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ENHANCED SUSCEPTILITY TO INFECTION FROM EXPOSURE TO GASES EMITTED BY SEWAGE SLUDGE: A CASE STUDY

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Abstract:

Most of twenty residents living in a Greenland, NH neighborhood where Class B biosolids were applied in 1995 experienced severe irritation of the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes followed by respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses. A 26-year old male died during one episode of respiratory distress approximately six weeks after the application. Laboratory tests and mathematical model outputs show that residents were probably exposed to at least 260 parts per million (ppm) of ammonia and 110 ppm of dimethyl disulfide emitted by the biosolids. Residents were also exposed to biosolids dust containing significant numbers of opportunistic bacterial pathogens know n to cause respiratory illnesses. Symptoms, which included severe irritation to mucous membranes followed by respiratory infections, are consistent with enhanced susceptibility to infections after exposure to irritant gases.

In 1992, field scientists in EPA's Office of Research & Development (ORD) reviewed the sew age sludge rule (40 CFR Part 503), which set standards for sludge based on levels of selected pathogens, heavy metals, pesticides, and other potentially harmful contaminants.1 Acceptable levels were largely based on historical data for indicator organisms in water (E. coli and Salmonella) and a national survey testing for 420 of the approximately 60,000 industrial pollutants potentially present in sludge.

Various concerns were raised by EPA scientists about the long-term effects of sew age sludge on public health and the environment. These concerns were grouped into six areas for additional research and published as a preamble to the rule. Generally, concerns involved the potential movement of contaminants from sludge into surface waters and groundw ater, variability of sludge application practices, bioavailability of sludge contaminants to plants and animals, ecological effects of pathogens and other sludge contaminants, binding of contaminants to organic materials in sludge, and the effects of long-term environmental changes.

This year, seven years after the rule was promulgated, EPA's Inspector General (IG) released a report on EPA's oversight of land application of sew age sludge, concluding that “… while EPA promotes land application, EPA cannot assure the public that current land application practices are protective of human health and the environment.”2

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.2175/193864701785018840

Publication date: 2001-01-01

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