Sunday, 19 November 2017

Why we must end the land-disposal of sewer sludge aka “biosolids”

Switzerland has completely banned the use of sewer sludge aka "biosolids" on agricultural soils. They took this stand 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 precautionary principle has absolute priority in soil protection." … "Soil is a limited, ecologically and economically valuable non-renewable resource. Along with water and air, it is essential for life.”  We must stop the sludge industry from calling this toxic goulash a “soil amendment.”  As Dr. Caroline Snyder has noted - "Land-applied municipal sewage sludge (biosolids) is a highly complex and unpredictable mixture of biological and chemical pollutants. Biosolids generated in our large industrialized urban centers is very likely the most pollutant- rich waste mixture of the 21st century."

Safety testing, by biosolids scientists, looks merely at single chemical toxicity amounts. This is faulty, simplistic, and outdated. 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 is that we have soil specialists, agronomists etc. determining the safety of something they are utterly unqualified to make such pronouncements about - this is the purview of chemists, doctors/oncologists.

Ignoring this problem may be a very grave mistake indeed. As Dr. Rayne 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 … You are not going to find a problem if you don't look for it. Of course, over time, that problem may also come looking for you … 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 )

The sludge industry has co-opted much of the language of sustainability. This however is an unwarranted annexation. Land disposal is not "recycling"; it is simply transferring a complex mixture of toxic chemicals and pathogens from our large industrialized urban centers to farms and forests. The spreading of a city’s toxic burden onto rural areas can’t be seen as “green” in any way. The constant trucking of thousands of tons of sewage waste into the countryside represents a huge CO2 release into our already compromised environment. Imagine the savings if a gasification plant were to be situated directly beside the waste water treatment facilities!

The issue of Prions in Biosolids represents such a grave danger that the precautionary principle must apply. A recent and alarming publication by Valerius Geist, Professor Emeritus, University of Calgary David Clausen, (former) Chair, Wisconsin Natural Resources Board Vince Crichton, (former) Co-Chair, Canada’s National Wildlife Disease Strategy Darrel Rowledge, Director, Alliance for Public Wildlife) made the following observations - "Normal sewage treatments do not degrade or inactivate prions: “most would partition to activated sludge solids, survive mesophilic anaerobic digestion, and be present in treated biosolids."  … “CWD is certainly the most contagious prion infection, with infected animals shedding prions from every orifice." … "CWD has been shown to persist and remain infectious in the environment. CWD prions adhere to minerals such as montmorillonite (Mte) in clay-based soils that can dramatically increase infectivity, up to 680 times" … "Transmission of CWD has been shown to occur: animal to animal, soil to animal, plants to animal, soil to plants to animal" … "This underscores the very essence of the precautionary principle, and nowhere is it more requisite than with respect to infectious pathogens. Inadequate policy or regulatory failures can result in pandemics that kill thousands or even millions of people or other animals, causing enormous damage on economies and ecosystems.”  (

Superbugs are emerging as a serious threat and they are found in these waste residuals
. Sewage sludge/biosolids contain a  largely unknown number of bacterial and viral pathogenic organisms, protozoan and other parasites as well as prions. What is often never discussed in the pro-sludge and biosolids literature is the fact that ALL sewage treatment plants in the world, including all secondary and tertiary treatment plants breed Superbugs or multi-drug resistant bacteria, (Y. Luo et al, Environmental Sci. Technol. Lett. 2014, 1, 26-30; A. McGlashen, Sci.Am. 2017, 01/18.) The reason is simply the fact that antibiotics end up in sewage and during the treatment process with bacteria, the bacteria that acquire antibiotic resistance will get selected in the presence of antibiotics in the sewage. These and other Superbugs make their way into the sewage treatment plants from the hospitals, homes and industrial facilities and so it makes sense that we should not spread them or plasmids containing the genes for this resistance on the land where they can further contaminate and multiply their resistance genes. (see also "Deadly superbugs from hospitals get stronger in the sewers" )

We have better methods of dealing with our cities’ toxic sewage waste. Gasification / pyrolysis is by far the best, cleanest option to date. As Yale professor Jordan Peccia has noted, gasification “can destroy pathogens and mineralize persistent organic chemical contaminants, while producing energy and concentrating valuable metals and inorganic chemicals.” These units have been up and running for well over a decade in Austria, Italy, Germany, Thailand, Korea, Sweden, and the USA.

Rarely has there been a less regulated toxic substance. Every aspect of the process, from site selection to application procedures, to the toxic composition of the sludge itself — all of it is woefully under-supervised. In fact, to a great extent it relies on self-regulation. OMRR guidelines (and the EPA's) are simply inadequate to deal with emerging environmental issues or ensure public safety. If the product is as the gov’t says, “stringently regulated”, then why out of the thousands of toxins and chemicals in biosolids are only about a dozen tested for? How, if it is so “stringently regulated,” did the Suzuki Foundation recently find very toxic components in the bisosolids delivered to the Nicola Valley from the Lower Mainland? If biosolids are deemed to be “safe” then why do major food producers like Campbells, DelMonte and Whole Foods reject any produce raised with Biosolids? Because they rightly fear the levels of toxicity, that’s why! The Water Utilities do a great job of separating the dangerous chemicals out of the water, so that water can be returned to Mother Earth. Why would we ever think it a good idea to turn around and put those collected and concentrated toxins back into the environment we just took them out of? It is reckless and short-sighted.

ike the Halifax Project with its 300+ cancer doctors) are trying to get the world to acknowledge. The absurd situation is that we have soils specialists, agronomists etc determining the safety of something they are utterly unqualified to make such pronouncements about - this is the realm of chemists, doctors, oncologists ...ike the Halifax Project with its 300+ cancer doctors) are trying to get the world to acknowledge. The absurd situation is that we have soils specialists, agronomists etc determining the safety of something they are utterly unqualified to make such pronouncements about - this is the realm of chemists, doctors, oncologists ...

Dr. Thomas Maler“it seems obvious that application of sewage sludge/biosolids on the land is not the answer to dispose of these toxins and pathogens … Not putting this toxic soup on the land is the only way of protecting our environment and that’s the primary reason for treating our sewage in the first place.” (see for Dr. Maler's overview of the issues) 

Dr. Richard Honour - "Few in any governments appreciate that 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. It is time to end land disposal of Toxic Sewer sludge, and look at cleaner, greener alternatives - gasification / pyrolysis."