“Sludge Magic,” the biosolids debacle, and why “data” can be so tricky
Chances are you’ve never heard of biosolids. Most people are unfamiliar with this term, which saddens me because biosolids is at the heart of one of the most egregious “scientific” frauds in modern history. By fraud, I mean corruption. I am talking here about the blatant corruption of several government agencies into massive deception (and poisoning) of the public. (I’ll just say “the public”, because while much of the story is US-centric, it’s actually an international story of lies and corruption.)
Once upon a time, what is now called “biosolids” was actually known as sewage sludge. Sewage sludge is the disgusting, toxic glop that municipal water treatment plants have as a central by-product of their wastewater treatment process. That consists of everything flushed down the toilet or poured down the drain. It’s not all poop, piss, toilet paper and water. As you may know, almost anything someone wants to get rid of gets flushed down the toilet or washed down the drain. Toilets and drains are generally designed as simply a way. Want to get rid of something? You want him to go away? Rinse it out or pour it down the drain. Simple. A way. And it’s not just households that make things happen a way in this way. The evacuation pipes of industrial installations of all kinds lead to the same treatment plants. Nothing really prevents the most harmful substances from flowing into these sewers. So, as you can imagine, sewage sludge is one of the most toxic substances there is. It contains hundreds (at least) of highly toxic substances.
So, naturally, one would think that all sewage sludge is funneled from the sewage treatment plant into a giant – and very expensive – hole somewhere in the Earth – a hole so deep that whatever is dumped into that hole cannot poison ground water, soil, air… people, animals, plants.
No. It is sold as fertilizer and spread on farms, gardens and lawns.
(Warning. The passages underlined here are “clickable” links. And reading the articles to which I refer is important to fully understand this article.)
A few years ago (1995), John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton published an excellent book which was mainly on the subject of the PR industry, titled Toxic sludge is good for you. This book detailed many facts and details about the renaming, rebranding, and spin doctoring that resulted in toxic sludge being sold as “perfectly safe and non-toxic” fertilizer.
What really caught my eye, however, was an article published by the Organic Consumers Association, titled How the EPA Rigged the Whole Science of Sewage Sludge Safety: A Whistleblower’s Story (June 9, 2014).
The article tells a story in which Alan Rubin, a career chemist at the EPA’s Office of Water who is considered the primary author of the EPA’s sludge rule 503, explains what he calls the “magic of mud”.
Rubin coined the term “sludge magic” when the EPA’s proposed 503 sludge rule was undergoing internal peer review at the EPA’s Office of Research and Development in 1992. Dr. Robert Swank, research director at the EPA lab in Athens, Georgia, where I worked, called Dr. Rubin. When Swank asked him to explain how sewage sludge makes pollutants unbioavailable, Rubin replied, “It’s magic. During his deposition, Rubin deferred to USDA agronomist Rufus Chaney when asked about scientific studies supporting slime magic:
RUBIN QUESTIONED BY MR. KOHN (1999) (3)
Q. You call that sludge magic? A. Yes, that is my term. “sludge magic” [means] there are unique properties in the biosolids matrix that sequester metals, that sequester organics. By sequestration I mean greatly reduce the mobility to move from biosolids to the environment, and the matrix is really complex and contains organics, organic pollutants, I’m talking about organics, like unit type materials and carbohydrates , and manganese, iron, and phosphorus, and all of these elements work together with the soil in a matrix to greatly reduce, if not eliminate, the movement of pollutants from biosolids into the environment.
There’s a technical, scientific term that chemists have for the kind of thing that Alan Rubin said to Mr. Kohn. This word is bullshit. It was shit science (outright lies) that resulted in vast swaths of land being sprayed with toxic sewage sludge.
Oddly, although biosolids are no less toxic today than they were in 2014 (when this article appeared in the Organic Consumers Association), to this day biosolids are used as fertilizer in the United States. States and other countries. It seems like we don’t learn the chemistry of bullshit in “science” very quickly. And if you’re wondering if food plants grown in toxic soil produce poisonous pumpkins, beans, and strawberries. Yes. They do. Plus, dried biosolids particles blow on the wind, the air you breathe. And they seep into groundwater. Etc.