Denver sludge is stinky biz
June 26, 1997: 8:41 p.m. ET

Moneyline Special Report: EPA policy raises troubling questions
From Correspondent Bill Dorman
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DEER TRAIL, Colo. (CNNfn) - Beneath the ground in a suburb of Denver, lies some of the foulest toxic waste in the United States -- the Lowry Landfill Superfund site.
     On the other side of Denver lies the biggest sewage treatment plant between the Mississippi River and the West Coast, and 60 miles to the East, rolling fields of early season wheat, which will be harvested for human consumption.
     What links these three sites is the federal government's plan to take ground water from the toxic dump, treat it at the Metro Plant sewage treatment facility, and then spread it as fertilizer on the wheat crop.
     "This is not a precedent-setting proposal. It is being done at Superfund sites across the country. And provided it is implemented properly and in compliance with all state and federal regulations, it will work and be safe for both the public and the environment," said Marc Herman, of the Environmental Protection Agency.
     Richard Price, however, is not so sure. Price's cattle ranch shares a five-mile border with those wheat fields. The Price family has been ranching there for a century, nearly as long as Colorado has been a state. Four generations of Prices weathered drought and depression. The threat they see from industrial waste, and at least trace amounts of radioactive elements, is something new.
     "It's going to affect not only us, but a lot of people if it gets into our food product, and particularly if it gets into our water supply," said Lylamae Price.
     Those fears are bringing together farmers, ranchers and environmentalists.
     "We are putting our food chain at risk, and we are going to be assuming the liability in what we eat in our tuna fish sandwiches and our peanut-butter and jelly that we spread for our kids in the morning and put in their lunches," Professor Adrienne Anderson, of the University of Colorado, said.
     Anderson and the Prices are fighting a policy which is a point of pride for the environmental protection agency. The agency considers the policy a recycling success story, and Metro Sewage of Denver a prize pupil.
     Last year, the Metro Plant won a national award from the EPA for "outstanding pre-treatment management" of sewage sludge.
     Most of Denver's treated sludge winds up about sixty miles east of the city, on farmland owned by Metro. All of the wheat is fertilized with sludge, then harvested, and sold on the open market.
     One obvious advantage Metro has in owning the farmland: Denver's sewage plant has a guaranteed customer for its sludge.
     Metro has no plans to specially treat the water from the Superfund site at Lowry. The agency believes federal regulations on Superfund sites, and sewage treatment, are sufficient.
     "We've obviously extensively studied the waste materials proposed to be discharged from Lowry, and we have years of experience determining what's going to go into our biosolids. The effects will be absolutely negligible. In fact, pretty much unmeasurably negligible," Stephen Pearlman, of the Metro Waste Water Reclamation, said.
     Those words from Denver don't count for much in Deer Trail, Colo., where the Prices are fighting to protect the land and the water they've guarded for more than 100 years, while also trying to convince the people of Denver to join their fight.
     "But how are you going to get 1.3 million users on your side, when they live in the city, and aren't even aware of the land that is laying out here, and the beauty of it, and the crops that are being grown. They don't have a picture of it, and we live in it," said Lylamae Price.
     "I guess what I'm looking at is, 40 years from now, are they going to come back and say, 'well, we didn't have the technology, we didn't know about those elements at the time, they were considered safe,'" said John Price.
     Across the country, more and more people are demanding a re-evaluation of federal sludge policy, but so far the government shows no interest in revisiting the issue. For the Price family and others in Eastern Colorado, time is running out. The federal government's public comment period on the Superfund to sludge proposal ends on Monday.
     In part three of Moneyline's special report:
If food grown with sludge is safe, then why won't major U.S. food companies such as Heinz and Del Monte buy it?Back to top


More than a bad smell? - Part One - June 25, 1997

EPA has pollution solution - Nov. 27, 1997


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Environmental Justice Information Page

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