limited because of potential air pollution and the production of toxic ash. The science for land applying biosolids is many decades olds when in 1993, the EPA published the 503 Sludge Rule setting standards for the use or disposal of sewage.

EPA’s standards have generated controversy in the scientific and agricultural communities, as well as with the general public. Although the 503 Sludge Rule establishes minimum quality standards for biosolids to be land applied many citizens question the adequacy of these standards. Land applying sludge requires more stringent standards, additional source separation and greater pretreatment of contaminants. Scientists and citizens have expressed concerns about the effects on humans from contaminants concentrated in the sludge during treatment.

Several years ago the EPA Inspector General found: “EPA does not have an effective program for ensuring compliance with the land application requirements of the 503 rules. …While EPA promotes land application, they cannot ensure the public that current land application practices are protective of human health and the environment.”

The National Academies of Sciences in 2002 released a paper called, “Biosolids Applied to Land: Advancing Standards and Practices." They cited their uncertainty about the potential adverse human health effects from exposure to biosolids. Essentially, there is a need to update the scientific basis of the 503 rule so to review the current. exposure and health information on exposed populations. Also the risk-assessment methods need to be updated as does the outdated characterization of sewage sludges.

Educational tools are needed to assist local citizens and local officials with the various implications of land application. This would allow users to identify environmental concerns and to give field assistance to the analysis, maintenance and accounting of sludge land applications.

Finally, what I have observed are the inadequate programs to ensure compliance with biosolids regulation and lack of resources devoted to EPA’s biosolids program. We need innovation to overcome the institutional barriers often imposed by land applying biosolids. There are many challenges including jurisdictional, political, and governmental boundaries when dealing with the hydrogeological and geographical facets of dealing with sludge. In closing I have watched in the Shenandoah Valley hundreds of millions of dollars invested in water quality improvements and very little expended to address the safe management of biosolids. It time we Americans deal with our excrement or pay for the consequences.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Change the Climate Before It Changes Us

Are we supposedly responsible for destroying the planet with our high standard of living? What are the real truths about climate change and energy rationing agendas? Everyone from the Competitive Enterprise Institute to the United Nations have a different perspective. The challenge is that climate change can be caused by natural events on this fragile planet. While there are 30 different greenhouse gases including water vapor. Eighty percent comes from carbon dioxide. Before industrialization carbon levels were about 225 parts per million while today carbon levels are at 385 ppm. CO2 comes from the burning of fossil fuels, forest fires, transportation, deforestation and other human activities.

While most scientists agree that large amounts of man-made carbon dioxide is causing problems while many Americans question are skeptical. The situation of grave concern is between what science observes and what the public perceives. We have two sides; the alarmist hard left environmental lobby opposing growth and capitalism and; the hard right preaching anti-regulation and stimulating new free markets.

According to the American Geophysical Union, 80 percent of the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere since 1700’s has occurred in the 20th and 21st centuries. Also the Pew Center on Global Climate Change cited that the 1990s were the hottest decade in the last 150 years.

In 2006, Winds of Change, Eugene Linden charts how public and scientific opinion diverged from 1988 to 2005. Scientific community view has gone from indifference to alarm with a general consensus while the public view has been indifferent except for a brief alarm in the late 1980’s. In a Pew Research poll in 2006 only 41 percent said this was due to human activity. In a University of California 2005 study Dr. Naomi Oreske did a random sampling of 928 peer-reviewed journal articles on global warming revealed that 100 percent agreed with the view that humans affect climate change.

Now various economist estimate costs to contain present emissions, the Pew Center for Global Climate Change determined the benefits to prevent the doubling of greenhouse gaseous between $55 billion and $140 billion dollars and that US greenhouse gas emission increased 12 percent between 1990 and 2001. In 2006, the Stern Review on the Economic Effects of Climate Change estimates stabilizing these emission would cost about half a trillion dollars.

In my life, science has documented how this earth has rapidly increased in temperature while human population has doubled in size. I have witnessed many forms of humans ecological destruction. The debate will continue whether humanity is causing some form of climate catastrophe as we Americans argue for some official policy on climate change. When will we imposed mandatory carbon standards on American emissions? Can we afford to further speculate?

The Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Stevens, commented on April 2, 2007 in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency;

A well documented rise is global temperatures has coincided with a significant increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Respected scientists believe the two trends are related.

Recent 2009 scientific studies indicate that climate change is increasing due what is called positive tipping points accelerating arctic ice loss and other warming effects. However, many Americans still oppose the ideas we are responsible for this and our global economic crisis has delayed immediate consideration of this concern.
Alternative energy is controversial, costly and takes time to be developed.

We have spent roughly a trillion on terrorism and tens of trillions of dollars on our financial crisis. Can we ignore investing in our earth’s balance? Hopefully debating climate change will make us more energy efficient and Americans rally for our international security. Are we wise enough to invest in lessening our greenhouse emissions? Future generations will be our ultimate judges whether our actions today made their life better. If we do not leave a legacy for our children then how can we look at ourselves truthfully in the mirror?

Beyond the Paradox of Thrift

Is it not ironic that more we individually saved we decreased economic growth? You would think be thrifty would make things more prosperous. America is the individual largest consumer and thus the leading polluter. As we spew increasingly amount of carbon dioxide we need to face the fact that we can no longer make excuses why we can not lessen our climate changing activity. Otherwise we must accept that we are each responsible for destroying future life.

Our environmental and financial problems are linked by choice between need and greed. Unfortunately we have not evolved to the developed skillful boundaries that when we allow for certain economic activity it also impacts our future on this fragile planet.

In the last hundred years humans have pressed the pedal to the metal in the use of our fossil fuels. What has taken tens of thousands of years to become, oil, coal and natural gas. The consequences for lightening use and depletion of these natural resources upon our eco-systems are evident. We have tripled our population and caused massive lots of species and natural habitat. If the earth is an organism then we must address the various forms of cancer if we wish to survive.

The thing is that we have not valued things that matter most. Water, energy and eco-systems are all vital if we wish to have a healthy future. By allowing these vitals to become inexpensive we have borrowed against the equity on our future since this is truly our homes.

As the arctic ice melts at accelerated rates and polar bears perish we have to face the music. We spent trillions of dollars to battle terrorism and tens of trillions evaporated over financial blunders what have we invested in lessening our greenhouse gases. Just because now we have more efficient homes and cars increase use or more people create another paradox of thrift. I have seen this first hand in increasing agricultural conservation measures. We created such things as alternative watering so that cows would not drink from creeks and then farmer crowd more on limited land.

We require tough love so when we succeed in conserving it does nothing from people developing other ways to impact our earth even more. Our global recession has lessen carbon output, however if we truly are going to prosper learn to develop market based and other measures to prevent greed and promote need. A national dialogue is required if we wish to become greener. Americans are still too shortsighted and unable to face the piper.

There is a form of terror that threatens our country and world. It is a form of self delusion and culture of entitlement. Shortly we must address the most serious crisis facing us since if we can not foresee or forestall our carbon footprint we may suffer the same fate as the dinosaurs. There is much in balance and much to despair if we do not honesty address what is happening. We all will feel better once we fully explore how we can prosper from lessening climate change. Let’s transcend any paradox of thrift to deal our present of paradox of life.