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Sludge transport proposal promises impossible mandate on cities.

Legislation which would prohibit the interstate transport of municipal sewage sludge for use on agricultural lands (H.R. 4360) has been proposed by Rep. Glenn English (D-Okla.), in his capacity as chair of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Credit and Rural Development.

This proposal, as well as another measure pending before the House Agriculture Committee which would pre-empt local authority to regulate the use of pesticides, have the potential to put cities in the untenable position of being required to comply with federal mandates and simultaneously being precluded from taking the actions necessary to accomplish these mandates in an environmentally acceptable manner.

The sludge proposal is clearly contradictory to other federal initiatives which encourage reuse and recycling. The concerns expressed by English and others involve whether land application of sludge causes contamination of livestock or produce raised on or grown in sludge amended soil. Both EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) expressed their opposition to H.R. 4360 in recent hearings, as did the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies (AMSA).

As both EPA and USDA pointed out, all municipal sludge must comply with EPA standards, standards developed with substantial involvement from USDA as well as the Food and Drug Administration and a number of other federal agencies. As a consequence there will be no difference between sludge from one state versus sludge from any other state.

In addition, all 50 states and the District of Columbia require permits or operating licenses for land application of sludge. And, federal law requires implementation of pretreatment of industrial wastewater prior to its disposition into the municipal wastewater treatment plant.

According to EPA, nationwide, 15,6000 municipal sewage treatment plants generate 7.7 million dry metric tons of sludge per year, or 64 pounds per person annually. Since sludge does not disappear or disintegrate, some decisions need to be made about its ultimate disposition. There are only two choices: disposal by, burning or burying sludge; or find a beneficial use on land as fertilizer and soil amendment. Currently, about half of the sludge produced in this county is being reused.

USDA objected to the proposed legislation, in part, citing their involvement in developing the EPA sludge regulations over the past ten years and, in part, because they believed it would require USDA to duplicate EPA's efforts to develop and promulgate a single national standards for sludge over the last decade.

AMSA maintains that "it makes no difference to public health or the environment whether sludges of prescribed quality that are applied to agricultural land are from in-state or out-of-state. When one considers that agricultural commodities and surface and groundwater readily flow across state lines, specifically targeting out-of-state sludge application to agriculturalland is unnecessary and serves no sound public policy or regulatory purpose . . . [and] . . . has no basis in environmentalor agricultural science."

The House Agriculture Committee also has several proposals (H.R. 3850 and H.R. 3742) pending before it which would, in varying degrees, reverse a year-old Supreme Court decision (Wisconsin Intervenor v. Mortier) upholding the right of local governments to regulate the uses of pesticides within their communities.

Drafted in response to industry concerns about endless variations in local government requirements affecting the use of pesticides, the pending measures would bar local ordinances restricting aerial spraying near schools and public water supplies and requiring advance notification and public warnings of pesticide use.

Adoption of these amendments to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) would severely constrain the ability of local governments to assure safe drinking water in their communities or to comply with stormwater management mandates requiring reductions in pollutant loadings from stormwater run-off.
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Author:Kocheisen, Carol
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Apr 13, 1992
Words:605
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