For Release: April 15, 2008
Contact: David Almasi at (202) 543-4110 x11
EPA Sludge Tests a "Modern-Day Tuskegee Experiment"
Children in Poor Black Neighborhoods Potentially Imperiled by EPA Studies
Washington, D.C. - Revelations that the federal government conducted potentially dangerous sludge-related experiments on children in Baltimore is condemned by Project 21 black leadership network fellow Deneen Borelli, who is demanding more answers about the origins of the experiment and wants to know how much other reckless policymaking is permeating federal agencies.
The Associated Press reported April 13 that researchers using federal grant money selected nine families in poor, black Baltimore neighborhoods to test if sludge could reduce child health risks from lead. Sludge derived from human and industrial waste was tilled into the families' yards and grass was planted over it.
The AP story said families were told that lead found in the soil in their yards posed a health risk and that the sludge was safe. The study, the findings of were published in 2005, did find that sludge bonded with the harmful metals lead, cadmium and zinc in the soil. However, concerns about the health risk of the sludge appear to have been overlooked, and no follow-up medical examinations of the families were reported.
The AP says, "epidemiological studies have never been done to show whether spreading sludge on land is safe."
A similar experiment was done in a poor, primarily black neighborhood in East St. Louis, IL.
"This is no less than a modern-day Tuskegee Experiment," said Borelli. "The government appears to have clearly failed - in the case of the EPA - in its mission 'to protect human health and safeguard the environment.' In fact, it is failure on both counts. For federal bureaucrats at EPA and HUD to knowingly allow this experiment to take place and jeopardize the health of children and adults is outrageous."
In 1993, the EPA began allowing Class B sludge containing human feces, medical waste and assorted chemicals to be used on farmland, in national forests and for mine reclamation efforts. EPA managers have been hostile to critics who questioned whether the sludge is safe. The hostility included angry calls and letters to public critics and unfounded ethics complaints imperiling the careers of critics within the agency. EPA scientists David Lewis and William Markus, who spoke out about the unknown potential dangers of Class B sludge, were retaliated against by their superiors, but later sued the EPA and won a $100,000 settlement.
In March a federal judge ordered the U.S. Department of Agriculture to compensate Georgia farmer Andy McElmurray because sludge used in his fields to grow corn and cotton to feed livestock contained extremely high levels of arsenic, toxic heavy metals and PCBs. U.S. District Judge Anthony Alaimo wrote that government-endorsed data on the sludge was "unreliable, incomplete and, in some cases, fudged." Judge Alaimo further wrote, "senior EPA officials took extraordinary steps to quash scientific dissent."
Borelli wants to know if there are other issues championed by the agency in which necessary assessment was bypassed to meet desired political goals.
"One can't help but compare the scandal in Baltimore to global warming policy promoted by environmental activists and many of their supporters in the government bureaucracy," added Project 21's Borelli. "In the case of the EPA, the agency's lack of sound analysis regarding climate change will undoubtedly lead to dire economic consequences. For instance, the American Council For Capital Formation predicts '...the United States would lose between 1.2 and 1.8 million jobs in 2020' and that the 'primary cause of job losses would be lower industrial output due to higher energy prices, the high cost of complying with required emissions cuts, and greater competition from overseas manufacturers with lower energy costs.' We can't be allowed to run headlong into a crisis without proper scientific evidence. In Baltimore and the nation as a whole, it looks as if the government is putting policy goals ahead of public welfare."
Between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service conducted a study on the effects of syphilis on black men. In the process, researchers intentionally denied full knowledge and treatment for the debilitating sexually transmitted disease to the 399 black men studied. Called the Tuskegee Experiment because government researchers used the renowned black institution's medical facilities, the race-based study led to the deaths of 128 of the study's subjects while 59 wives and children contracted or were born with syphilis.
The AP story was written by John Heilprin and Kevin S. Viney.