Group to sue EPA over sewage sludge

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Center for Food Safety, a private advocacy group, said on Thursday it plans to sue the Environmental Protection Agency over its refusal to put a moratorium on dumping sewage sludge on farmland.

The use of sludge, the byproduct of waste water treatment, on farmland is legal under EPA regulations. Six dozen food and consumer groups want to halt the practice.

The groups petitioned the EPA in October 2003 to stop sewage sludge disposal on farms. The EPA denied the petition for a moratorium.

EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said the agency “does not comment on lawsuits we have not seen or have not been filed.”

Sewage sludge can contain nutrients and organic matter, which some say make it a useful fertilizer. Proponents view its disposal on farms as a cheap source of fertilizer that keeps wastes from piling up in landfills or being dumped in the ocean.

Research shows sludge also contains a harmful mix of heavy metals, pathogens and toxic chemicals that have killed farm animals, devastated crop yields and inflicted serious illness and health disorders on people who live and work near dump sites, Center for Food Safety Executive Director Andrew Kimbrell said.

“We’re pretty sure the court will declare that EPA acted illegally in denying our petition,” Kimbrell said.

The EPA determined there was not enough scientific evidence to support claims of harm to farm animals, crops and people in its decision to reject the petition.

Since then, the data used to make this conclusion has come under question.

In a lawsuit filed by Georgia farmer Andy McElmurray, U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Alaimo found that “senior EPA officials took extraordinary steps to quash scientific dissent and any questioning of EPA’s biosolids program.”

The judge ruled in February that McElmurray was entitled to Agriculture Department “prevented planting” subsidies because of contamination of his farm by sewage sludge. Alaimo called data used to support EPA’s Part 503(b) sludge regulations “fudged,” “fabricated” and “fraudulent.”

Kimbrell said, “Now we have a judicial decision behind us so we can go, fairly confident, to the court and say this denial was based on bad science.”

“You rarely have a court decision bolstering your position,” he added. “We look forward to a positive ruling on our petition, which calls for a full moratorium on this until they’ve done a full assessment of the food safety, human health, and environmental impacts.”

Editing by David Gregorio