Development of national policy on sewage sludge management is a classic example of incremental policy formulation [Fiorino, D.J. 1995. Making Environmental Policy. University of California Press. Berkeley, CA. p. 269]. Consequently, policy has developed piecemeal, and results are, in some ways, different than intended. Land application of sewage sludge has not been a panacea. Many of the same types of policy are now being raised about it. We demonstrate this by examining the management of sewage materials by New York City from near the turn of the 20th century, when ocean dumping was viewed as a means to alleviate some of the gross pollution in New York Harbor, to when ocean dumping was banned, and thence to the present when sludge is applied to land as "biosolids." Lessons learned during this long, sometimes contentious history can be applied to present situations--specifically not understanding the long-term consequences of land-based reuse and disposal technologies.