Menifee Residents Push for Survey on Health Effects of Sewage Exposure
Residents of Menifee are pushing for Riverside County officials to conduct a health survey to determine whether processed sewage spread on land near their homes for several years has had any adverse effects on public health, the North County Times reports. In 2002, county officials said based on National Academy of Sciences recommendations that communities exposed to sludge be monitored for health effects -- including allergic reactions and severe, chronic respiratory symptoms -- they would conduct a communitywide survey to determine the effects of Class B sludge, which is processed waste collected from sewer drains, industry and homes that is treated to reduce pathogens. However, after meeting with epidemiologists and other scientists, Gary Feldman, the county's chief health director, said that Riverside County does not have the staff or financial resources to produce a scientifically accurate study, the Times reports. The county banned the use of Class B biosolids in 2001 but still allows the spreading of a more highly treated version of waste, called Class A biosolids. Class A biosolids are treated to eliminate 99.9% of pathogens but still contain hazardous materials, such as toxins; as many as 70,000 chemicals; heavy metals; and some bacteria and viruses that are resistant to treatment. In addition, Class A sludge contains endotoxins, which can cause severe inflammation in body tissue when exposed to it, as well as headaches, fatigue, fever and severe gastrointestinal problems.
Scientific evidence regarding the effects of sludge on health is "contradictory," according to the Times. County health officials say the "health risks are minimal," but some experts say the sludge should be spread "minimally, if at all" because available research on the effects associated with exposure is inadequate, the Times reports. The county currently does not have regulations governing how Class A biosolids are spread, but it is considering an ordinance that would require annual testing of 10% of fields where sludge has been spread; sampling of sludge from trucks to check for heavy metal concentrations and fecal matter; and verification that the composition of biosolids from truck samples matches information provided by the sewage treatment plant. The ordinance also would address quality-of-life issues such as odor and fly control and how closely the sludge can be spread to homes, schools and other areas (Brusch, North County Times, 5/17).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.