Tag Archives: EPA

August 2014: A ‘Letter to Editor’ to Molalla Pioneer, regarding Biosolids

…the following is Jeff Lewis’ Letter to the Editor, sent to the Molalla Pioneer…

As a local citizen in the Molalla area, I appreciate that our local newspaper covers important government decisions that can impact health and quality of life. One example is the recent Pioneer coverage on 8/20/2014, ‘Council Accepts New Biosolids Plan’.

The article accurately notes that the Molalla Sewage Treatment Plant (the large ponds just west of Les Schwab) generates lots of waste byproducts, all of which must eventually be removed. What concerns me though is that the article implies lots of rules are being followed and that applying this sludge onto cropland is all positive, but the article fails to identify the negatives. Nor does the article mention a better and safer solution: this sludge needs to be sent to a landfill, not disposed onto cropland.

I am working with a few other concerned citizens who are trying to help Molalla officials improve Molalla, especially around the resource we know as Bear Creek. Our nonprofit group has created a website, BearCreekRecovery.org, where we are posting information and inviting community discussion. One of our key areas of concern is what the Molalla Sewage Treatment Plant (MSTP) does with their waste byproducts: the wastewater and sludge.

Fifty years ago, most U.S. cities disposed of sewage waste by piping it into rivers and barging it out for ocean dumping. The Clean Water Act put an end to that. A few years later, EPA began a positive ‘spin’ program, to convince the public that sewage treatment byproducts do not have to be fully cleaned and can be ‘beneficial’ if disposed onto farmland.

How dangerous is this stuff? Just go online and Google ‘biosolids Georgia dairy lawsuit’. There are hundreds of news articles, congressional testimonies and more about one of the worst biosolid stories: more than 200 cows killed by accumulation of biosolid toxins that eventually destroyed two dairies. Or, please see the collection of links at the BearCreekRecovery.org website.

It is good that Mayor Rogge, the City Council and Mr. Huff are looking at this issue, deliberating in public sessions, and explaining their decision to the press. This is transparency, which we need to happen. But, we are all aware of the power of ‘spin’ to distort public perception. A public manipulated to see only the good while ignoring the bad is a public poorly served by officials. So, in the interest of full disclosure, I hope that Molalla officials will soon clarify:

  • of the “750,000 gallons of sludge” declared in the article, how much of that is water, and how much of that is actual solids dredged from the MSTP ponds?
  • what percentage of total accumulated biosolids do we expect to see removed under this new contract transporting “750,000 gallons of sludge” to the Macksburg farmland?
  • what testing is MSTP doing on this “750,000 gallons of sludge” to assess the presence and concentration of such toxic elements as heavy metals, persistent synthetic pharmaceuticals, dioxins, etc. …the same biosolids toxins that have damaged and even destroyed farmlands elsewhere in the United States?

Thank you, Molalla Pioneer, for printing this letter at page 4 in the 8/27/2014 print edition. [link to jpeg]

This Place known as Bear Creek

Bear Creek Headwaters

The headwaters for Bear Creek are in pastureland atop a slight ridge southeast of Molalla. The rain splits along this rise, with some flowing west into Bear Creek, while on the other side it flows east, into the Molalla River. The soils are heavy with clay. Trees grow very well; after all, this is Oregon and the Willamette Valley. Most locals know this place as Coleman Ranch and, as ranchland, it is open and fenced — and generally treeless.

The main part of Coleman Ranch, north of Feyrer Park Road, and bordered on the west side by Mathias Road and Highway 211.

There was a time when these pastures were covered with trees, and the trees fed a veritable gold rush. Sawmills popped up overnight, and local men worked in teams with horses and primitive steam-powered engines. Some men lived long seasons in logging camps, pulling bucksaws and swinging axes; others were able to raise their families in town — some men hauled the logs, while other men lost their hearing and a few fingers toiling near the spinning blades that fed the banks.

Mill owners were god-like. They owned everything in town, so the money they paid out to their crews came right back to their stores. Or, in the case of Molalla, where mill owners also owned the saloons, much of the money was tossed back across the bar.

The trees fell, and a new economy arose. All sorts of farming came, and went. The soils, in places like Coleman Ranch, turned out to be just too sopping wet through too much of the year, and in the long dry months of summer the clays hardened and cracked. Past forests had buffered these harsh seasonal extremes but, once the trees were gone and the crops had proven too unreliable, that squinty eye for money said the final best use was to grow hay and raise livestock. And so it came to be that today, the highest headwaters of a lost ‘Bear Creek’ are flattened and filled and trodden … a place for cattle, and a place for irrigation cannons shooting summer sewage wastewater. And the locals, when they go to and from Feyrer park and the Molalla gorge to swim and to fish … they all pass through this place called Coleman Ranch.

Where the Rains Flow

The heat of August draws many to swim in the Molalla River, but come September the nights begin to cool and the apples ripen, and while locals stack wood and hunt and watch their kids kick soccer balls, the Oregon rains set in.

This 1985 topo map shows the former Log Pond, due south of where the high school football field is today. The pond fed large logs to Avison’s Mill No.1.

And they stay, reliably, until June, sometimes even into July. Three feet of rain (or thereabouts) falls on the headwaters area of Bear Creek. It soaks in at first, but when the soils become water-logged, the rain pools and soon starts to flow. Stream cuts become common on the west side of Mathias Road.

The heart of downtown Molalla is a plodding four-way stop sign, where Highway 211 crosses east-west through the north-south Molalla Ave.

The largest mill complex in Molalla, and the area with the most documented chemical contamination (penta, furans, dioxins, etc.).

Just a few blocks south is the library, and a few blocks further, at the south edge of the city blocks, Bear Creek crosses through. Sometimes, when the rain falls too heavily and the soils have no capacity to absorb, this area floods and becomes a small lake.

At the lowest stretch and to the west side of Molalla Ave is a broad area of flat asphalt and vacant industrial sheds. This area is where a bunch of mills once popped up in and around Bear Creek. Old photographs show that there were at least three wigwam burners in the area, for burning off the excess wood scrap. There had been numerous mill owners, but Avison eventually dominated. A few years ago, this site took on a new name: ‘Floragon’, a subsidiary of Interfor.

Avison still owns their other large mill site, south of the high school football field. The land was cleared and the old log pond filled in years ago. Formerly known as Avison Mill No.1, it is now a large vacant area, fenced off and waiting. It has been on the market for years, but still no industrial development.Avison Mill pictures, ~1960

A Legacy of Sawmill Contaminants

Both the Floragon and Avison sites have contaminant issues. For decades, pentachlorophenol (PCP) was liberally applied to raw lumber as a preservative. The cut lumber was stacked, then fork-lifted around the yard, dipped into open dip tanks, and repositioned to drip-dry locations. In the process (and, owing to those seasonal Bear Creek floods), quantities of PCP became attached to soil particles and worked their way into the Bear Creek stream sediments. Worse, because the method of producing PCP’s was crude, the purity was quite low, with 10-16% other chlorinated compounds, including the very hazardous furans and dioxins. All of these chemicals are, like DDT, not just toxic but also quite persistent. As a rule of thumb, the assortment of chlorinated organic compounds synthesized by humans have almost always yielded short-term benefits but enormous long-term health hazards. The U.S. EPA (and similar agencies in other countries) eventually banned PCP use by the general public in the late 1980’s.

Molalla (and Bear Creek) are not at all unique with this problem. It turns out that there are PCP contamination issues at dozens — perhaps most — of the lumber mills in all three West Coast states. The health issues have been accepted for more than three decades, yet the contamination is still not cleaned up. Through all the ongoing delay, the goal that has emerged is to ensure people — especially growing children — do not come into contact with these chlorinated compounds. There are two predominant strategies: you either remove the contaminant, or you bury it out of reach. Removal involves thousands of truckloads hauling contaminated soil to large landfill sites, plus hauling in just as many truckloads of acceptably clean soil. On-site burial involves moving dirt around — carve out a hole, then batch all the contaminated soil into that hole, and then hide it under a paved surface or large foundation. On-site burial is far less expensive, and thus widely preferred by the former-mill owners who want to just cash out on the land they own. Consequently, pressure is brought to bear on DEQ and city/county officials to develop many of these contamination sites industrially, as ‘brownfields’. Effectively, these lands are considered not suitable for residential habitation … though nobody wants to talk about that.

And what does this mean for Bear Creek? Today, as has been the case for decades now, we have hundreds of acres of post-industrial blight around a contaminated creek, where we might have had a vibrant stream with healthy natural areas, surrounded by parks and compatibly constructed neighborhoods. On top of that, we continue to see city and county efforts to produce industrial development of these lands, and an endless parade of funding for industrial bypass roads and other wasteful schemes. Like water, the money flows until it dries up….

And the Rain Flows On

So, what happens to the three feet (+/-) of rain that falls at Coleman Ranch each Oregon rainy season? Some slowly seeps in to recharge the groundwater. The rest of it puddles, then funnels toward the streambed and to the west, eventually to the rivers.

Molalla Sewage Treatment Plant
(west end of town, near Safeway)

Below the mill sites at Molalla Ave, Bear Creek turns to the northwest and parallels the old Molalla Forest Road — which happens to be a very pleasant hike, run or ride. The creek then crosses Highway 211, just east of the Safeway, and flows under Highway 213 near the massive residential subdivisions that have been built up in recent years.

Just west of Highway 213, Bear Creek passes the Molalla Sewage Treatment Plant. The two large septic ponds discharge through a large pipe on the north end. Originally, that pipe opened straight into Bear Creek,**Today, officially, the outflow is piped to the Molalla River, though the old plumbing remains in place. At a public hearing in early 2014, some participants commented that in late summer, there is a noticeable difference in creek water levels upstream and downstream of the pipe, which is located at the entrance to the Molalla STP. but in 2006 Molalla STP began discharging into the Molalla River. From there it flows through Canby to the Willamette, over the falls at Oregon City, through Portland, then down the Columbia and on to the Pacific. At all places downstream, whatever Molalla STP fails to remove — the sawmill contaminants, the pharmaceuticals, and everything else — place other people and other creatures at risk.

Water quality matters … which is why we need to take care of Bear Creek.

September 2008: McElmurray’s Senate Testimony About Biosolid Contamination at Two Dairies in Georgia

Briefing on “Oversight on the State of Science and Potential Issues Associated
with EPA’s Sewage Sludge Program”
September 11, 2008


R. A. McElmurray & Sons, Inc.
2010 Brown Road
Hephzibah, Georgia 30815

Chairman Boxer, Ranking Member Inhofe and Honorable Members of the Committee, thank you for the privilege of testifying today about the destruction of our dairy farm business by hazardous wastes in sewage sludge, which was land-applied by the City of Augusta, Georgia.

Cattle Deaths, Milk Contamination

My name is Andy McElmurray, and with me today is my attorney, Ed Hallman of Decker, Hallman, Barber & Briggs in Atlanta, Georgia. Mr. Hallman has led a team of attorneys and experts for the last 10 years in an effort to recover compensation for the destruction of my family’s dairy farm business, which resulted from hazardous wastes in Augusta, Georgia’s sewage sludge. My testimony addresses the history of sewage sludge applications to my family’s farmlands. The City of Augusta invited us to participate in its land application program and assured us that the sewage sludge was safe for growing forage crops to feed to our dairy cattle.

We began receiving sewage sludge applications in 1979 and continued until 1990. On our farm, we grew forage crops to feed to our dairy cattle, and we grew row crops as well. In 1998, after hundreds of head of cattle sickened and died, we learned that Augusta’s sewage sludge contained extremely high levels of hazardous wastes that were toxic to diary cattle.

Another prize-winning dairy farm in the area owned by the family of Bill Boyce was hit even harder, and the owners had to abandon the dairy farm business altogether. Our families, who have farmed our land for three generations, have lost tens of millions of dollars in property value, lost property and agricultural products.

For over two decades, the City of Augusta, Georgia failed to enforce federal and state regulations requiring local industries to treat hazardous wastes before discharging them into the City’s sewers. The City also fudged, fabricated and invented data required under the Clean Water Act to make its sewage sludge appear to qualify as “Class B biosolids.” The bogus fertilizer ended up sickening and killing hundreds of dairy cows on the two dairy farms.

Milk samples collected from one of our farms still using forage grown on lands which received sewage sludge contained high levels of heavy metals and other sludge contaminants. Additional samples of milk pulled from shelves in grocery stores in Georgia and surrounding states also contained some of the same heavy metals at levels exceeding EPA’s safe drinking water standards. Unsafe levels of heavy metals in various samples included thallium, a rat poison toxic to humans in very small doses. Earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Anthony Alaimo rejected Augusta’s fabricated data and ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture must compensate me and my family for crops that could not be planted, because thousands of acres of land were too contaminated with hazardous chemical wastes from Augusta’s sewage sludge. Our dairy, which was once one of Georgia’s most productive dairy farms, was destroyed by the heavy metals, PCBs, chlordane, and other hazardous wastes that local industries dumped into Augusta’s sewer system.

(Click on page two to read further testimony, including ‘How it Happened’, ‘The Gatekeepers’, ‘The Mehan Letter’, ‘How Widespread are the Problems’, and ‘Conclusion’.)

April 2007: Signed Consent Decree resolving Molalla Irrigation v. City of Molalla

The image below is page one of the 19-page Final Consent Decree, in which City of Molalla paid fines and agreed to comply with specific monitoring requirements. The city also agreed to be transparent with data for a two year period, by regularly posting data online. Click on this [LINK] to open or download a PDF copy of the complete document….
20070411.. Consent Decree settling Molalla Irrigation et al v. CIty of Molalla (pg.1 pic)

January 1999: Sludge Magic at the EPA

…David Lewis is a prominent EPA Whistleblower. The following is a copy of one of his many articles about the long history of failure in EPA’s biosolids programs….

Sludge Magic at the EPA
The Journal of Commerce; January 27, 1999
by David L. Lewis, Ph.D.

According to scientists working for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research & Development, the Sludge Rule on land application of municipal wastes (40 CFR Part 503) promulgated in 1993 may be the most scientifically unsound action ever taken by the agency. Rather than being protective, the rule actually threatens public health and the environment.

In short, EPA’s sludge rule permits land application of dried urban sewage — called “sludge” — in lieu of dumping it in the ocean, which is now prohibited. About half of the sludge from municipal waste treatment facilities across the U.S., containing human sewage, agricultural runoff and industrial wastes, is now being used to fertilize farmland, national forests, and other areas. This amount is rapidly increasing as states and waste
disposal companies pressure local communities to use sewage sludge and assure the public that the EPA has determined it to be virtually risk-free.

In 1972 Congress amended the Clean Water Act directing EPA to develop regulations for disposing of sewage sludge. A U.S. District Court in Eugene, Oregon followed suit in 1990, issuing a consent decree requiring the agency to promulgate the regulations within two years.

Remarkably, the agency’s position on this issue reveals a sort of environmental doublespeak– traces of pesticides, heavy metals, and industrial wastes that environmental officials have long argued cause cancer and other major public health problems — are now said to be completely safe for disposal on farmlands, forests, even home lawns and gardens.

The science behind EPA’s sludge rule, according to some of the agency’s own scientists who reviewed it, was so bad it was popularly deemed “sludge magic”. Because sludge contains human pathogens and trace quantities of mercury, lead, and other toxic metals, applying it to areas used for growing food crops and selling bags of it to home gardeners is a source of concern. Ecologists also have reservations about the effects of nutrients, toxic metals, and other pollutants leaching from sludge into surface and groundwater. Indeed, government researchers in Canada collaborating with scientists at the University of Quebec last year published a study showing that forests treated with sewage sludge released toxic metals in amounts that exceeded water-quality criteria for protecting aquatic organisms.

Disease-causing microorganisms that can lie dormant or proliferate in soil treated with sludge are even more disconcerting to microbiologists. Samples taken this year from land [Alice Minter Trust farm] in north Kansas City contained 650,000 salmonella and E. coli bacteria per 100 grams of soil -many thousands of times higher that what is considered safe by public health officials. The source, apparently, was sludge applied in the area
before 1992.

The appearance of new strains of staphylococcus, tuberculosis, E. coli and other bacteria –some of which are completely resistant to modern antibiotics — has led to a resurgence of life-threatening infections that were once easily treated. Spreading sludge, which contains such superbugs flushed down hospital sewer lines, on farms and home gardens throughout the U.S. has scientists both inside and outside of EPA understandably concerned.

With increasing numbers of children dying from E. coli strain O157 traced to an assortment of products, including strawberries and hamburger meat, citizens are becoming increasingly concerned over agricultural products imported from less developed areas of the world where human waste serves as cheap fertilizer. Content that syringes and rubber gloves no longer litter our beaches, few policymakers and reporters seem even slightly curious about how our government solved the problem of ocean dumping of municipal wastes.

Still, it is what EPA’s sludge rule says about many of the agency’s other regulations that seems most enigmatic. When asked why pesticides, organic solvents, toxic metals and other pollutants in sludge pose virtually no risk to public health or the environment, agency officials point to a lack of documented cases of anyone becoming sick from exposure to sludge. Critics argue that the same can be said of traces of pesticides and other industrial chemicals in drinking water. EPA’s position on sludge, they say, shows that agency regulations are based on political expediency, not sound science.

Dr. Lewis has a Ph.D. degree in microbial ecology, works as a research microbiologist for the U.S. EPA Ecosystems Research Division, and is an adjunct scientist at the University of Georgia.
DISCLAIMER: These comments represent Dr. Lewis’ personal views, not official policies of the U.S. EPA. This article is part of a joint study by the Lexington Institute and the Institute for Policy Innovation, “Out of Control: Ten Case Studies in Regulatory Abuse.”
Copied 8/14/2014 from: http://www.deadlydeceit.com/SludgeMagic.html
Minor edits may have been made by BCR.org.

June 1994: An EPA Brochure Promoting Application of Biosolids

…this brochure was issued in summer 1994, to promote application of biosolids on farmlands, in forests, and to accelerate the reclamation of strip mines and other damaged lands. It is presented here in JPEG format, including the front cover, inside cover, and all 32 numbered pages….

19940600.. Biosolids Recycling, Beneficial Technology, EPA brochure p.0 (front cover)

(…Click on page two to view the remaining 31-pages of this EPA brochure…)

July 1981: An EPA Study on How to Gain Public Acceptance of Biosolid Recycling (108-pages)

19810700.. Institutional Constraints and Public Acceptance Barriers (EPA study, cover pic)In July 1981, EPA published a 108-page study called ‘Institutional Constraints and Public Acceptance Barriers to Utilization of Municipal Wastewater and Sludge for Land Reclamation and Biomass Production’. [PDF Copy]

Project oversight was provided by two Federal officials: David Burmaster of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and Bob Bastian at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The study was prepared by a team of three in the Boston area, including a professional engineer, a lawyer, and a PhD science consultant.

Some would view this study as a plan assessing: ‘what can be done by public employees and waste system operators to nullify citizen opposition to sludge applications?’ Here is the Executive Summary page (with red markups added by BCR.org):19810700.. Executive Summary (p.7 of 108p EPA study PDF)

The second half of this 108-page report includes synopses of Case Studies for eighteen different biosolids applications programs. Here is a Table that summarizes these case studies:19810700.. Table summarizing Sludge Case Studies (p.27 of 108p EPA study PDF)

Here is a list of the Case Studies, from page 47 of the PDF report:19810700.. Table of Contents for 18 Sludge Case Studies (p.47 of 108p EPA study)

Two of these Case Studies will be especially relevant to readers concerned about the use of biosolids from the Molalla Sewage Treatment Plant (MSTP) sewage ponds. These are the Vestel, NY case, and the Lewis & King Counties, WA case. Here are two jpeg clips from these two case studies, with minor text (in color) added by BCR.org:19810700.. Lewis & King Counties Case Study (clip from p.78 of 108p EPA study PDF) 19810700.. Vestel, NY Case Study (clip from p.48 of 108p EPA study PDF)