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July 8, 2002

Panel Recommends Update of Standards for Biosolids Land Use

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is using outdated science to assess the health risks of using treated sewage sludge to fertilize soil, according to a report from the National Academies' National Research Council. In their report, the panel recommended the government update its standards using improved methods for assessing health risks, and called for further study of whether treated sewage sludge, or “biosolids,” causes health problems for workers who apply it to land and for residents who live nearby. The report also said more rigorous enforcement of the standards is needed.

According to the panel’s report, the EPA set standards in 1993 for using biosolids to treat soil, but those standards were based on an unreliable 1988 survey to identify hazardous chemicals in wastewater. The panel said methods for detecting pathogens and assessing risk have improved greatly since that time.

“There is a serious lack of health-related information about populations exposed to treated sewage sludge,” said Thomas Burke, PhD, MPH, professor of health policy and management and co-director of the Risk Science and Public Policy Institute at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He chaired the National Research Council panel, which issued the report at the request of the EPA. The findings were presented to the EPA and Congress on July 2.

NRC Press Release

NRC Report

Public Affairs Media Contact for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons @ 410.955.6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.