Unsafe Sewage Sludge or Beneficial Biosolids?: Liability, Planning, and Management Issues Regarding the Land Application of Sewage Treatment Residuals
Commentators have identified fear of liability as a major deterrent to the widespread land application of sewage sludge. Liability issues regarding land application include not only legal liability, but also market liability as a result of negative public perceptions of the land application of sewage sludge. Under current law, municipal sewage treatment facilities, landowners, farmers, and even lenders are potentially liable for risks arising from sewage sludge application, unless someone else assumes the risk through a clear and legally enforceable mechanism. This article introduces this complex, evolving, and contentious environmental issue. It investigates the various siting and toxic tort liability issues associated with the land application of sewage sludge, and explores some of the risk-sharing mechanisms developed to minimize the liabilities associated with the application of sewage sludge to farmland. It concludes with a recommendation for a public indemnification fund to compensate for losses caused by land application of sewage sludge.