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Md. lawmakers call for sludge study inquiry

The Baltimore Sun

Two Maryland lawmakers are asking the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate why a study it funded spread sewage sludge on the lawns of nine East Baltimore rowhouses as part of an effort to combat lead poisoning.

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, both Democrats, have written a letter to outgoing HUD Secretary Alphonso R. Jackson seeking answers to safety questions raised by the study.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has said it will hold hearings on risks of using sludge as fertilizer.

The reaction is to an Associated Press article published this week in The Sun and other newspapers that outlined a study - run by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health - where a mixture made of human and industrial waste was put onto the lawns of poor, black families to see if it could be a cheap way to clean up contaminated soil.

The waste is treated to rid it of pathogens. The compound is sold at home improvement stores for use in residential gardens and has long been approved by regulatory agencies. Farmers use a similar product.

Some scientists have questioned its safety.

Mikulski and Cummings want to know whether families were "given adequate information about the potential harmful health effects from the sludge," their representatives said.

Hopkins officials have said families were told the commercial compost used in their yards was made from sewage sludge.

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