Land Application of Sewage Sludges: An Appraisal of the US Regulations

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Current US federal regulations governing the land application of sewage sludges do not appear adequately protective of human health, agricultural productivity or ecological health. US standards are far less protective than those of many European countries and Canadian provinces. This is due to both policy choices such as a ''do no harm'' philosophy applied in some northern European countries and also to many gaps and non-conservative assumptions in the risk assessment performed by US Environmental Protection Agency. The potential for widespread use of sludges on agricultural and residential land, the persistence of many of the pollutants, which may remain in soils for a very long time, and the difficulty of remediation support a cautious approach. Soil, water and crop characteristics in New York State and other areas of the northeastern US raise particular concerns. The authors do not suggest a prohibition of land application but, rather, significantly more restrictive use. Limiting cumulative additions of pollutants to prevent soils from exceeding recommended maximum contaminant levels can be achieved by application of clean sludges or by application of lesser amounts of less high quality sludges. Further investigation is needed to assess risks to ground and surface water and to establish standards for additional contaminants.

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This paper was published in the peer reviewed INT. J. OF ENVIRONMENT AND POLLUTION, 1999, Vol. 11 No. 1 pp 1-36. The journal is available in both hard copy and on-line PDF format. For more information and sample copy of IJEP, visit their web site at


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International Journal of Environment and Pollution


land application; regulations; risk assessment; sewage sludge; soil standards; US EPA


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Harrison EZ, McBride M, Bouldin D. 1999. Land Application of Sewage Sludges: An Appraisal of the US Regulations. International Journal of Environmental and Pollution 11(1):1-36.

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