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Riverkeepers Release "Sludge In Our Waters" Report, Map

Riverkeepers Release "Sludge In Our Waters" Report, Map

Details and maps the issue of land application of sewage sludge in North Carolina

Riverkeepers Release "Sludge In Our Waters" Report, Map

"Sludge In Our Waters" Report

For the past year, Riverkeeper Sam Perkins has been working with Elaine Chiosso (Haw Riverkeeper; the Haw runs from Greensboro, under the Triangle, then starts the Cape Fear) on a major sludge project through Waterkeepers Carolina.

Today, they released their initial report on the issue. There is also a map with layers and searches/filters for sludge application fields, NPDES permits, waterways on the EPA’s 303d impaired list, and drinking water intakes. The initial purview was for North Carolina only, but South Carolina will soon be encompassed, too.


Waterkeepers Carolina

For Immediate Release:  October 6, 2015



Elaine Chiosso,  Haw RIVERKEEPER®

Haw River Assembly

 (919) 542-5790   


Sam Perkins,  Catawba RIVERKEEPER®

Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation
 (704) 679-9494


Sludge In Our Waters

An investigation of industrial contaminants in sewage sludge

and the impacts on surface waters in North Carolina


"Sludge In Our Waters" is a new report from Waterkeepers Carolina that investigates how industrial chemicals in municipal wastewater sewage sludge contaminate surface waters in North Carolina when the sludge runs off of agricultural fields into streams.

Accompanying the report is a new mapping tool that shows locations of permitted sludge fields in North Carolina; the map also has an overlay of river basins and other features. The report is intended to inform the public and policy makers about the potential pathways to human and environmental contamination from sludge applications, with recommendations for changing our current practices.


Wastewater treatment plants take raw sewage from cities and remove pollutants and solids to produce treated water (effluent) to meet government standards. At least 50% of municipal sewage sludge is applied to agricultural lands in rural areas, often not in the same county in which it was generated.


Wastewater from homes, businesses and industry are co-mingled in the wastewater stream. The solids removed (sewage sludge) contain whatever was present in the original sewage water, including pathogens, heavy metals and chemical contaminants – anything flushed or dumped down a drain. Many of these industrial chemicals should not be in the wastewater to start with and are not required to be monitored for either in the wastewater, the finished sludge, or in drinking water sources that are downstream from the sludge application fields.


Land application of sewage sludge, also known as "biosolids," is being marketed to farmers as safe and free fertilizer. In reality, biosolids are a complex stew of ingredients including toxic industrial chemicals. But in addition to the promised ‘free’ nitrogen and phosphorous, other industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals, cleaning products, pathogens, heavy metals and nutrients are being surface applied to agricultural lands, from which they can readily run off into streams during storms. While application is not allowed during rain, application may occur even immediately prior to forecast rain.

The report looks closely at two examples of industrial contaminants found downstream of fields in the Haw River watershed where sewage sludge is applied, plus an example in the Catawba River watershed where the banned hazardous chemical PCB ended up in sewage sludge. The case studies in this report highlight only a few of the many chemicals that are released to local watersheds through land application of treated sewage sludge. But with just these examples, we have demonstrated that this practice can lead to contaminated surface waters upstream of drinking water sources

The premise stated by EPA that sewage sludge could be treated and recycled as "biosolids which can be used as valuable fertilizer, instead of consuming space in landfills"fails to take into account the substantial burden of toxic contaminants concentrated in sewage sludge. There is insufficient and even non-existent monitoring of many chemicals of concern. The permits for sludge application on farmland are for "non-discharge permits." This is untrue, as demonstrated in this report, as many pollutants are eventually discharged to local water bodies. This is a core problem, made worse by weak regulations and poor oversight, monitoring and enforcement.


The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation has commented on and challenged permit renewals for the land application of sewage sludge from Charlotte Water (CW; formerly Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Department). In 2013, the permit to spread in South Carolina was issued with improved provisions. In 2015, the permit to spread in North Carolina was also issued with stronger provisions echoing Riverkeeper and public concerns for notification and PCB testing. This was particularly necessary after PCB contamination – once property tested for – became evident in CW’s system as early as 2013 and following a major PCB dumping event in February 2014. However, CW is pursuing adjudication over the permit.

To read the full "Sludge In Our Waters" report online, click here. 


To access the Waterkeepers Carolina Sludge Application Mapping Tool:


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Tell your Riverkeeper if you see:

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Click here to fill out a pollution reportor to report water pollution to Catawba Riverkeeper by phone, call 1-888-679-9494 or 704-679-9494.  In addition, to informing your Riverkeeper, you should also report spills or contamination to federal, state and local environmental officials.

To report South Carolina water pollution call 1-888-481-0125.

To report North Carolina spills or fish kills, call your local regional Department of Environment & Natural Resources office during normal business hours (704-663-1699 for most Catawba basin areas or (828) 296-4500 for Burke, Caldwell, McDowell and other mountain counties) or 800-858-0368 after hours.  (For more information on NC spill reporting, click here)

715 N. Church St., Suite 120 . Charlotte, NC 28202 . Phone: 704.679.9494 . Fax: 704.679.9559