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Home > Archives > 2nd Quarter 1995 > Flack Attack
PR Watch Archives

Volume 2, No. 3

Flack Attack

Let Them Eat Sludge

A Brief History of Slime

Secret Ingredients

A R.O.S.E. By Any Other Name

Bypassing Barriers with "Active" and "Passive" Public Relations

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Flack Attack

by John C. Stauber and Sheldon Rampton

"There's no doubt that people have been harmed by sewage sludge, but I don't know of any cases where it's been proved beyond a doubt," says Stanford Tackett, a chemist and lead expert.

Tackett's seemingly contradictory statement captures the scientific loophole that PR practitioners use routinely to cover up health hazards. Scientific "proof" is something achieved under laboratory conditions with strict control of all variables. In the real world, those controlled laboratory conditions do not exist.

As an example, Tackett cites a case in Oklahoma where a farmer fed hay grown on sludge-fertilized land to his miniature horses. After nine horses died and 113 others developed liver problems, the farmer took his case to veterinarians at the University of Oklahoma, who tested the hay and found high levels of heavy metals from sludge. Heavy metals are known to cause problems similar to those the horses had experienced. They fed the hay to a healthy horse, and it promptly developed the same problems as the other horses.

"Even in that case, the sludge promoters were able to claim in court that there's no scientific proof that sludge caused the deaths of the horses," Tackett said. "In a strict scientific sense, they're correct."

In the real world, however, a rational person can reasonably conclude that sludge was the most likely cause of death, and a reasonable person would want to avoid eating food raised on sludge-fertilized land.

The PR campaign surrounding sludge is aimed at keeping people unaware that sludge is being used as fertilizer so they cannot make informed decisions about its risks. Milorganite fertilizer, for example, is sold in all 50 states in bags describing it as a natural "organic fertilizer." Small print at the bottom of the bag states that it is "produced only by Milorganite Division--MMSD." Outside Milwaukee, very few people know that "MMSD" stands for "Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District," and that they are spreading sewage sludge on their lawns and gardens.

Here is the shocking, untold story of how, with the EPA's blessing, sewage sludge is being foisted upon an unsuspecting public, making it difficult to avoid its risks and dangers, and placing the burden of proof on sludge victims rather than the toxic waste industry.

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