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House of Representatives
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: May 15, 2017 02:08 PM
From: Representative Michael K. Hanna
To: All House members
Subject: Keeping sewage sludge out of our public drinking water
In the near future, I plan to introduce legislation that would prohibit the land application of sewage sludge within 300 feet of a public drinking water source and in a source water protection area.

On October 12, 1994, a healthy, 11-year-old, Centre County boy named Anthony “Tony” Behun rode his dirt bike across hills that had been coated in treated sewage sludge. Two days later, Tony seemed to be coming down with the flu. A lesion was also visible on his forearm and grew to the size of nickel. Six days later, Tony was vomiting and breathing hard. His parents drove him 18 miles to the emergency room at Clearfield Hospital. Within 47 minutes, the boy's fever climbed from 99 degrees to 102. The next morning, only four months after his birthday, Tony was pronounced dead at Allegheny General Hospital.

As reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, doctors determined that he was killed by a blood infection, the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. David Lewis, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency microbiologist argued that caustic chemicals such as lime and ammonia in the sludge opened lesions, and the bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, used them as doorways to slip into Tony’s body. Since his untimely death, many of my constituents as well as experts from across the country have argued that sewage sludge is a public health threat and it is sickening people on contact. Additionally, the spread of sewage sludge, especially near sources of public drinking water, is endangering the lives of our residents.

Over the years I’ve also witnessed a shift from the use of the words, “sewage sludge,” to a more palatable term, “biosolids.” While I recognize that land application of sewage sludge may be beneficial in certain circumstances, particularly when lesser quantities are involved, the use of large volumes of sewage sludge to reclaim or rejuvenate lands should not occur in a source water protection area where it could impact public water supplies.

With this in mind, my legislation would prohibit the land application of sewage sludge in a source water protection area and within 300 feet of a public drinking water source. Additionally, I believe that the individuals who reside in an area where sewage sludge would be applied, have a right to weigh in on any decision to approve an application to apply the sludge. For this reason, my bill would require the state Department of Environmental Protection to post for public comment, all permit applications for the land application of sewage sludge to the department’s publicly accessible internet website for not less than 30 days. During this time, if any permit application generates public comment concerning the potential negative impact on water supplies or public health, the department shall hold a public hearing. The concerns raised at the hearing would impact the department’s decision regarding whether to approve or deny an application.

Within a minimum of 30 days after the hearing, the department must then provide in writing, to the applicant and those persons who submitted negative comments, the reasons for the approval or denial of the application. This legislation is critical because it also mandates that the Department inspect each site in which sewage sludge has been applied to ensure that applicants are complying with the law.

For the sake of our constituent’s health and for the health of our children, please join me in co-sponsoring this important legislation. Thank you in advance for your consideration. If you have any questions, please contact Lynette Perkins via e-mail at LMPerkins@pahouse.net or via phone at 717-772-2283.

Introduced as HB1503