Sewage Sludge in the News

December 28, 2011

The Food Rights Network will be on vacation from January 1 – January 13. Happy New Year, and look for the next “Sewage Sludge in the News” on Wednesday, January 18!

  • Lehigh County Pennsylvania Residents Allege Local Sludge-Spreading Has Made Their Well Water Undrinkable: According to NBC Philadelphia (12/28), “Several Lynn Township, Pa. farmers use a bio-solid called ‘granulite’ to fertilize their crops, according to township authorities. ‘Granulite’ is sewage sludge turned into dried pellets, 30 percent of which is made of human waste. Residents like Bill Schaffhouser fear the health effects when this chemically-treated sewage fertilizer seeps into the ground and water. . . . Schaffhouser says that he and his neighbors can no longer drink their water because the sewage fertilizer has seeped into the drinking water, the storm drains and the nearby creek.”
  • Site Contaminated by “Composted” Los Angeles Sewage Sludge Shows High Levels of Zinc, Copper and Sulfur: According to the blog “Root Simple” (12/27), “Ecological designer Darren Butler, at a class I was sitting in on, showed a soil report from a site that had used compost from the city of Los Angeles. LA’s compost contain biosolids, a euphemism for sewage. The soil test showed high levels of: zinc 196 ppm; copper 76 ppm; [and] sulfur 5,752 ppm. The problem isn’t human waste, it’s all the other stuff that ends up in the sewer.”
  • Sludge “Composter” May Be Ousted from Marion County, Florida: According to the Ocala Star Banner (12/26), “Marion County attorney Guy Minter told county commissioners last week that he may ask a judge to issue a permanent injunction against a composting business that, its neighbors say, has failed to tamp down the stench emanating from its property. . . . An injunction would seek to declare the site a public nuisance and permanently oust the composting facility from the area. . . .
    “Compost USA leases the 38-acre site . . . from a local tree company to process wood debris, horse bedding and treated sludge into mulch. The county alleges that the permit originally granted to the property owners in 2003 does not allow treated sludge at the site. . . .
    “By October 2009, months after the company’s operations began, residents started to complain about the smell. The County Commission revoked the permit in 2010. Compost USA subsequently sued the county, challenging its right to overturn the zoning director’s decision to grant the permit.”
  • Controversial Hinkley, California Compost Plant Construction Halted for Trespassing on Public Land: According to the Desert Dispatch (12/26), “The Bureau of Land Management has ordered owners of a proposed compost recycling center to stop ground work on public land outside Hinkley. The BLM issued a cease and desist order Dec. 14 to Nursery Products, LLC, the proposed recycling center. The order said after investigation the BLM found the Nursery Products altered grounds on public land just outside the company’s property, thereby trespassing. . . .
    “Nursery Products has been trying to build the plant for six years, but have been stalled due to litigation from environmental firms associated with, a group dedicated to fighting environmental issues on behalf of Hinkley residents.” The plant would “compost” sewage sludge from San Bernardino and Riverside Counties in California. (Thanks to SludgeWatch‘s Maureen Reilly for the tip.)
  • Weighing the “Benefits” of Different Sludge Treatment Processes: An article in Environment & Energy’s ClimateWire (12/22) profiles three waste treatment companies that claim to harvest energy and profits from human and industrial sewage sludge.
    The first, Florida-based company Earth, Wind & Fire’s technology, takes “pellets of dried human sludge and carbon-based landfill material, runs an electrical current through it, captures the vapor that’s produced and then condenses it into a No. 2 diesel fuel.” The company claims its processes are “closed-loop systems that don’t produce any harmful byproducts.”
    Another company, Cork, Ireland-based AquaCritox, which is owned by SCFI Group, “takes in raw sewage and brings the temperature and pressure above 700 degrees Fahrenheit and 221 bar (3,000 psi). In these conditions, it enters a supercritical condition or ‘fourth phase’ that completely destroys organic material, producing only carbon dioxide, which [SCFI CEO] O’Regan says can be used in the soft drink industry or to create dry ice. The steam generated by the process is then used to drive turbines for power generation.” He claims the process is energy positive and can use wet waste rather than first requiring drying.
    A third company, Pennsylvania-based PMC BioTec (which the article calls PMC BioTech), uses “microbes [to] turn the sludgy feedstock into methane, and break down the organic material to nitrogen and phosphorus, which can be used as fertilizer” and “produces biodiesel or biomethane that can be used for electricity.” The process requires dried sludge and produces a product, “fertilizer,” that is still toxic. SCFI’s O’Regan also points out that “the fertilizer business is not a profit-making operation” (at least two California cities have had to turn to giving it away).
  • Virginia Not Likely to Restrict Spreading of D.C. Sludge in 2012: According to Charlottesville Tomorrow (12/21), “Albemarle County staff have told the Board of Supervisors that legislation to further restrict land application of treated human waste, known as biosolids, is not likely to be passed in the near future. . . .
    “Nearly 1,900 dry tons of treated waste were spread on Albemarle County fields this year through the end of November, according to DEQ [(Virginia Department of Environmental Quality)] records. The material comes from wastewater treatment plants in Washington D.C. and other large cities.
    “The county applications were all conducted by one company — ReCyc Systems of Remington. This year, ReCyc was approved to add another 545 acres of Albemarle land to its permit, bringing the total to 6,907 acres. . . .
    “Carrsbrook resident Ray Caddell lives next to an 88-acre farm where ReCyc applied biosolids in late May. ‘Immediately after the spreading, I developed a hoarse cough that continued, even after repeated doctor visits, well into the fall,’ Caddell said. He said symptoms only stopped after the first frost.
    “He said his daughter experienced a similar condition after biosolids were applied on the farm in 2008. State regulations only allow fields to be treated every three years.
    “‘I do not believe they should be able to apply in growth areas, next to existing neighborhoods, and especially on land in flood plain or adjacent to rivers and streams,’ Caddell said. . . .
    “However, none of the area legislators present at a roundtable discussion with supervisors last week expressed interest in submitting a bill to allow counties to exclude urban areas from biosolids application.”
  • California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) Requires Labeling of Organic Fertilizers: According to the Huffington Post Food blog (12/20), “On January 1, 2012 labeling of organic fertilizers also known as Organic Input Materials (OIMs), as defined under AB 856, takes effect in California. . . . This new labeling requirement means that under the California Department of Food & Agriculture fertilizer law ‘input’ materials acceptable to be used in an organic program of production will be distinguished from conventional chemical inputs and regulated in accordance with National Organic Program (NOP) and Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) standards. A tremendous amount of effort has been invested in providing consumers with information about organic “input” fertilizers including, under the provisions of AB 856, giving CDFA authority to:
    • Require registration of Organic Inputs Materials including compost
    • Require inspection of manufacturing facilities and records
    • Impose penalties for misrepresentation”
    Exactly how this will affect sludge processors remains to be seen, but Greg Kester of the California Association of Sanitation Agencies (CASA), which promotes the use of sewage sludge as fertilizer and supports deregulation of the industry, argued at a BioCycle conference in in October 2011 that this kind of “patch quilt regulatory landscape will provide a real disincentive for increased receipt of this material [sewage sludge], and it’s really unnecessary.” Color us unconvinced, and glad of CDFA regulation in this case.
  • Landscaper Criticizes Edmonton, Alberta Municipal Sludge “Compost” as “Appalling”: Landscaper Peter Duncan wrote in the Edmonton Journal (12/20), “I visited a local composting site after hearing that they produced top quality compost. I was appalled. I do not think partly decomposed sludge and garbage can be called compost. The City of Edmonton’s own compost pro-gram also utilizes sewage sludge. It is terrible that both private and public ‘compost’ is being marketed and sold as a safe natural fertilizer when the products should really be categorized as toxic and dangerous.”

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