Andrew Drouin has been looking into this practice near where he lives in the Okanagan, but this is done ALL OVER North America, and people simply DO NOT KNOW what they are getting when they innocently buy what they believe is "compost"
During a recent ride along the KVR, through the area between Sunglo Dr. and West Bench Hill Rd., I was struck by an incredibly strong stench in the air. I tried to discern the particular aroma, wondering “manure?”, “sewage treatment plant?”... when it hit me; a local home-owner had accepted and widely spread the free material that the City of Penticton / RDOS mislabels as “compost” and supplies cheap-to-free at the landfill.
The product that the aforementioned parties refer to as “compost” is actually not compost in the classic sense at all. Rather, it’s a mildly toxic blend of lime, sand, chipped wood and the tens of thousands of products that our society purchases, then pees, poos, dumps, pours, flushes or otherwise disposes of down the drain.
These dried solids, originating from the Penticton Wastewater Treatment Plant, are then labeled “compost” and made available to the public and commercial landscaping operations in the region.
Now, before someone from the RDOS / City of Penticton staff rushes off a counter-letter to the paper, scorning and hoping to ‘correct’ me on this missive; please don’t.
I ask that instead, you please take some time on your own, as a citizen, not as a public employee - to learn what this “faux-compost” product is comprised of.
A great place to start is with the modern wonder-tool: Google. The first phrase that you want to search for is “What are Contaminants of Emerging Concern?” (CEC’s), so that you understand the (current) science on the subject. Scan through the results of your search and read any government or university peer-reviewed study that catches your interest.
Note that there is a distinct difference between what government’s media-communications homepages present vs. what their published peer-reviewed science presents…
What you will find from countless sources is what UNESCO defines as: "Contaminants of Emerging Concern, include alkylphenols, flame retardants, hormones, personal care products, pharmaceuticals, micro-fibers from plastics, steroids, lubricants and pesticides”. In total, the Canadian marketplace hosts some seventy thousand different chemicals - a large portion of which end up down one drain or another.
How is this possible? Can these statements possibly be accurate? Over and above the proverbial trainloads of peer-reviewed scientific publications available online, an interesting and easily accomplished thought-experiment goes like this: close your eyes and imagine walking through your local big-box grocery, hardware or general merchandise retail outlet.
See all of those liquid cleaning products, personal care products - including makeup, shampoos, cream-rinses, deodorants, perfumes, powdered cleansers etc.? They all end up down the drain or adsorbed to material and added to our (unlined) landfill post-use.
Now, mentally wander down the aisles of any of the dozen or so pharmacies in the city, keeping the volumes flushed by hospital and long-term care facilities in mind. Those walls of retail pharmaceuticals are re-stocked daily, and all of it ends up down the drain, as the human body only metabolizes a small percent of the active ingredient in pharmaceuticals. In the case of antibiotics, it can be as low as ten percent.
Google the phrase “Drugs can pass through human body almost intact: New concerns for antibiotic resistance, pollution identified” for the full article by Amy Pruden, National Science Foundation recipient and assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech.
The balance of all of these Contaminants of Emerging Concern end up down the drain, through the wastewater treatment plant, and into the industrial product that local and regional governments refer to as “compost” or “biosolids”.
Outside of small-scale laboratory experiments, with very limited numbers of CEC’s, mankind does not possess a technology that will clear CEC’s from the human waste stream. That’s because those aforementioned “thousands of chemicals” are comingled, and modern science simply doesn’t possess a tool or technology that will both separate and ameliorate them.
Try this: mix any three of four (non-toxic) liquid products in your home in a jar and shake the container. Now consider; how would you separate them? That, my fellow citizens, is the conundrum of our societies’ wastewater treatment plants, but on a much larger scale, and involving tens of thousands of chemicals…
If you were to schedule a visit to the Penticton Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant and inquire about the workings of our excellent facility, you will learn that that there are no specific mechanisms built into the plant to deal with CEC’s.
In fact, no waste water treatment plant in North America is currently able to remove most CEC’s from wastewater treatment plant outfall - be it liquid or solid. And this is a critical problem for our society and our environment going forward.
Our wastewater treatment plants are great at reducing nasty bits such as bacteria, protozoa, viruses and a few heavy-metals, but ineffective at dealing with Contaminants of Emerging Concern - because they were never designed to address this issue.
In most cases, “the solution”, is to separate the liquid and solid components of the wastewater treatment plant stream, filter out the large bits, dry the remaining solids, mix them with various fillers, such as the sand, lime and chipped wood - and give or sell this product to the public.
The (CEC-bearing) liquid is pumped into the river channel and sprayed on parks and school-grounds as “reclaimed water”...
The problem with this tactic is that the solid product - mislabeled as “compost”, still contains traces of tens of thousands of Contaminants of Emerging Concern. All the drying and distributing process really solves are the municipal storage issues (chiefly, volume) associated with wastewater treatment plant dried outfall.
How is this absurdity possible? Several factors are at play. The first is that our society has an addiction to drugs and ‘wonder-chemicals’. If we didn’t, there simply wouldn’t be tens of thousands of pharmaceuticals and chemicals on the market.
The second factor is that North American governments are operating on fudged data. If you’d like to read up on the fiasco that is the 25-year old “EPA Part 503 Biosolids Rule” (which all North American governments base their handling of wastewater treatment plant outfall on) then I recommend Googling the phrase “Dr. David Lewis was a senior-level research microbiologist for the US Environment Protection Agency's Office of Research & Development during the 1990s” for an interesting story of whistleblowers and fudged EPA science.
In a nutshell - properly dealing with Contaminants of Emerging Concern is expensive, and very few government bodies wish to implement of a true solution to the dried solids issue: a mature technology known as Gasification. I’ve spoken with multiple levels of government, on several occasions, and the universal response to Gasification is that “the return on investment is not there”.
In reply, I suggest that government factors in the medical implications of distributing tens of thousands of comingled Contaminants of Emerging Concern into the environment, and tell us, their employers, if the Return on Investment is valid.
In the meantime, we are in a bizarre situation where the media-mouths of the EPA and Environment Canada (and thus, all local governments) state that “Contaminants of Emerging Concern are not a problem, but that the topic merits further research” - while simultaneously, much of the actual, peer-reviewed science that they are producing (and we pay for) unequivocally states that CEC’s are indeed a concern - as a countless number of their own published papers will attest.
In closing; please do some research on this topic on your own and form your own opinions. In the meantime, I personally urge you to not accept any of the RDOS / City of Penticton “compost” for gardening or landscaping use. A quick ‘Google’ of the phrase “Plant Uptake of Contaminants of Emerging Concern” and “bioaccumulation of Contaminants of Emerging Concern in Soil” will demonstrate why applying city “compost” to your property is, in my studied opinion, a sketchy option.
“Friends don’t let friends use industrial compost”
- Household Chemicals and Drugs Found in Biosolids from Wastewater Treatment Plants - https://toxics.usgs.gov/highlights/biosolids.html
- A Sample of 8676 articles published on this topic (!): https://pubs.acs.org/action/doSearch?AllField=+of+emerging+concern