Sunday, 18 February 2018

Sewer Sludge / Biosolids & Plant Uptake of Toxins

Sewer Sludge / Biosolids & Plant Uptake of Toxins

(PPCP'S = pharmaceutical and personal care products)

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 80,000 man-made chemicals  (see Most of these will eventually find their way to our sewer systems. Many of these are endo-disrupters or carcinogenic. Because our waste-water treatment facilities work so very well, these toxins generated in our modern cities are collected and concentrated in the residual sludges. These are then disposed of on our farms, ranches and forests - under the guise of "fertilization." 

Just being exposed to this fast quantity and variety of toxins is dangerous in itself  - cancer specialists more and more are seeing exposure to a multiplicity of low-dose chemicals as a leading cause of our accelerating cancer rates (see- Worrying too, is the ability of plants growing in these compromised soils, to take these dangerous toxins up into their roots, stalks, and leaves. They then are taken up by insects, birds, and animals.

Plant uptake is not just a theoretical possibility; it has been demonstrated in various papers since the 1980s, and there is mounting evidence of the dangers this poses. 

Recent science has proved the potential dangers to be very real -  

"This study demonstrates the ability of plants to uptake PPCPs (pharmaceutical and personal care products) from soils that have been applied with biosolids or irrigated with PPCPs contaminated water. The plant uptake of PPCPs depends on their physicochemical properties (and) interaction with the substrate, and introducing pathways. The potential for PPCPs to enter the plant presents concerns for their phyto-toxicity. Negative effects to plants have been observed for several pharmaceuticals at environmentally relevant concentrations Accumulation of PPCPs through the food chain could also pose potential risks to species consuming plant parts, including humans."
(Uptake of Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products by Soybean Plants from Soils Applied with Biosolids and Irrigated with Contaminated Water C H E N X I W U , A L I S O N L . S P O N G B E R G , J A S O N D . W I T T E R ,M I N F A N G ,AND K E V I N P . C Z A J K O W S K I Department of Environmental Sciences, and Department of Geography and Planning, University of Toledo, 2010)

A study from 2014 clearly linked land-applied biosolids to the food-chain - 

"Pharmaceuticals have been detected in the soil environment where there is the potential for uptake into crops. This study explored the fate and uptake of pharmaceuticals (carbamazepine, diclofenac, fluoxetine, propranolol, sulfamethazine) and a personal care product (triclosan) in soil–plant systems using radish (Raphanus sativus) and ryegrass (Lolium perenne). Five of the six chemicals were detected in plant tissue.... all pharmaceuticals were still detectable in the pore water at the end of the experiment. The results demonstrate the ability of plant species to accumulate pharmaceuticals from soils with uptake apparently specific to both plant species and chemical."
(Fate and Uptake of Pharmaceuticals in Soil–Plant Systems- Laura J. Carter, Eleanor Harris, Mike Williams, Jim J. Ryan, Rai S. Kookana, and Alistair B. A. Boxall - Environment Department, University of York, U.K.)

The uptake of metals poses a very serious threat, and has been looked at in several studies - 

"Thus application of sewage sludge to agricultural soil may result in elevated concentrations of toxic metals, which may then threaten ground water quality and lead to food chain contamination" (Selivanovskaya and Latypova, 2003; Singh et al., 2004). Evidences for metal percolation have been reported in numerous long-term sludge application experiments (Streck and Richter, 1997). Heavy metal contamination due to sludge application has received much attention due to concerns regarding uptake by plants and contamination of groundwater or surface waters (Cunningham et al., 1975). Heavy metals are often highly persistent in soil, with residence times as long as thousands of years (Alloway, 1990). Metals applied with sewage sludge may be retained in the soil as a result of their adsorption on hydrous oxides, clays, and organic matter; the formation of insoluble salts; or the presence of residual sewage sludge particles (Alloway and Jackson, 1991) Moreover, soil CaCO3 has often been found to increase soil metal retention (Raikhy and Takkar, 1983). Heavy metal accumulation in soils can result in a loss of soil functions leading to concerns about environmental quality protection, maintenance of human health and productivity. Soil pollution can have implications in phytotoxicity at high concentrations and result in the transfer of heavy metals to the human diet from crop uptake or soil ingestion by grazing livestock (Pendias and Pendias, 2001; Nicholson et al., 2003; Pendias and Mukherjee, 2007).

A study (2012) from Scientists at the University of Aberdeen "studying sheep maintained on pastures fertilized with sewage sludge (biosolids) ... found a high incidence of abnormalities in the animals." As the article states, "It is our opinion that all spreading of sewage sludge, humanure and biosolids on agricultural land in the UK should be stopped until it is PROVED to be safe"

Microplastics are the new ticking timebomb, and they are present not only in our oceans but also, because of land disposal of sewer sludge (biosolids), they are of growing concern for the safety of our food crops.

"Some microplastics exhibit properties that might have direct damaging effects on ecosystems. For instance, the surfaces of tiny fragments of plastic may carry disease-causing organisms and act as a vector that transmits diseases in the environment. Microplastics can also interact with soil fauna, affecting their health and soil functions. Earthworms, for example, make their burrows differently when microplastics are present in the soil, affecting the earthworm's fitness and the soil condition."

"Waste water treatment plants receive large amounts of microplastics emitted from households, industry and surface run-off in urban areas. Most of these microplastics accumulate in the sewage sludge...Microplastics are however not currently on the regulatory agenda for the use of sludge in agriculture. The potential consequences for sustainability and food security have not been adequately analyzed."

A recent Study from Ireland (2017) concluded that, "metals, microplastics, and pharmaceutical and personal-care products can enter the food chain when biosolids are applied repeatedly

In Germany, Prof. Rillig and his lab are studying microplastics in soils. As he points out, the "majority of them wind up in wastewater at some point ...That means one pathway into the soil is already certain: It is spread over the fields with sludge and then later worked deep into the soil by agricultural machinery ... What worries him is that microplastics could break down into smaller and smaller fragments over time, forming nanoplastics. ...We know that plants absorb nanoparticles through their roots, and that they can reach as far as the leaves ... That would mean plastic was entering our food chain not only through fish and other seafood, but also through agricultural products" 

Uptake of Nanomaterials - see -
"The rapid development of nanotechnology raises the risk of discharge of engineered nanoparticles into the environment and the soil–plant system. One is through the agricultural application of sewage sludges"

The dangers are very real. The sludge industry, and those in academia who support this reckless practice, claim that safety can be guaranteed because the amount of each toxin is so small. However, as a recent article outlines, this approach to "risk assessment" is utterly incapable of making declarations of safety. It is out-dated and faulty. The very limited testing done on contaminants in our sewage residuals relies on the old-fashioned single toxicity methodology. Peter Montague, who has co-authored two books on toxic heavy metals, has outlined the many problems with this approach.  "Risk assessments have no reliable way to evaluate simultaneous exposures to multiple chemicals. Therefore, they create an imaginary world with a single-chemical exposure. In this imaginary world, a chemical exposure can be declared "safe" even though it actually may be quite harmful when combined with other exposures."
Keep in mind that land-applied municipal sewage sludge (biosolids) is a highly complex and unpredictable mixture of biological and chemical pollutants. Experts suggest that biosolids generated in our large industrialized urban centers is very likely the most pollutant- rich waste mixture of the 21st century. Obviously single-chemical exposure is completely irrelevant here.

There is sufficient evidence that we must apply the Precautionary Principle in order to protect our food supply. Our soils, as much as our air and our rivers, lakes and oceans, need to be protected for future generations. It is time to stop disposing of our sewer wastes on soils meant to sustain us! 

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."
"All human activities affecting the soil must always take into account that it is scarcely possible to generate new soil because soil formation takes a very long time. Soil is an inert medium that takes a long time to respond to exogenous influences, which means that problems are only recognised later and often too late. Soil is the final repository for pollutants, which means that chemical pollution is often irreversible. That is why only structurally intact soil can function properly."
"Precautionary measures must be taken to protect fertile soil - irrespective of its use - from physical, chemical and biological pressures."
"Like water, air, and forests, soil is a common good, which may be used but not destroyed by its owner. Anyone who uses the soil is also responsible for protecting it."
"Chemical soil contamination impairs soil fertility. It leads to defects in plant growth and causes health risks for humans and animals through the consumption of contaminated harvested products, polluted groundwater and direct contact with soil (e.g. by playing children)."
(For more on the Swiss concepts of soil protection see -