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NPR's "The Salt" Blog Muddies the Issue of Sewage Sludge

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Toxic Sludge & Organic Compost page.

In a muddled attack on the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and those who are concerned about produce grown in sewage sludge, "The Salt," NPR's James Beard award-winning food blog, parroted sewage sludge industry PR and misled readers with the article "Whole Foods Bans Produce Grown With Sludge. But Who Wins?" published on January 21. The article was written in response to CMD's report on January 15 that the natural and organic foods retailer Whole Foods had agreed to develop a policy to ensure it would not sell produce grown in sewage sludge. It quotes this reporter as well as two sewage sludge promoters, but fails to quote toxicologists or epidemiologists or reference any current scientific studies about the effects of spreading sewage sludge.

Minimizing the Concerns and the Concerned

"The Salt" article claims that only "a small group of activists has claimed that biosolids are toxic and full of heavy metals, pharmaceuticals and other chemicals." But in fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found in 2009 that dozens of hazardous materials, not regulated and not required to be tested for, have been documented in each and every one of the sludge samples the agency took from locations around the country. The hazardous materials included 27 metals that were found in virtually every sample, three pharmaceuticals -- including the antimicrobial triclocarban, which FDA recently moved to regulate in soaps -- in every sample, three steroids in all samples, and all but one currently used flame retardant chemical in all samples. Although EPA has subsequently dropped the ball on sludge, respected advocacy groups decided not to ignore the warning signs.

Advocacy groups that have called for a prohibition on the land application of sewage sludge because of these contaminants include the Center for Food Safety, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Organic Consumers Association, Center for Health, Environment and Justice, Farm Aid, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and dozens of local grassroots and consumer protection groups.