If a State/Province, County or Municipality provides Toxic Sewage Sludge to foresters, farmers, sludge brokers and composters at no apparent cost to the user/consumer, or at minimal cost, and if that farmer benefits from using the no-cost or low-cost Toxic Sewage Sludge as a fertilizer replacement, what then is the cost to us for what he gets for free, or nearly free?
How much does Free cost?
Free is not without cost, and may result in extreme cost.
The payers or victims of this practice are the people and the environment who suffer extreme costs in the form of the adverse consequences of long-term exposure to low levels of environmental contaminants and pollutants, which manifest as killed soil, ecosystem disruption, GHG emissions, filthy food, and the endless list of human chronic diseases, as well as the associated healthcare costs (Good for healthcare providers and insurance carriers; very bad for us).
The cost of free is very high.
The University of Washington already proved after 20+ years of forestry research that (in the recent words of a Forest Management executive), ‘… no tree ever benefitted from applied sewage sludge.’ Thus, forest dumping of sewage sludge is no more than forest disposal of sewage sludge, without exception!
Who benefits if the apparent Cost is Free?
Who pays the Cost of Free?
Reading the URL links below makes us even more enlightened, when the reports are considered from the perspective of the Free Sewage Sludge market in which we live. Free ‘Nitrogen Content’ or ‘Free Micronutrients’ are without meaning when balanced against the human and environmental health costs, seen or unseen, i.e., the Externalities.
If nothing else, the North American Alliance for Clean land (NAACL) should take on the crucial project of performing an economic evaluation of the true costs of Free (or low-cost) Sewage Sludge, and of Land-Disposed Toxic Sewage Sludge, in general.
Personally, I have never encountered an economic analysis of the true costs for exposing human populations and the environment to wholesale Toxic Sewage Sludge Disposal (No; processing at a POTW or WWTP does not render Toxic Sewage Sludge as being ‘treated’ or ‘safe;’ it remains as Toxic Sewage Sludge). And in this context, I include all of the other toxic wastes that are or may be part of the sewage sludge milieu, and that may be disposed on any land, anywhere, for any cause or reason.
We may have to change the game and stop looking at a few dead birds or fish, and some contaminated air and water, and the very ill humans who are the targeted victims, and direct our undivided attention to the economic Externalities, which, from the perspective of economics, describes for us all of the costs of open dumping of toxic waste into our living environment, no matter what may be the resulting added direct dollar cost to farmers, if they may have to switch to commercial fertilizer – like, who really cares; I will be happy to pay more for clean and safe veggies, air and water. I want my kids and grandkids to safe and healthy, not victim of the sewage sludge cartel.
My prediction is that a formal economic analysis of the real costs of open dumping of toxic sewage sludge, by any name, including with a major emphasis on the Externalities, will show that the US, as a nation, can no longer afford this ill practice. We are experiencing a major explosion in chronic diseases in the US and the rest of the world, because as populations increase/accelerate, and wastes accumulate/accelerate, and tobacco, alcohol and drug-use proliferate, all within a booming industrial expansion, our exposures to toxic wastes accelerate in parallel.
At least taking on the toxic sewage sludge element of this global horror will give us something useful to do, whereby a positive change can be observed and measured.
Solution? Switching from land-disposal of toxic wastes, including sewage sludge, as just one bad example, to Thermal Decomposition of all toxic wastes, using available enhanced technologies, will save countless lives, if you think that is worth doing. Why else are we doing this?
The resulting new awareness of the actual cost redistribution, or cost shift model, will be that the costs are shifted to the health insurance and healthcare provider industries (one and the same), not to farmers or foresters. We will continue to pay for any and all Land-Disposed Sewage Sludge, but now as higher health insurance premiums, not as actual costs for diagnosis and treatment of the directly-associated diseases.
The Objective must be the Abolition of Land-Disposed Toxic Sewage Sludge and other Toxic Wastes, purely as a function of the economic incentives provided by improvements in human and environmental health.
Richard Honour (June 5/2016)