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Organic Consumers Association

Missouri Law Let Question of Farm Sludge Risk Lie Fallow

Here's a question you hear a lot in northwest Missouri ever since a lawsuit claimed contaminated sludge was spread for years on farmland:

Where had the government inspectors been?

Lost, it turns out, down a bureaucratic hole.

The lawsuit, filed recently, alleged that a St. Joseph tannery had allowed sludge containing a carcinogen to be used as fertilizer on fields in four counties, causing brain tumors in at least two patients.

Because of a state law, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources has not been sampling the contents of the sludge - the waste from the tanning process. That is because the law allowed officials years ago to declare the sludge a fertilizer.

As a result, that left most of the responsibility for regulating the sludge to the University of Missouri - but only as a fertilizer, not as a hazardous waste.

Contacted Friday, state Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields said he planned to contact the Senate general counsel to review the law. In the meantime, he is waiting for the results of several investigations into the lawsuit's claims.

"Clearly, if we need to revise the statutes or work with the department in terms of how they regulate the material, that is an appropriate discussion by all means," said Shields, a St. Joseph Republican.

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