Friday, 9 August 2019

Sewage Sludge Management in Germany - A look at the recently published (2015) Overview

A few years ago (2015), Germany published a fascinating and frightening look at the sewage sludge situation. It is a wonderful guide to the present-day production, treatment and possible uses of this sludge.  Below I will present some of the more interesting and sobering findings in this German study. 

The entire document can be accessed here in English Translation -
Sewage Sludge Management in Germany

"Sewage sludge can be regarded as a multisubstance mixture. Because of the inhomogeneity and tremendous differences in the concentrations of its components, it is difficult to determine or define a standard composition for sewage sludge, which is mainly composed of organic substances. Sewage sludge (i. e. stabilized primary, secondary or tertiary sludge that occurs in a mixture at the end of the treatment process) contains plant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, as well as harmful substances such as pathogens, endocrine disrupters and heavy metals"

"Sewage sludge fertilizer is a pollution sink for harmful sewage components from households, businesses and diffuse sources, concerning whose environmental impact too little is known. The extent of the possible soil, plant, groundwater, and surface-water pollution resulting from these sources is difficult to determine, even in cases where relatively small amounts of sewage sludge are used ...  new breakdown products of pharmaceutical drugs are discovered in sewage sludge all the time. These breakdown products are incorporated into sewage sludge via human excretion and in other ways. It is simply not humanly possible for scientists to develop specific detection processes for and assess the environmental impact of all of these substances, whose combined impact is particularly difficult to characterize and assess. Scientists can merely estimate the theoretical hazards posed by these substances; and unfortunately, by the time the relevant hard facts become available, the pollutants in question will already have found their way into the biosphere."

"Owing to its extreme inhomogeneity, the quality of sewage sludge is difficult to characterize. Sewage sludge fertilizer contains the following elements, all of which are potential ecosystem pollutants: various organic substances that exert hormonal effects; various infectious agents; heavy metals; residues of pharmaceutical drugs."

"Sewage sludge fertilizer is also a pollution sink for harmful sewage components from households, businesses and diffuse sources, concerning whose environmental relevance too little is known. Notwithstanding tighter controls and stricter limit values for certain sewage sludge pollutants, uncontrolled pollutants such as hydrocarbons inevitably find their way into the soil. Incorporation of certain pollutants into the food chain cannot always be avoided, despite the fact that, for example, plants normally do not absorb organic pollutants. Nonetheless, new breakdown products of pharmaceutical drugs are discovered in sewage sludge all the time, and they are incorporated into sewage sludge via human excretion carried by the wastewater that is treated by sewage treatment plants." 

"In keeping with the precautionary principle and in light of the pollutants and pathogens found in sewage sludge, the UBA deems the agricultural use of sewage sludge to be a serious public health and environmental hazard and advocates that this practice be phased out."

Friday, 24 May 2019

New research looks pretty bad for biosolids -

New research looks pretty bad for biosolids -  Publications from just this past year 

1. Root uptake of toxins -

"Determination of nanoparticle uptake, distribution and characterization in plant root tissue after realistic long term exposure to sewage sludge"
"In the past 15 years, the use of nanoparticles (NP) in daily life and medical products has constantly increased.
As a consequence, NPs cause major concern as a potential contaminant of the environment, e.g. through waste water, deposition or precipitation. Furthermore, the uptake of NPs by agricultural plants is also relevant for
human exposure … our study proved that particle uptake in plant roots is an important issue also under realistic exposure conditions ... the presented data are relevant for human exposure by consumption of root crops."

2. Germination and growth issues after biosolids

"The application of agricultural sewage sludge alone results in a major input of plastic particles into agricultural soils, estimated to be between 63,000 and 430,000 and 44,000–300,000 tons per year of microplastics (<5 mm) in the EU and North-America farmlands, respectively"
"Seed germination rate was significantly reduced for all three sized plastics … This suggests that clogging of the pores with plastic particles might inhibit water uptake and thus delay germination. Given we observed increasingly pronounced effects with the increased size of the plastic, the delay in germination might be caused by physical blocking. We also observed a change in root growth after 24 h of exposure, with a decrease in root growth when exposed to 50 nm particles, and an increase when exposed to 500 nm plastic particles."
"To conclude, we present the first study on adsorption, uptake and the phytotoxicity of nano- and microplastics to a vascular terrestrial plant. The results from the present study demonstrate that plastics particles adsorb particularly on the root hairs. Exposure to plastic particles results in short-term and transient effects on germination rate and root growth. Given our limited understanding of the impact of nano- and microplastics in terrestrial systems, it is key to conduct studies on nano- and microplastics loads, uptake, and effects on terrestrial systems."

3. Grazing animals affected by biosolids pollutants - 

"this study shows that chronic EC exposure, via sewage sludge, at concentrations and complexity relevant to humans, induces persistent xenotoxicant responses in the liver, disrupts a large portion of the observable liver proteome and affects lipid levels and the expression of liver cancer markers, all of which are likely to affect many body systems. Our observations support the existing data showing that low-level EC exposure is a significant contributor to abnormal liver physiology"
"Our results demonstrate that chronic exposure to ECs causes major physiological changes in the liver, likely to affect multiple systems in the body and which may predispose individuals to increased disease risks"
"The increased incidence of diseases, including metabolic syndrome and infertility, may be related to exposure to the mixture of chemicals, which are ubiquitous in the modern environment (environmental chemicals, ECs). Xeno-detoxification occurs within the liver which is also the source of many plasma proteins and growth factors and plays an important role in the regulation of homeostasis."

4. Problems with Chemical Mixtures in Low Dose (almost a perfect definition for "biosolids")

Two things of importance here in relation to sewage sludge / biosolids -
1. Biosolids / sewage sludge is one of the most "pollutant-rich" materials on earth - with tens of thousands of toxins contained within it … mostly in "small dose"
2. All regulations (EPA, or OMRR etc) base their "risk" assessments, and statements of "safety" on ONLY single pollutant toxicity measures - in other words on incomplete and out-of-date science.

5. Microplastics in Biosolids problematic

"Microplastics are emerging as a steadily increasing environmental threat … Treatment plants are essentially taking the microplastics out of the waste water and concentrating them in the sludge … Our results indicate that microplastic counts increase over time where successive sludge applications are performed. Microplastics observed in soil samples stress the relevance of sludge as a driver of soil microplastic contamination."

6. Microplastics Can Change Soil Properties and Affect Plant Performance
- fbclid=IwAR3PJRQeLEPA3vj8h5JDGkb_KlhMLPNBX_7DbEjVZRHu0zXHcKYwBMJKrcA&journalCode=esthag

"PES is the most commonly reported type of environmental microplastic, including its presence in sewage sludge used as an agricultural amendment … pervasive microplastic contamination may have consequences for agroecosystems and general terrestrial biodiversity." 

7. Spreading Sewage Sludge / "biosolids" MEANS spreading Antimicrobial Resistance

"It was reported that almost half of all antibiotics were released in rivers through wastewater effluents and the practice of manure and sludge land spreading"
"There are various sources of antibiotics in the aquatic environment. Wastewater from residential facilitates, hospitals, animal husbandry and the pharmaceutical industry is considered as the main source of antibiotics. The antibiotics taken by humans or animals cannot be fully metabolized, and consequently enter sewage or manure via excreted urine or feces. Since antibiotics can only be partially removed in wastewater treatment plants, the antibiotic residues will be discharged into the aquatic environment. Other important sources of antibiotics in the environment include the manure and sludge used in agricultural sites, as well as discarded pharmaceuticals, sludge and solid waste of the pharmaceutical industry in landfills "
"It is notable that the antibiotics were found in surface water and groundwater which serve as drinking sources. This gives rise to the concern that antibiotics may occur in drinking water and threaten human health. After all, the conventional drinking water treatment processes were proved not to be effective in removing all antibiotics"

8. "Endocrine disruptors and carcinogens in the plastics can leak out and adversely affect soil." fbclid=IwAR3mGHmGJDsZA9q_7ICQEXj3xOUBYT-E5IvLferb6MBkr5OM6bDGW_EKBAY

"Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Associate Professor Martyn Futter told Australia’s ABC that people are failing to consider what happens to these biosolids after they’re used on land. He said that the endocrine disruptors and carcinogens in the plastics can leak out and adversely affect soil."

9. More microplastic issues

" The findings of this study indicate that the behavior of plastic particles in the soil not only disrupts the movement of springtails but also has wider implications for effective management of soils."
"In this study, we investigated the responses of soil-dwelling organisms (springtails) to soils contaminated with various particulate plastics. The springtails showed lower mobility in plastic-contaminated soils. Springtail behaviors were associated with the fate of plastic particles in the soil pores, and we observed that, in turn, plastic particles showed certain patterns of mobility in response to springtail behavior."

10.  Pharmaceuticals discharge in the environment
via the excretion of pharmaceuticals by humans

" the largest source of pharmaceuticals discharge in the environment is the excretion of pharmaceuticals by humans and animals, estimated to be about 90% of total emissions. These emissions enter the environment mainly via urban wastewater, sewage sludge, and manure."

11. Microplastics on land
- fbclid=IwAR1niUW9svrjpPkeZ8qXh27vmbknQnULWuO2joIjCEQ11WFkvu0kzrTlOjw

"The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) recently found that concentrated levels of microplastics are more likely to be found in sewage sludge applied as fertiliser than in our oceans."

12. Microplastic Problems

“We have identified diverse sources of microplastics to the environment from ‘intentional uses’ in cosmetics, detergents, other household products, paints, and agricultural uses, amongst others. Many of these microplastics are washed down the drain at the point of use and because of how wastewater in the EU is treated, these microplastics will not typically be released directly to aquatic environments, but are likely to concentrate in sewage sludge that is then frequently applied to agricultural soils as a fertiliser,” he said.
The agency estimates that 43% of microplastics that go down the drain eventually end up applied to agricultural land as biosolids.
Microplastics are also an ingredient in some fertilisers and plant protection products, Simpson added, exacerbating the problem. Their extreme persistence, with half-lives put in the thousands of years, means that “we currently cannot assess the risks to the environment resulting from such long-term accumulation and exposure.”
In January, the European Commission asked ECHA to consider whether an EU-wide restriction on intentionally-added microplastics would be justified. This would go far beyond a ban on them in wash-off personal care products, which is now in force across the UK. The US, France, Italy and Sweden have similar bans in place, while the EU cosmetics industry has undertaken voluntary measures."

13. EPA can no longer assure public that "biosolids" are safe

"The EPA’s website, public documents and biosolids labels do not explain the full spectrum of pollutants in biosolids and the uncertainty regarding their safety. Consequently, the biosolids program is at risk of not achieving its goal to protect public health and the environment."
"The EPA’s controls over the land application of sewage sludge (biosolids) were incomplete or had weaknesses and may not fully protect human health and the environment. The EPA consistently monitored biosolids for nine regulated pollutants. However, it lacked the data or risk assessment tools needed to make a determination on the safety of 352 pollutants found in biosolids. The EPA identified these pollutants in a variety of studies from 1989 through 2015. Our analysis determined that the 352 pollutants include 61 designated as acutely hazardous, hazardous or priority pollutants in other programs"

14. New publication from Germany highlights problems with Antibiotic Resistance
and how it relates to Sewage Sludge applied to soils -

"If sewage sludge from waste water treatment plants is applied to soil, active substances can find their way onto fields and meadows. Antibiotics can also enter the groundwater from rivers, lakes and streams or via the soil"
"It is evident that waste water from hospitals and waste water treatment plants can contain high concentrations of antibiotics. In addition, many antibiotic substances accumulate in the sewage sludge, which is a pollutant sink in the waste water treatment plant"
"Sewage sludge is a reservoir for ARB and ARG. High bacterial densities and sufficient nutrient contents provide the ideal conditions for the adaptation of bacteria through horizontal gene transfer processes. In particular, substances with a selective impact such as antibiotics, but also heavy metals for example, bring growth benefits for resistant bacteria and therefore support the dissemination of ARG. The storage conditions of sewage sludge as well as the high nutrient content and high bacterial density also support the propagation of these resistant bacteria. When used as fertilizers, both the antibiotic residues and ARB reach the soil, thus ARB can be directly spread further in the environment"
"A study by UBA examined the occurrence of resistance genes in the case of the presence of different antibiotics as a consequence of the use of sewage sludge in agriculture and the horizontal dissemination of these ARG. The results show that the spreading of sewage sludge leads to a significant increase of ARG in the soil, and that these ARG can be proven to exist in the soil over an extended period of time. It is also possible for multi-resistant soil bacteria to be transferred to potential pathogens."

15. More on  Antibiotic Resistance & Sewage Sludge

"Complexities in understanding antimicrobial resistance across domesticated animal, human, and environmental systems"
"growing data suggest that ARB and ARGs may be dispersed by wild birds after exposure to sewage near rivers, spreading of sewage sludge onto farmland" 

"The origin of microplastic particles is difficult to determine; they may come from environmental sources, including water, waste treatment sludge used as fertilizers, and processing and packaging ...Microplastics are resistant to degradation. Laboratory experiments have shown that micro- and nanoplastics can be transported from prey to predator and suggest that plastic-associated chemical additives and contaminants could also be passed through the food chain"
"Sewage entering municipal treatment systems is high in microfibers from textiles, microplastics from personal care products, and degradants of consumer products. Between 80 and 90 percent of microplastics entering treatment systems remain in residual sewage sludge.This sludge is often used as fertilizer in agriculture, resulting in plastic being deposited on agricultural fields where it can remain for long periods of time. To understand the significance of sewage sludge as a source of microplastic pollution, one study estimated that sewage sludge accounts for 63,000–43,000 and 44,000–300,000 tons of microplastics to be added annually to European and US farmland, respectively. Based on a recent study, microplastics can persist in soils for more than 100 years, due to low light and oxygen conditions"
"One health concern regarding plastic in soils is the potential transfer of toxic chemicals to crops and animals. The plastic industry is a major source of chemical additives reaching the environment. Some of these additives, including endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as phthalates, polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDEs), and bisphenol A have been found in fresh vegetables and fruit"
" Earthworms that encounter polyurethane particles in soils can accumulate PBDEs. Earthworms are important to maintain healthy ecosystems and soils, particularly in agricultural regions. Worms aerate the soil through burrowing, process detritus, move the soil, and are a key food source for other animals. It is possible that PBDEs could be transferred in worms to other areas of soil and through the food web." 

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

"Biosolids" - The Big Lie - "linguistic detoxification"

Two ways of seeing: To see what is actually there or To see what we want to see.

There is a very real difference in perception, between those who support using "sewage sludge / biosolids" on farm and forest soils, and those who do not. This is based on two very different ways of looking at what this "material" actually is.

Those in favour of "land application" see merely organic matter along with some plant nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, and presumably, because it contains some human fecal matter, they see it as a form of manure. This is the initial "deception" ...

This limited view utterly ignores the actual make-up of this waste material. It is after all, the "stuff" taken out of the wastewater within these treatment facilities, in order to clean the water - purify it of its pollutants as much as possible, before the water is released back into the environment. This "stuff" therefore represents the collected and concentrated toxic waste eliminated from the liquid stream. It is a mirror of modern urban life - a goulash comprised of myriad pollutants - the remains of everything we flush away - cleaners, pharmaceuticals, dyes, solvents, microplastics and microfibers, fire retardants - you name it.  As Prof. Murray McBride, of Cornell University, says, it is "a material containing unknown concentrations of thousands of chemicals with undetermined toxicities."

"linguistic detoxification"

The second "lie" put forth by those who support "land application" is seeing "biosolids" as a substantially different material than "sewage sludge"

This perception is simply not borne out by the facts. The minimal "processing" done to the sludge - be it adding lime, or woodchips, and composting it - anaerobic or aerobic digestion, pelletizing it, or liquifying it - all of these are superficial treatments. The problematic constituents within this matrix of pollutants remains primarily the same. As numerous studies, including those of the US Geological Survey, have shown - thousands of chemicals remain in these so-called "biosolids" … 

 Microplastics? - Still present - ( "43% of microplastics that go down the drain eventually end up applied to agricultural land as biosolids." ) Nanomaterials? -Still present - (Uptake of Nanomaterials see - ). Endocrine disruptors like flame retardants? - Still present - (The U.S. Geological Survey scientists confirmed that rainfall mobilized chemicals (including detergents, fire retardants, plasticizers, and antibacterials) from municipal biosolids-amended agricultural fields, directly to runoff. Most (14 of 17) of the chemicals examined were present in edge-of-the-field runoff and not depleted in concentration after three 100-year rainfall events For more on this see - ). Prions? - Still present - ( "if prions were to enter municipal wastewater treatment systems, most of the agent would partition to activated sludge solids, survive mesophilic anaerobic digestion, and be present in treated biosolids.'' see - ) In fact some  problems like superbugs - antimicrobials, may even get worse through these processes (Antibiotic residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria - - "spreading of sewage sludge leads to a significant increase of ARG in the soil" )

To see this sludge then as a "soil amendment" is to make an absurd leap - both in logic and in language! The purveyors of this sludge, those in the biosolids business, have "greenwashed" the language, BUT there is simply no way that present-day science can "wash" away these thousands of chemicals. It is a waste product rich in pollutants. 

It is no surprise that many of those who oppose the spreading of this sludge on soils are professional biochemists and microbiologists. 

They see this "goulash" for what it really is - "a world of pollution in one product" (Dr. David Lewis). They know the dangers associated with this sludge, comprised of a great variety of toxins - a so-called "chemical cocktail." They know about the growing body of evidence describing increasing numbers of cancers arising from exposures to a multiplicity of toxins in low dose. As Dr Richard Honour has noted, "nearly all chronic diseases are caused by long-term exposure to low levels of environmental contaminants and pollutants. We should be trying to minimize this exposure, not amplifying it." More than probably any other waste substance on earth, Sewage sludge / "biosolids" represents a mind-boggling concentration of chemical contaminants.  The Halifax Project (174 scientists from prominent institutions in 28 countries) specifically investigated this problem - "Assessing the Carcinogenic Potential of Low Dose Exposures to Chemical Mixtures in the Environment" ( "chemicals may be capable of acting in concert with one another to cause cancer, even though low level exposures to these chemicals individually might not be carcinogenic. This is a paradigm shift in the field of toxicology and the research has now been published in Oxford's Carcinogenesis"
(it needs to be noted that the risk assessments, on which our various levels of government base their assurances of safety, do NOT look at either the synergies between these chemicals, nor at the issue of exposure to these "chemical cocktails" - instead they base safety solely on a 500 year old precept that only the single chemical dose makes the poison)

By contrast, the professionals who support this reckless land disposal are often soil scientists, agrologists and agronomists - whose knowledge of these chemical synergies noted above is limited by comparison. It should also be noted that these professions are financially tied to the spreading of these sewage wastes (under the guise of "fertilization"), as farmers or ranchers applying to use these wastewater sludges (biosolids) must include certification by a soil scientist, agronomist, or agrologist ... it is in the interest of these professions therefore that these practices continue. For many this deception represents their sole professional activity - a dreadful betrayal. Agronomists and Agrologists call themselves “keepers of the land”  - I think it is time they lived up to that name. It is time they stopped lining up at the Big Sludge money trough and started to defend the soils they proport to love. They are supposed to be guided by a code of ethics and be “responsible for protecting the interests of the public.” They claim to be “leaders in environmental sustainability” Well folks – spreading the toxic burden of our cities onto our farmlands and forests is not "environmental sustainability" - it is merely a form of toxin disposal - and it certainly does not protect the public.

We must open our eyes to what this material actually is - a pollutant-rich waste product, that has no business being disposed of on soils meant to sustain future generations. It is time to reject the deceptive PR machine behind this "biosolids business." This is NOT "green" or "sustainable" or "recycling" -  it is merely a cheap way of shifting our cities' pollutants.  As Dr. Sierra Rayne has noted - "The science doesn't support the disposal of sewage sludge across the landscape. The supposed benefits are more than offset by the risks to human and environmental health. An unimaginably large number of chemical and biological contaminants exist in these materials, and they persist in the product up to, and after, land disposal. Scientific investigations have identified only a tiny fraction of the total contaminant load. Governments are playing Russian roulette with sewage sludge. Over time, there is a high probability this game will be lost at the public's expense." (

 It is time to open your eyes folks! 

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Polluting for Profit - the "biosolids" business model.

Polluting for Profit - the "biosolids" business model.
It is hard to believe that in this age of hyper-awareness of environmental issues, and the growing sensitivity to the importance of the agricultural lands outside our urban centers, that there is a business that is centered around the transporting and disposing of toxic waste from urban areas to farms and forests. The success of this business has been based on keeping the general public, and those in the countryside where they were spreading the waste, in utter darkness as to the true nature of this practice.

Welcome to the "biosolids" business - purveyors of toxic sewage sludge.

Most wastewater treatment facilities do a fantastic job of cleaning our sewage water of pollutants before that water is introduced back into the environment. These facilities separate out and collect the pollutants that were originally in that sewage stream. These collected, and concentrated solids are called sewage sludge. It represents everything people pour down their sinks and goes down storm drains - cleaners, solvents, pharmaceuticals including cancer drugs, and of course poop, lots of poop.

The big problem for our modern cities is what to do with these piles of toxic goulash. In the past they simply emptied these residuals into the oceans and lakes, but that was outlawed with the Clean Water Acts - it was too toxic to dispose of in that manner. They tried burning it, but that too was too polluting - hence the Clean Air Acts. The disposal method of choice now is - "land application" - but wait a minute - isn't there a Clean Soils Act to protect the rural environment? If it was too toxic to burn or pour into waterways, how is it ok to spread over Mother Earth? Good question, and NO, our soils have no such protection against this onslaught of pollutants. So here we are - cities use the cheapest legal method to hand of disposing of our cities' toxic burden - trucking it out to the countryside - out of sight, out of mind.

This is where the "biosolids" business model comes into play - polluting for profit.

This business has set itself up as a middleman - offering our cities a way of getting rid of its pollutants. It merely needs to find someone willing to takes tons of waste, full of thousands (85,000+) of toxins, and spread it on their land. Job done.

How is this done?

Some municipalities actually buy hundreds or thousands of rural acres on which to spread this waste. Most however hire these "biosolids" companies, to hoodwink others to take this sludge.
Firstly, they need to convince farmers and ranchers, those with the acres of land, that the collected and concentrated residuals coming out of our waste treatment facilities, are actually a form of "fertilizer" and not really a pollutant-rich sludge.  Secondly, they need to convince the population, and the various levels of government, that the constant trucking out (at huge carbon emission cost) of all this toxic sewage waste into rural environments is a virtuous, green and sustainable practice. That is a heck of a spin! But that is just what they have done. We know too well - repeat a lie often enough and it will soon be believed.

The first thing the "biosolids" companies had to do was to change the term "sewage sludge" to "biosolids" ... slightly more appetizing, more pleasing to the ear, and more marketable from a PR point of view. They then began a campaign of misinformation - persuading people that "biosolids" was somehow, magically, a substantially different substance than mere sewage sludge. This was simply not true. Adding lime, or wood chips and subjecting it to a short, period of "composting" does not eliminate the vast majority of pollutants in the sludge. Calling it by a new name is merely putting lipstick on a pig. The next strategy was to coopt the language of the environmental movement. Presto! - this toxic goulash, the concentrated residuals from our treatment facilities became "compost" and an "organic amendment" and "green" and "sustainable" and part of a circular economy! This assault on language, and on logic has been staggering. Cloaked now in the language of environmentalism, and sporting all sorts of "green" names, the "biosolids" companies spread out across the provinces and states of North America looking for land to pollute, and suckers to accept toxic residuals under the guise of "fertilizer." As Deborah Koons Garcia,  the film Director of "Future of Food" and "Symphony of the Soil" said in a public speech on sewage sludge some years ago, "Turning agricultural lands to a toxic waste dump, I think, is a big mistake."
(Note too that sometimes, branded products containing sewage sludge are bagged up or sold in piles at nurseries or at city composting facilities.  Some is given away or sold as “compost.” Some is dried and made into pellets, bagged, and sold as fertilizer. Sometimes sludge is “blended” into bagged fertilizers. Labeling is vague, and the bags never tell you the full range of pollutants contained in the "medium." In BC, Nutifor, OgoGrow, NutriGrow are three examples of this to watch out for. For more on this see - )

Is this stuff really so bad?

Dr. David Lewis, a microbiologist, has said this sludge represents "a world of pollution in one product." Our sewers have become the "super-highways" for our cities' toxic wastes. We are now at a point in history where we are potentially exposed to some 85,000+ man-made chemicals. Most of these will eventually find their way to our sewer systems. Many of these are endocrine-disrupters or carcinogenic. Our sewage system was built to collect almost everything that goes down the drain, which creates a dangerous cocktail of domestic, commercial, hospital, industry and street run-off sources of sewage and septic sludges - things like solvents, PCBs, dioxins, metals, pharmaceuticals, microplastics, flame retardants, superbugs & prions.

But surely they test this sewage muck for possible problems?

Canadian and American governing bodies can't assure the safety of using "biosolids" on soils.
Here's Why -
The sad truth is that out of the thousands of pollutants in biosolids, they only test for about a dozen pollutants - mostly metals. On top of this, it may come as a surprise that both the CCME (Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment)  and in BC, OMRR (Organic Matter Recycling Regulation), rely on incomplete, outdated and faulty risk assessments to assure the public of the safety of its "biosolids" programs.

This past November in the USA, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), published a notice ( saying it could no longer assure the public that biosolids were safe. They admit they do not know the risks involved with spreading hundreds of pollutants onto farm soils - they identified 352 toxins of special note. "EPA scientists said that without completing risk assessments on all of the pollutants found in biosolids they cannot say whether biosolids are safe … the biosolids program is at risk of not achieving its goal to protect public health and the environment." Canada also lacks data on these same pollutants, and needs to make a similar public statement - safety cannot be assured.

There is a more sinister issue here however. Imagine putting thousands of pollutants together in one substance, as is done with "biosolids." Now you don't have to be a chemist, to guess that something might just happen within that toxic mixture. In fact, the analysis of these hazards and the risk assessment strategies based on chemical mixtures is one of the hot topics in environmental and human health research today.

Since Paracelsus (born in 1493) stated “the dose makes the poison,” this idea has formed the basis for the regulation of toxic chemicals, including the use of pesticides and pharmaceuticals. We now know that the truth of this observation is incomplete. It is not only the dose, but also the type of chemical, the timing of exposure, the combination of chemicals and individual risk factors that combine to produce toxic effects. Sadly, our government bases its risk assessment solely on this 500 year old perspective. Please note that CCME and OMRR (and the EPA in the USA) make no attempt to look at this issue of exposure to multiple pollutants, nor to the possible synergies between pollutants when evaluating the safety of "biosolids." Instead, they rely simply on the rudimentary risk framework of Paracelsus - and look at individual toxin levels - which admittedly, are usually, (though not always see Suzuki Foundation toxin tests of Biosolids -, in low levels individually.

A new study (January, 2019 has just been published by a group of scientists from various universities around the UK, which has clearly demonstrated the danger of this "cocktail mix" of pollutants found in all biosolids - it is titled - "Long-term exposure to chemicals in sewage sludge fertilizer alters liver lipid content in females and cancer marker expression in males" As it states,  "this study shows that chronic EC (environmental chemical) exposure, via sewage sludge, at concentrations and complexity relevant to humans ... is a significant contributor to abnormal liver physiology and … causes major physiological changes in the liver, likely to affect multiple systems in the body and which may predispose individuals to increased disease risks"  (Note that the UK, and the EU generally, have tougher pollutant guidelines than we do in North America for "biosolids" - they followed the "biosolids" application rules … and still the sheep began to show abnormalities).

As the scientists taking part in the "Halifax Project" have shown, it is the exposure to a variety of toxins in low-dose that can cause cancer. (The Halifax Project took place between 2012 and 2015 and it involved more than 350 cancer researchers and physicians from 31 countries …  focused on the carcinogenic potential of low dose exposures to mixtures of chemicals in the environment - see The absurd situation we have operating within the "biosolids business" is that we have soil specialists, agronomists etc. determining the safety of something they are utterly unqualified to make such pronouncements about - this is more properly the purview of chemists, doctors, and oncologists.

 The testing regime employed by this waste disposal practice, is wholly inadequate, and done by those actually involved in the business of pushing this "product" on people with little or no knowledge of what they are actually putting on their lands. As Dr. Rayne, a microbiologist who has written on the particular issue of flame retardants in biosolids,  has noted, "An unimaginably large number of chemical and biological contaminants exist in these materials, and they persist in the product up to, and after, land disposal. Scientific investigations have identified only a tiny fraction of the total contaminant load. We cannot even say with any degree of confidence what the true range of contaminant risk is from the sludge ... Governments are playing Russian roulette with sewage sludge. Over time, there is a high probability this game will be lost at the public's expense." (see

Is this just a small issue blown out of proportion by a few noisy activists?

The "biosolids" business thrives in darkness. Pushing poop and pollutants is not usually a topic for everyday conversation, and these companies try hard to keep it quiet. However, there is growing opposition to this reckless practice. These are not the beliefs of some fringe group. Organizations like the Suzuki Foundation for instance, has stated - "The David Suzuki Foundation does not support the dumping of sewage sludge, treated or otherwise, on farm land.  The potential of heavy metal and chemical contamination of crops grown in soils that are “conditioned” with sludge from sewage treatment plants, and the potential for impacts on animal and human health from consuming those crops, raises concerns." So too, the Sierra Club has made the following assertion - "Contaminants in wastewater residuals such as sewage sludge threaten our food and health." Similarly scientists from some of the best institutions in the USA and Canada have asserted their opposition to land-disposed "biosolids."

 Prof. Murray McBride, Cornell University has noted that - "Once contaminated … the contamination will remain for decades or centuries" and, "Is it reasonable to conclude that there is little or no risk of land-applying a material (biosolids) containing unknown concentrations of thousands of chemicals with undetermined toxicities?"

 Prof. Jordan Peccia- Yale University states that - "biosolids contain heavy metals, hazardous organic chemicals, microbial pathogens, and antibiotic resistant bacteria … Metals and organic chemicals that resist biological mineralization can sorb to solid particles and also accumulate in sludge. These include polybrominated flame retardants, pharmaceuticals like Prozac and Tagamet, human hormones such as estrogen, antibiotics, narcotics including cocaine, and the metabolites of these compounds."

To get Organic Certification, farmers must prove that "biosolids" have not been used on the soils they grow their foods in, or graze their animals on. Food companies like  Heinz, Campbell’s, DelMonte, and Whole Foods, do not accept produce that is grown on land treated with biosolids. They consider it potentially toxic.

Many European countries are making great strides to shift away from this reckless practice. Switzerland has completely banned the use of biosolids on agricultural soils because of "the risk of irreversible damage to the soil, the danger to public health and possible negative effects on the quality of the food farmers produce"

The Swedish Government has recently noted that - "since biosolids contain environmental and health hazardous substances, drug residues and microplastics, our task force will propose a ban on spreading sewage sludge on farmland"

So too, the German Environment Agency recently stated that - "With the precautionary principle and in light of the pollutants found in biosolids, we deem the agricultural use of biosolids to be a serious public health & environmental hazard & advocate that this practice be phased out"

If we can't pour it in our oceans and lakes any more, or spread it thinly over our soils and hope for the best … what can be done with it?

Many countries have moved away from this reckless approach and are embracing new greener technologies. The goal should be not just to stop the present madness, but to "mine" this waste resource for its valuable content - things like nitrogen, phosphorus, and biogas / biocrude can be harvested from this sludge. Switzerland, Germany and Sweden for instance, have written legislation that requires this be done. Clean methods of incineration, as well as gasification and pyrolysis are approaches being adopted by countries around the world.

Think for a moment about just how absurd this "biosolids" business model really is. The wastewater treatment facilities have spent a great deal of time and effort collecting, concentrating, and segregating the pollutants out of the water ... so why on earth would we turn around and put those piles of toxins back into the environment we just eliminated them from? That is truly a short-sighted practice that merely supports a business model based on "pushing" pollution. Situating a gasification / pyrolysis (or clean incineration) plant directly beside the water facility would dramatically cut trucking costs, and cut the huge carbon emissions this constant transport inevitably involves.

An example of gasification - producing energy and biochar - Tennessee Gasification plant
An example from the UK - gasification of sludge - Yorkshire Water's Gasification Plant 
Pyrolysis of sewage sludge - syngas and biochar - Pyrochar - Cordis Europe 
There are new solutions appearing almost daily - We can make BRICKS out of biosolids, or we can
PAVE ROADS with it. Making Bio-Crude is also an option. These are just a few possibilities.

It is time we put an end to land disposal of our cities' toxic sewage waste. It is time we expose this "biosolids" business model for what it is - merely a method of toxin dispersal - reckless and short-sighted. It is time our cities embraced a truly "green" approach to dealing with its pollutants - trucking it out to rural landscapes is no longer acceptable!