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What Is Sewage Sludge Fertilizer?

Elvis Elvis

When I first heard that sewage sludge is used on food crops, I was completely grossed out. Yes, as the name implies, sewage sludge fertilizer, or “biosolids” as the “Water Environment Federation (WEF) is trying to get people to call it, contains human feces and urine. Which would be disgusting enough, if that were all it contained.

This so-called “fertilizer” contains human feces and urine and everything that they contain, such as residues from any prescription drugs that have been ingested. There is no treatment for the sludge that can purify human excrement that has been toxified by drugs and chemicals.

The purpose of waste water treatment plants is to produce clean water. So the sludge left over from this process is what is getting spread on many millions of acres of crops across the U.S. Every contaminant in the water that passes through any given treatment center is intentionally of incidentally removed and ends up in the sludge.

Have you ever heard of anyone pouring things like paint thinner or used motor oil down a drain? Well that’s nothing compared to the hazardous wastes disposed of by industry. Over 60,000 toxic substances and chemicals are already being found in sewage sludge, and scientists are developing as many as 1,000 new chemicals per year to add to the mix.

The Harper Collins Dictionary of Environmental Science defines sludge as “a viscous, semisolid mixture of bacteria- and virus-laden organic matter, toxic metals, synthetic organic chemicals, and settled solids removed from domestic and industrial waste water at a sewage treatment plant.”

The Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes has determined from research conducted at Cornell University and the American Society of Civil Engineers showing that sludge typically contains these toxins:

 What Is Sewage Sludge Fertilizer?

  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)
  • Chlorinated pesticides — DDT, dieldrin, aldrin, endrin, chlordane, heptachlor, lindane, mirex, kepone, 2,4,5-T, 2,4-D
  • Chlorinated compounds such as dioxins
  • Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Heavy metals — arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury
  • Bacteria, viruses, protozoa, parasitic worms, fungi
  • Miscellaneous — asbestos, petroleum products, industrial solvents

And last but not least, a 1994 investigation by the US General Accounting Office found that “the full extent of the radioactive contamination of sewage sludge, ash and related by-products nationwide is unknown.

Some of the methods that have been used to dispose of sewage sludge include: incineration (pollutes the air), dumping into landfills (expensive and contaminants most likely leach into groundwater), and ocean dumping (this method has created extensive underwater dead seas). The “most environmentally sound approach, but also the most expensive” is gassification.

Doesn’t it make sense that if it creates dead seas, it can’t possibly be adding anything beneficial to our food supply?

The bottom line is that spreading this sludge on farmer’s fields growing the foods that we eat, is the cheapest way to dispose of the over ten million tons of the stuff generated by water treatment plants each year.

According to Melvin Kramer, an infectious disease epidemiologist who has been researching the issue since the late 1970s, the EPA’s plan for sludge disposal poses “a significant health hazard to the population in general, but especially to the elderly, children, and the infirm, both in terms of nuisances as exemplified by excessive putrid odors and minor allergic reactions . . . to life- threatening diseases.”

It’s disgusting to think about, it’s loaded with stuff we can’t pronounce or know is toxic, experts say it poses significant health hazards to our children and it’s being spread on our nations farmlands as fertilizer. Hmmm…

Here’s what National Food Processors Association (NFPA) representative Rick Jarman said about labeling foods that have been grown with sewage sludge: “consumers don’t need to know whether their food has been grown in sludge.”

Obviously, I disagree. I say this issue alone is one powerful argument for going organic! And for doing all I can to ensure that organic standards are not weakened by powerful NFPA lobby. In 1997 the sludge industry was pushing for acceptance of sewage sludge use on certified organic foods.

“We [USDA] are requesting comments to assess the extent to which biosolids may be used in organic production. The USDA specifically invites comments on whether the use of biosolids (municipal sludge) should be permitted or prohibited in organic production. The USDA also invites comments on the classification of biosolids as a synthetic rather than a non-synthetic substance.”

As of this writing it’s still not permitted.