_logo_phere . . . the blog

. . .takin’ the “BS” out’a the BlogoSphere (and MSM), one shovel-full at a time

What do you call this stuff, anyway?

Bloged in Sludge by Gutter Grunt Monday December 31, 2007 at about 8:48 pm


As explained in detail in Spew #8 back at the Mother Site, my solution to the Great Name Debate has been to pretty much give in to the sludgers. They want to call sludge “BioSolids,” and they paid a lot of money to a Washington PR firm to come up with the moniker–and taxpayers’ money at that. So, what the hell? Why buck ‘em?

Besides, they are leaving us an opening I just can’t resist. If they want to call it BS, then that works for me. BS is pretty much all we get from Synagro, WEP, EPA, and the Va Dept of wHealth anyway.

– GG

Al Rubin, Sheik of Sludge

Bloged in Miscellaneous by Gutter Grunt Monday December 31, 2007 at about 8:46 pm


In October, 2005 the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission of the Virginia General Assembly released its damning report on the Virginia’s regulation (i.e., read: non-regulation) of land application of BS. The report was a condemnation of the Virginia Department of Health, which had the major responsibility for regulating land application of BS. After the report was published the VDH quickly lost all remaining credibility as the state agency in charge of regulating BS operations. Consequently, in 2007 the legislature turned the job over to the Department of Environmental Quality.

Initially those of us who have been fighting the sludge-wars for years shared a certain optimism for a new regulatory regime. But a lot of the air went out of the balloon when it was announced that Dr. Alan B. Rubin had been named to the DEQ “Biosolids Expert Panel” (“BS Panel”).Appointing one who has been called the “Sheik of Sludge” to the BS Panel is an indication that this is going to be a case of deja vu all over again, and the DEQ, like the VDH and the US EPA, will become just another government front for the BS haulers.

Who is Alan Rubin, and why the negative reaction to his appointment to the BS Panel? Well, first of all, Rubin is not a citizen representative on the BS Panel, as reported by various news papers. The BS Panel minutes of September 18, 2007 lists Rubin as a “consultant.” The distinction is important, because if Rubin represents anyone, he represents not citizens, but the BS industry in its fight against citizens. For instance, Rubin was once a senior scientist for Water Environment Federation, which is the BS-industry PR machine that coined the term “biosolids” to help sell the idea of spreading New York’s fecal products and industrial spills on Virginia’s farmland. Now retired from the EPA, Rubin runs a BS consulting firm.

Sheik of Sludge, indeed. From the very get-go Rubin has been a tireless advocate of spreading BS from sea to shining sea. He is, arguably, more responsible than any other single person in the country for a million tons of human fecal products, laced with unknown amounts of industrial toxins, that have been spread on Virginia farmland and forests. For Rubin is the self-proclaimed author of the EPA’s BS regulations – the 503 Rules – which were promulgated in 1993 despite failing the EPA’s internal peer-review process. In sworn testimony before the US Labor Dept. in April, 1999, Rubin admitted that his professional reputation is linked to the 503 Rules. Rubin has a dog in this fight – protecting his professional reputation and his 503 Rules.Rubin is perhaps best known in the BS world for his use of heavy handed tactics against those who disagreed with him or who questioned the safety of BS when he was a major domo in the EPA. On September 27, 1999 Time magazine reported that several members of Congress were sending then EPA Director Carol Browner an angry letter, asking her to address allegations that Rubin had been engaged in threatening and harassing telephone calls and e-mails to anti-sludge activists.

In May 2000, the House Committee on Science held a hearing on BS issues at which hearing Jane Beswick, a dairy farmer from Stanislaus County, Calif. testified. Ms. Beswick had become a vocal critic of the use of BS as fertilizer. In her testimony before Congress she related how Rubin made implicit threats to bring the feds down on her if she didn’t stop speaking out about the risks of BS, and how Rubin began sending her unsolicited BS propaganda, including one hand-written note that said, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” Ms Beswick’s testimony was: “To me, [Rubin] was saying that if I didn’t stop speaking out about the risks of using sludge, there would be closer scrutiny of animal manure by Federal and State inspectors–which has happened.”

My question to the DEQ is this: How does a person with Rubin’s overzealous pro-BS track record get appointed to an ostensibly objective BS expert panel?

Does Rubin have the necessary expertise in the BS field? Of course he does; he is the Sheik of Sludge. Is he smart? Arguably his brilliance matches his zeal for BS. But regardless of how much they know or how smart they are, zealots do not belong on a fact-finding panel.

If the DEQ insists on having pro-sludge zealots on its BS Panel, then it is obligated to balance the Panel with anti-sludge zealots. Otherwise the work of the Panel and the whole DEQ effort will be tainted by suspicions of industry influence, just like the VDH “efforts” were. Deja vu.

Who pays the piper?

Bloged in Sludge, Environment -- Humans Screwing Nature by Gutter Grunt Monday December 31, 2007 at about 8:38 pm


In Spew #007 over at the mother-site — Something-stinks.com — I related a conversation I had with a sludge-farmer in Campbell County, Va. in 2006. This guy is laying sludge down on paddocks right next to his yard, where his pre-schooler plays. I mean, this guy is dead-serious and terminally convinced that sludge is good for his pastures, good for his farm, and safe enough to let his kid play in it. Of course, his source of “information” is Synagro who is spreading the sludge on this guy’s paddocks and spreading his picture in local papers as the face of sludge.

Likewise, I met and discussed sludge with a dairy sludge-farmer in Appomattox County, Va. He was equally impressed with sludge, and convinced that the money he was saving in fertilizer was the only thing keeping his farm going in the face of rising land taxes.

These farmers are not bad people. I’ve talked to one who is very testy about not being told what he is or is not going to put on his land, but I believe that generally they are not malicious, and they care about their communities as much as you care about yours. It’s just that they are badly brainwashed. If you’re laying this stuff down within a few yards of where your young boy plays, you gotta’ be badly brainwashed.

To my mind, on at least two levels sludge-farmers represent an exposed Achilles heel in the sludgers’ plans to spread sludge from sea to shining sea (shining again only because sewage is no longer being dumped in them). First, if we can get to the farmers and at least get information in their hands that presents the other side of the BS coin, it might be possible to shut this nonsense down. This is what happened recently in Rappahannock County, Va. where the farmer who intended to spread sludge was convinced to change his mind at a public hearing on the issue. It also happened near Salem, Oregon in late 2007.

I had some e-conversations recently with a lady in Augusta County, Va. where BS had just raised it’s ugly head — her neighbor had applied for a permit. This lady, who is running a farm but is an escapee of Washington’s political scene, put together a brilliant anti-BS PR brochure that presents the other part of the story. This is what we need badly on a statewide or national level — the stories of dead kids and dead milk herds. The court cases. And examples of indemnity agreements the farmers can put in the sludgers face and demand they sign. We need to counteract the misinformation being presented to the farmers by the sludgers.

The second reason the sludge-farmers represent the Achilles heel is that they are the ones who ought to be paying for testing the BS that is being dumped on their land. The greatest danger in BS is that one can never know, short of testing, which load is contaminated as a result of some negligence or criminal activity that results in toxins entering the sewage pipe that ultimately empties out onto the farmer’s field. Prions, heavy metals, and radioactivity have all been dumped on farmland through the BS network.

The only way rural communities can be protected from New York City’s contaminants is by testing each and every load. Since it is, technically, the farmer that is importing the BS and it is he/she that is getting free “fertilizer,” it should be the farmer that has the responsibility for having every truckload tested before it is spread. If it costs $300, or $500, or $1000 per load to test, then that’s the cost of doing business. Why should the community pay it? In central Virginia, these BS loads sit in RR containers in a rail yard at Gladstone, Va. until they are loaded onto trucks for delivery. Each and every container should be sampled while still on the RR tracks and held certified safe. Then the bill for testing should be sent to the farmer. Better yet, each container should be tested and certified before leaving it’s place of origin with spot-checks run before spreading to be sure nothing has been added enroute.

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