Friday 8 January 2016

The Art of Pushing Toxic Waste

The Art of Pushing Toxic Waste

When you look at the webpages of those whose business it is to sell on the "residuals" coming out of the sewer treatment plants - sewer sludge - one cannot but wonder at the use and abuse of the language they employ. Let me state clearly that what they are pushing is NOT "green" or "sustainable" or "organic" or "beneficial" - it is simply a form of toxin dispersal throughout the countryside. It is a sales job. It is mutton dressed as lamb.

The cities' sewage treatment facilities produce vast mounds of muck and they need to dispose of it. Farms and forests are being used as places to thinly spread out these toxic piles. Yes, the stuff does have some nitrogen, phosphorous and organic matter; however, along with this comes all the other chemicals and toxins a city puts down its sewers. Some nasties get removed, but many do not.

So I ask, why are rural folks being asked to take on the toxic burden produced by these cities? Why are we polluting the air by trucking all this waste for miles into the countryside? Why are we allowing these toxins, which we have just carefully removed in these facilities, to be put back into the environment? Why are farmers and ranchers told only half the story, only to find, after a few applications, that their soils are building up a load of pharmaceuticals, hormones and steroids - something they never wanted to leave for the next generation!

Why are we not using this sludge as an energy resource, ridding us of the toxin burden while returning energy to the grid? Pyrolysis and gasification are viable cost-effective options that will do just that!

It is frustrating to research the effects of land-application of sewer sludge. Initial searches will yield up mostly government sites promoting the activity as this is often the cheapest disposal method to hand. Also, you'll find academic studies done by university labs in conjunction with individuals from the sludge industry itself - who of course are focused on justifying their own business interests, and therefore influencing research outcomes.

Digging deeper one can find proper arm's-length science which will tell a very different story: using sewer sludge (biosolids) as a fertilizer in this way is a reckless practice, short-sighted, and unsustainable.

 A great deal of objective science coming out recently - specifically regarding namomaterials, PBDEs, prions, and superbugs are telling us just how dangerous biosolids can be. These articles point out repeatedly how there are a great many unknowns and problematic issues with biosolids, and therefore many scientists urge a universal moratorium on this method of toxin dispersal. Where human health (and that of the environment) is in jeopardy, it is best to employ a precautionary principle.

One of the biggest worries is that sewer sludge has a potential for spreading low-level toxicity throughout the environment - cancer-causing elements, prions, hormones - which have a long latency period and only manifest themselves in the affected population many years in the future (asbestos is such an interesting parallel with its long latency period before symptoms show - even today in the UK more individuals are dying yearly from asbestos than from all road deaths combined - and remember too that for decades governments and scientists told the public that asbestos was perfectly safe - just as they are assuring us of biosolids' safety today!). As Dr. Richard Honour (Washington State) has pointed out, "Few in any governments appreciate that nearly all chronic diseases are caused by long-term exposure to low levels of environmental contaminants and pollutants." It seems our various levels of government are interested only in avoiding scandals during their short terms in office and have little interest in tackling real issues like this one.


So I ask you, what are we being exposed to now that we will be paying for in the future? Is it not wise to be limiting these toxins rather than spreading them back into the environment? These concerns are not addressed by the rather facile mantra of the sludge industry that no one yet had been proved to be sick from this method of toxin dispersal. Rather than blunder forward with this reckless practice, I really think the energy-producing alternatives are the clear "green" and healthy choice for communities interested in protecting their futures.