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A national Biosolids Research Summit is in progress in Alexandria, Va. The three-day summit began yesterday and is intended to provide a forum for the free and open exchange of views on how scientific research can best address the concerns and interests of stakeholders regarding land application of Class A and/or Class B treated sewage sludge/biosolids.
However, some of these stakeholders sludge researchers, activists, and rural residents exposed to land applied sewage sludges across the nation are boycotting the summit, claiming it is concerned only with the views of industry insiders and agencies.
The summit was organized by EPA, the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) and the New England Biosolids and Residuals Association (NEBRA). The Program Committee invited more than 50 individuals to attend including private citizens affected by land application, farmers who use biosolids as a soil amendment, and farmers opposed to biosolids use.
Attendees represent various U.S. EPA offices and federal government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as state agencies such as the departments of environmental protection of New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Florida.
Participants include a public health expert, a medical toxicologist, and pathogen experts. Individuals from local and county governments in areas dealing with biosolids issues are also participating, including the mayor of a community in which land application has become a controversial municipal issue.
Biosolids management companies, water and wastewater utilities, and consulting firms and other technical service providers are also represented. Environmental organizations participating include the Association for Science in the Public Interest and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which provides assistance to citizen groups and other non-governmental organizations on environmental matters. Staff from CBI and RESOLVE, Washington, D.C., are serving as facilitators.
On the first day of the summit, participants discussed the definition of credible and legitimate research: who does it, how it is done, how it is managed, how it is funded, and who funds it. They also brainstormed about necessary biosolids research.
By the end of today, participants will have generated a more refined list of general biosolids research needs.
On the final day, participants will develop specific recommendations for research priorities, research project oversight, and funding needs. CBI will compile the results of the summit into a report that will be reviewed by participants and made available to the public in the fall.
"This summit represents WERF's first step in developing meaningful public partnering in its research work. One of the primary goals of this new effort is to use substantive public input to improve decision-making in sustainability-based issues, such as the management of biosolids and water reuse. Recognizing the value of public input and the benefits of building meaningful relationships with the public it serves, WERF hopes to learn from this summit both its successes and its failures in order to continue to improve its public partnering research initiatives," according to a WERF press release issued last week.
Although the intent of the summit organizers seems sincere, opponents don't see it that way.
"We are boycotting this conference because its real purpose is to create an illusion that EPA and the sludge industry are concerned about people getting sick from sludge spreading. Organizers have arranged this conference while continuing to malign and intimidate scientists and citizens who raise concerns about land application," said Barbara Rubin of Neighbors Against Toxic Sludge.
In May, EPA terminated one of its most senior scientists, Dr. David Lewis, who alleges in a current law suit that Synagro Technologies Inc. and WEF successfully appealed to EPA's Christie Whitman to stop supporting his research on adverse effects of sewage sludge.
"We cannot, in good conscience, participate in a summit that is being sponsored and funded by individuals, agencies, and organizations that stifle debate and retaliate against scientists who criticize inadequate EPA regulations," said Professor Caroline Snyder of Citizens for Sludge-Free Land.
Rubin and Snyder point out that evidence is mounting that sludge spreading may be linked to serious health problems, including deaths. Their groups are demanding a moratorium on land application, reinstatement of Dr. Lewis, and independent research.