Wednesday 12 February 2020

Open Letter by Biochemist Dr. Thomas Maler - On the "Biosolids" Issue

Open Letter - on the topic of relaxing the ban on sewage sludge/biosolids spreading on the land

After much research and consultation, the CRD is about to reverse a previous decision made sometime around 2011 that protects our environment, watershed and the health of rural residents.  The earlier decision banned the application of toxic biosolids on land. What has changed since that earlier vote is that more is known about the toxicity levels contained in sludge/biosolids, and that other communities are using far superior methods that cost a fraction of what we're going to pay and they completely save the environment from toxins.

The value of biosolids as a fertilizer for trees is more than offset by the highly toxic nature of biosolids, which contain up to 85,000 different virtually indestructible chemicals, superbugs (multi-drug resistant bacteria) which breed in all sewage treatment plants, micro-plastics and micro-fibres which absorb many toxins on their surface.  The plants grown on sludge contaminated lands take up these chemicals which then end up in our food and the effluent from those lands contaminates our streams, rivers and oceans, including the fish we eat. 

A recent 2019 study shows that POPs (persistent organic pollutants) in the root level of sewage treated soils indicate extremely high stability and low degradability of a large variety of these chemicals.

A January 2020 study from France indicates that chemical pollution has reached unprecedented levels with every child being born “precontaminated” with hundreds of chemicals many of which can interfere with brain development. These epigenetic interactions are now being increasingly researched and documented. The chemicals get into our environment and into our bodies via industrial and urban waste water treatment plants and via the use of sewage sludge on the land as fertilizer. 

A recent paper described a group of 4700 man made chemicals called PFAS. They are used in a wide variety of consumer products and industrial applications and they have been implicated in developmental defects in unborn child. Reuse of sewage sludge as fertilizer has led to PFAS pollution of soil and water in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and the US. 
“The new European Commission is finally recognizing the need to strive for a non-toxic environment.” 

Many countries in Europe, including Switzerland, Sweden and Germany are turning away from this polluting strategy and banning the use of biosolids on the land. So why are we choosing such an environmentally damaging strategy when there are much better and safer ways to turn sewage sludge into energy. 

Furthermore, why are we choosing much more expensive process that only turns half of the energy in sludge into methane and the other leftover half is being shipped to kilns in Richmond. The CRD has environmentally damaging plan to spray the sludge on the land for 6 weeks of the year when the cement kilns are shut down. The New York/New Jersey metropolitan area(s) have a lowest cost plan to dispose of their sludge/biosolids in a gasifier being built by Aries Clean Energy at Aries Linden Roselle Sewerage Authority in Linden NJ. The cost for the Aries Linden facility will be US$50 million and it will serve population of 13.5 million people. This plant will operate only on sewage sludge with no need to build hugely expensive anaerobic digesters and will be in full operation in Q4 of 2020 . 

In contrast the cost for the  CRD system will be Can$ 330 million and the system will only turn 50% of the amount of sludge into energy ie. methane and will serve population of 368,000 people. In contrast the NJ gasifier will cost only a fraction (6%) of  what the CRD will pay, while serving a population 37 times larger. 

I understand that the CRD had two beneficial use proposals to build gasifiers to turn biosolids into electricity, but those proposals were not chosen. In fact, a lot of taxpayers money could have been saved by not building anaerobic digesters and simply gasifying sewage sludge directly. That approach would also provide a permanent solution so it would not have to be shipped anywhere. The sludge could be stored until the gasifier is built and that would satisfy the ministers requirement for beneficial use.

A more detailed review of this topic can be found here:

Thomas Maler, Ph.D

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