February 9, 2012
- King County, Washington Brands Sludge Product and Pushes it at Northwest Flower and Garden Show: According to a press release reprinted in the West Seattle Herald (2/8), “King County’s clean-water utility has announced the launch of Loop, its new biosolids brand, at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show at the Washington State Convention Center, Feb. 8-12. . . . ‘As an urban farming collective, it only makes sense that we use an urban-derived compost. We know that using Loop not only helps us grow great crops, it’s also the right thing to do,’ said Sean Conroe, founder of Seattle-based urban farming collective Alleycat Acres, which uses GroCo compost made with Loop to fertilize and amend their city farm sites.” ”Biosolids,” or treated human and industrial waste, include many hazardous chemicals. New studies found steroid hormone runoff from agricultural test plots smeared with sludge. Seattle cancer patient and naturopath, Dr. Molly Linton, has raised concerns about pharmaceutical residues such as the drugs in her chemo therapy making their way into sewer systems, and University of Washington Researcher John Kissel shares those concerns, according to King 5 News (2/7). The Food Rights Network supports urban farming, but doesn’t support the growing of any food in toxic sludge.
- Calabasas, California Residents Encouraged to Stock Up on Free Sludge! According to the Calabasas Patch (2/6), “Built in the early 1990s, Rancho Las Virgenes uses a highly-automated process to convert biosolids removed during the water reclamation process into U.S. EPA graded “Class A – Exceptional Quality” compost that has become a favorite of professional landscapers and home gardeners across the region. After nearly 20 years of production, some of the machinery and the buildings that house compost production must undergo significant maintenance and upgrades.” So the facility is urging residents to come get some free sludge quick, to help them clean out before they fix up.
Beginning in 2007, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) began sporadic free giveaways of its sewage sludge. The San Francisco sludge was processed by the Synagro company (along with sludge from 8 other counties) and given away as free “organic biosolids compost” to gardeners.
In 2009, a major controversy erupted in San Francisco when the Center for Food Safety and the Organic Consumers Association called on the SFPUC to end its give-away of toxic sewage sludge. In September 2009, both the Center for Food Safety and Resource Institute for Low Entropy Systems (RILES), a Boston-based organization that works to protect public health and the environment, petitioned the city to end its sludge compost giveaways. They received an answer in late November 2009 from Natalie Sierra of SFPUC; instead of halting the progrma, SFPUC hoped to expand it tenfold.
A March 4, 2010, demonstration at City Hall by the OCA forced a temporary halt to the program. The misleadingly labeled “organic compost,” which the PUC has given away free to gardeners since 2007, is composed of toxic sewage sludge from San Francisco and eight other counties. Very little toxicity testing has been done, but what little has been done is alarming. Just the sludge from San Francisco alone has tested positive for 1,2-Dibromo-3-Chloropropane (a.k.a. DBCP), Isopropyltoluene (a.k.a. p-cymene or p-isopropyltoluene), Dioxins and Furans.
When faced with protests and attention from national and international media, SFPUC announced it was suspending its sludge giveaway program and testing its sludge compost for contaminants. It also abandoned use of the word “organic,” insisting the term referred to organic chemistry and not the USDA National Organic Program. However, it also refused to admit wrongdoing and instead focused on refining its sludge PR. Its Vice President, Francesca Vietor, went on the offensive, providing her version of the facts to friends and allies and enlisting them to publicly and privately stand up for both her and sludge.
In emails, SFPUC staff admits that it is very worried about another sludge giveaway program – a larger program that sends “Class B Biosolids” to Solano County to be spread on land where animal feed crops are grown. There has been some pressure in Solano County to limit or end sludge applications and SFPUC fears that any negative attention to sludge will lead Solano County to make it more difficult or costly for them to dispose of their sludge. (From SourceWatch.)
- Sewage Sludge Spread on Farms Alarms Lehigh County, Pennsylvania Residents: According to The Morning Call (2/4), “[Thomas] Shetayh and other Lynn Township residents want neighboring farmers to stop using sludge to grow crops, a practice residents say is polluting their water supply and leaving a stench in the air. Dozens of residents packed a Lynn meeting in January after traces of fecal coliform and E. coli were discovered in a resident’s well.” For more, see The Morning Call‘s 2/6 article, and the Food Integrity Campaign.
- Dundalk, Ontario Residents Protest Selling Sludge as Fertilizer: According to the Owen Sound Sun Times (11/29), “Critics of a plan to convert biosolids to farm-ready fertilizer picketed during the opening of Lystek International’s public information centre in Dundalk on Tuesday.” Lystek is building five new sludge plants in Ontario, including one in Elora. Informed citizens resist the spreading of human and industrial waste on nearby farmland. The Sun Times also reported, on 2/1, that the David Suzuki Foundation, a science-based environmental charity active in Canada, “weighed in on a proposal by Lystek International to build a plant in Dundalk to process sewage sludge into fertilizer. In a letter to Southgate Mayor Brian Milne, John Werring, a bio-aquatic habitat specialist with the David Suzuki Foundation, denies that the foundation supports the application of sewage sludge on agricultural land in any form.”
- Toledo, Ohio City Council Members Pursue Sludge-Dumping Investigation: According to the Toledo Free Press (1/26), ”Council voted 9 to 3 in October to send all of the city’s bio-waste to the man-made island on Maumee Bay. That’s about 50,000 tons a year. . . . Until recently, N-Viro handled Toledo’s bio-waste. The company would take about 50 percent of the waste and mix it with high alkaline products, which raises the temperature and kills E. coli, worms and fecal coliform. The company sent its product to farmers across Northwest Ohio for its fertilizer-like qualities, said Robert Bohmer, vice president of N-Viro. . . . The city made the deal with S&L [Fertilizer] on the condition that the company produce at least $200,000 worth of top soil annually. But Collins and Council members Lindsay Webb and Rob Ludeman smell trouble. . . . ‘I will not give up my pursuit until I can honestly say that the practice is safe,’ Collins said.”
The Foods Right Network echoes Council Members Collins’, Webb’s and Ludeman’s concern. Perhaps now is the time to consider a new solution for Toledo’s human and industrial waste that doesn’t involve any sludge being spread on farmland or public parks, whether its pathogen load is reduced or not. As our readers will remember, “Class A Biosolids,” which N-Viro had been selling as fertilizer to Ohio farmers, are virtually the same as the “Class B Biosolids“ S&L’s is now contracted to sell as “topsoil,” but with stricter limits on pathogens and “vector attraction.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) only requires “Class A Biosolids” to be tested for ten heavy metals, without any testing for other heavy metals, or other contaminants and pollutants such as dioxins, flame retardants, pesticides, perfluorinated compounds and pharmaceutical residues that are routinely found in sewage sludge.
- National Research Council Report Lauds Conversion of Sewage Sludge to Potable Drinking Water, Doesn’t Suggest What to Do with Even-More-Toxic Sludge Leftovers: The report, released January 12, mentions sewage sludge, or “biosolids,” only tangentially, e.g.:
“Some research has been conducted on the fate of engineered nanoparticles in wastewater treatment. Kaegi et al. (2011) studied the fate of silver nanoparticles added to the inflow of a pilot-scale conventional wastewater treatment plant. Most of the silver nanoparticles became associated with sludge and biosolids and were not detected in the pilot plant effluent. Another study investigated the removal of titanium nanoparticles at wastewater treatment plants. Kiser et al. (2009) found that the majority of titanium in raw sewage was associated with particles >0.7 μm, which were generally well removed through a conventional process train” (emphasis added).
“Generally, wastewater treatment plants are designed to treat domestic wastewater only. Under the Pretreatment Program, local governments must implement pretreatment standards requiring that pollutants be removed from any industrial or commercial discharge to a wastewater collection system. The current objectives of the program are to:
- Prevent the discharge of pollutants that may pass through the municipal wastewater treatment plant untreated;
- Protect wastewater treatment plants from hazards posed by untreated industrial wastewater; and
- Improve the quality of effluents and biosolids so that they can be used for beneficial purposes (Alan Plummer Associates, 2010)” (emphasis added).
Both of these references make clear that the report authors have not considered what does or ought to happen to these highly toxic products of the wastewater treatment process. Mass media have been discussing the report without criticism or difficult questions. The Food Rights Network urges the National Research Council to do more research on these toxic end products before advocating for the reuse of treated wastewater as drinking water.