The Fountain

WWP Letters to the Editor

I am writing regarding the article "Lawsuits and Environmental Myths" (February 2001, Water & Wastewater Products), which I think was a bit misleading. I recognize the space limitations of a publication like Environmental Protection, but some important facts were left out of the article. The thrust of the article was that national environmental regulation has not been a "stunning success" and we might be better off with a mix of common law mechanisms and state regulation. The fact remains that wastewater and air quality permitting today are largely delegated programs, ones where states and other local and regional authorities exercise powers delegated under the Clean Water Act (CWA) or Clean Air Act (CAA). Common law is almost entirely incapable of imposing end of the pipe or smokestack limitations on dischargers. A prohibition against creating a "nuisance" will not necessarily result in restrictions on quantity or the quality of emissions. The CWA and CAA approaches have been successful in terms of limiting exactly how much pollution is emitted and in limiting the types (toxics, etc.) Again, I'm not being critical of the overall thesis of the authors because national regulation is indeed a mixed bag, but some important information is missing. I hope to take a look at their book at some point.

Bruce Klafter
Director Environmental Health and Safety Legal Affairs
Applied Materials Inc.
Santa Clara, Calif.

The authors of "Lawsuits and Environmental Myths" (February 2001, Water & Wastewater Products) describe environmental legislation as "one story after another of special interests ... using the opportunity to feather their nests in the name of protecting spotted owls." Their solution is bringing back "the common-law tradition of settling pollution cases through civil suits..."

Spoken like true lawyers! Whose nest do they suppose will be further feathered by promoting more of this society's apparent need to settle every dispute through suits and litigation? Sounds to me like just another special interest group lobbying for their own narrow cause.

Fortunately we do have environmental laws to help protect all our citizens' health and safety, not just those wealthy enough to be able to hire lawyers and seek recourse through the courts.

Richard B. Marsolek
Environmental Health and Safety Coordinator
Bemidji State University
Bemidji, Minn.

The commentary "Toxics Trading" (February 2001, Water & Wastewater Products) by Paul Adams was written in such a way as to suggest that the trading program in question exists in New Hampshire. This is not the case. Mr. Adams' proposal has been presented in a bill to the Legislature that is unlikely to be passed. The state's Department of Environmental Services (DES) and municipalities do not support this proposed program and it is unlikely to be put into effect. According to George Carlson, head of the industrial pretreatment program for the state, municipalities currently have available the pollution prevention tools they need to reduce the loading of trace contaminants in wastewater. The DES testimony on the proposed program states:

"DES continues to be highly committed to the reduction of pollutant levels and waste quantities generated by business, industry, government agencies and households to improve New Hampshire's overall environmental quality. We have made significant progress over the years through a combination of education, technical assistance and regulatory program improvements, particularly in the three programs directly addressed by this bill pollution prevention, industrial pretreatment, and the state wastewater discharge permitting programs. These programs play a significant role in managing or minimizing contamination at different points in the process. In partnership with local communities, these programs continue to make significant strides to ensure regulation and reduction of the concentration and volume of contaminants released by industrial discharges to municipal sewers, municipal permit compliance and improved sludge and water quality to protect and improve New Hampshire's environment.

The pollution reduction goals of the proposed intra-municipality wastewater pollutant trading program Mr. Adams' proposal are laudable. As noted above, we strongly support pollution prevention and reduction in all our programs. However, the proposed water pollutant trading scheme is too prescriptive and probably not workable, and consequently, should not be mandated" (NH DES testimony to Hon. Betsey L. Patten, Chair, House Municipal and County Government Committee, NH House of Representatives, Concord, NH, April 11, 2001).

Mr. Adams' article also included incorrect data.

An example is found in his discussion of "the problem" regarding sludge management (which is not really a problem at all). He notes that, in 1997, 62,000 tons of biosolids (treated sewage sludge that is suitable for land application) were applied to farmland in New Hampshire. We believe this number is incorrect or misleading; it may refer to the total sludge produced in the state in wet tons, but the total dry tons produced was closer to 18,000, not all of which was treated and land applied (a majority was landfilled or incinerated).

Another example: Mr. Adams goes on to list the pounds of various trace metals that he believes could be applied to land in accordance with regulations. His calculations are incorrect, are based on the flawed data noted above, and are not based on the reality of a typical biosolids application. The fact is that the low metals quality of modern-day biosolids means that annual agricultural applications of a typical New Hampshire biosolids product could continue for at least 200 years before any of the cumulative metals limits set by protective federal standards would be met.

The result of Mr. Adams' miscalculations is to create a perception that current biosolids recycling presents significant risk from trace metals and other trace contaminants. This is not the case. Thus, regulatory agencies, agricultural advisors, research scientists and farmers in New Hampshire and across the country accept current biosolids recycling practices as protective of public health and the environment.

We concur with the New Hampshire DES in noting that pollution prevention is a worthy cause and continuing efforts in reduction of toxics in wastestreams are important -- but pollutant trading of the kind proposed by Mr. Adams is unworkable.

Current biosolids recycling programs are beneficial to farms, soils and the environment. They put to use the nutrients and organic matter derived from wastewater -- an important recycing success! As a non-profit association of people and organizations involved in the management of biosolids and other organic residuals, we encourage people to learn more about these recycling programs.

Ned Beecher
Executive Director
New England Biosolids and Residuals Association (NEBRA)
Tamworth, N.H.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2001 issue of Environmental Protection.