“Sludge Magic,” The Biosolids Debacle And Why ‘Data’ Can Be So Tricky
Odds are, you’ve never heard of biosolids. Most folks are not familiar with the term, which saddens me because biosolids are at the heart of one of the most egregious ‘scientific’ frauds in modern history. By fraud, I mean corruption. I’m speaking here of the blatant corruption of several government agencies in a mass deception (and poisoning) of the public. (I’ll just say ‘the public,’ because while much of the story centers in the United States, this is actually an international tale of lies and corruption.)
Once upon a time, what is now called ‘biosolids’ was actually known as sewage sludge. Sewage sludge is the disgusting and poisonous glop which municipal water treatment plants have as the central byproduct of their wastewater treatment process. It consists of everything flushed down toilets or poured down drains. It’s not just poo, piss, toilet paper and water. As you may know, nearly everything someone wants to get rid of is flushed down toilets or washed down drains. Toilets and drains are commonly conceived as simply away. Want to get rid of something? Want it to go away? Flush it or pour it down the drain. Simple. Away. And it’s not just households that make stuff go away in this way. The drainage pipes of industrial plants of every kind flow into the same water treatment plants. Nothing really prevents the most harmful of substances from going down these drains. So, as you can imagine, sewage sludge is one of the most toxic substances around. It contains hundreds (at least) of highly toxic substances.
So, naturally, you’d think that all sewage sludge is taken from the water treatment plant to some giant—and very expensive—hole in the Earth somewhere — a hole so deep that whatever is dumped in this hole cannot poison ground water, soil, air … people, animals, plants.
Nope. It’s sold as fertilizer — and spread on farms, gardens and lawns.
(Heads up. Underlined passages here are ‘clickable’ links. And reading the articles I’m linking to is important to fully understanding the present article.)
Some years ago (1995), John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton published an excellent book which was mainly on the topic of the PR industry, called Toxic Sludge Is Good For You. This book detailed many of the facts and details about the renaming, re-branding and spin doctoring which resulted in toxic sludge becoming sold as a “perfectly safe and non-toxic” fertilizer.
What really got me, though, was an article published by Organic Consumers Association, titled How EPA Faked the Entire 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 EPA’s Office of Water, who is considered the primary author of EPA’s 503 sludge rule, explains what he calls “sludge magic”.
Rubin coined the term “sludge magic” when EPA’s proposed 503 sludge rule was undergoing internal peer review at EPA’s Office of Research & Development in 1992. Dr. Robert Swank, the research director at the EPA lab in Athens, Georgia, where I worked, called Dr. Rubin. When Swank asked him to explain how sewage sludge renders pollutants non-bioavailable, Rubin replied, “It’s magic.” During his deposition, Rubin deferred to USDA agronomist Rufus Chaney when questioned about scientific studies supporting sludge magic:
RUBIN QUESTIONED BY MR. KOHN (1999) (3)
Q. You called it 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 sequester I mean significantly reduce the mobility to move from the biosolids out to the environment, and the matrix is really complex, and has organic material in it, organic pollutants, I’m talking about organic materials, like unit type materials, and carbohydrates, and manganese, and iron, and phosphorus, and all of these work together with the soil in a matrix to significantly reduce, if not eliminate movement of pollutants from the biosolids out to the environment.
There is a technical, scientific term which chemists have for the sort of thing Alan Rubin said to Mr. Kohn. That word is bullshit. It was bullshit science (outright lies) which resulted in vast portions of land being spread with toxic sewage sludge.
Weirdly, though biosolids are no less toxic today than they were in 2014 (when that article appeared in Organic Consumers Association), to this very day biosolids are being used as fertilizer in the USA and other countries. It seems we are not learning very rapidly about the chemistry of bullshit in ‘science’. And if you’re wondering if food plants grown in toxic soil produce toxic pumpkins, beans and strawberries. Yes. They do. Also, particles of dried biosolids blow on the wind, which air you breathe. And they leach into groundwater. Etc.