Friday, 8 January 2016

Battle Background Part Two

 Battle Background Part Two
I thought it was time for a little information and clarification about how things stand with the biosolids issue. Some in the community have expressed the opinion that this issue is over, the threat ended. This is far from true. The five local chiefs are presently meeting with the government to discuss the complexities of this problem. The chiefs are at these meetings to make sure the moratorium is respected, and no further biosolids will be sent into this valley. The government is at these meetings in an attempt to find a means to renew the hauling of biosolids into the area. At best we are at a standstill. It need hardly be said that should talks break down, for whatever reason, that we will be back out at the "blockade" sites enforcing the moratorium!
Meanwhile, the great dedication and energy of our local TNRD rep’s Randy Murray and Herb Graham, has successfully swayed a vast number of BC Regional rep’s to support changes to the way biosolids are managed in BC. Going forward, the government in office may or may not accept their suggested changes to these guidelines. We certainly hope they will listen to our elected representatives!


As more and more people around the province (and indeed around the world) are becoming aware of the dangers inherent in the disposal of the sewage sludge in the form of biosolids, onto agricultural and forest lands, other options are gaining traction! One of these, pyrolysis, is being looked at by many communities (including the recent contract signed between Kore Infrastructure and the city of Los Angeles) as a cleaner (almost zero emissions) solution that can actually pay for itself, put energy back into the grid, and not jeopardize future generations with an unnecessary toxic burden.
The Friends of the Nicola Valley Society is still growing, with the Facebook page membership around 1700 strong. The FB page and website ( continue to serve our community (and many other groups around North America battling the same issue) by publishing related news, local updates and scientific articles.
I am happy to be able to announce that we will be having our 1st Year Anniversary potluck and fundraiser event on January 30, 2016 from 5-11pm at the Civic Centre. Everyone is welcome to this great evening of entertainment and community building! We will be posting more information about the bands and entertainers as the date nears.
Our essential message has not changed since the start of our campaign: the land application of sewer sludge (as biosolids) must cease, and other, greener and sustainable methods of dealing with waste should be pursued. The government has a duty to act with precaution when the health of its citizens (and the health of the environment) is threatened. There is sufficient evidence from objective, arm’s length studies, that biosolids do indeed pose a serious risk. And by the way, it bears repeating that it is the rural folks who are being asked to carry the burden of this risk. It is the cities that profit by this method of cheap toxin dispersal throughout the countryside. It is after all their sewage, loaded with their pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals, street drugs, and all manner of toxins that we out here in the country are being asked to accommodate. This just is not fair. It is time for change, and we will be standing firm to make this happen.

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.


The scoop on your poop

The scoop on your poop

I lived in Vancouver for many years, and I really didn’t think about where things went after I flushed. Living out in the countryside, as I do now, I soon found out! Vancouver’s so-called green solution is to truck out its not-so-green problem to other parts of the province.

Vancouver likes to think it is a world-class city, but in fact it is employing a very dirty solution to a problem that should be dealt with according to industry best practices, as carried out in many parts of Europe—clean incineration, with a net gain of energy to the grid. Trucking out its sewer sludge is the cheap option—not the healthiest, and not the greenest.

Nowhere in Vancouver can you let your doggie have a poop without picking up after it, yet somehow it is right and proper that all that human big-city poop should be trucked out of Vancouver and deposited all over Nicola Valley’s farms, ranches, and forests. The use of “biosolids” in this way is not about recycling—it is simply the spreading of toxins throughout the environment. We worked so hard to perfect the water treatment systems in our cities, to separate the nasty chemicals from our waste water, and yet here we are recklessly putting that very toxic goulash back into the environment. This is short-sighted and reckless.

There is risk involved with land application of biosolids. I have never met a sludge-industry worker who would deny this. Over time the burden of chemicals, pathogens, prions, and poisons will build up, and have a negative effect on the air, water, and land. The inherent danger in this process is even more dire for First Nations communities that depend on the forests and rivers for much of their diet and medicines. To jeopardize this traditional lifestyle in the name of expediency is verging on what some have called environmental racism.

To ask the rural population to take all the risks involved with Vancouver’s (or any city’s) sewage disposal problem is unfair, unhealthy, and unsustainable. The sludge industry and the trucking industry are making huge profits off this process of toxin dispersal. The people of the Nicola Valley will no longer be subjected to this dirty, problematic solution to big-city sewage. Look towards the future, and push for a cleaner, sustainable method. Simply tossing this mess onto a neighbour’s property is not a solution. It is selfish and not very neighbourly!

Battle Background Part One

 Stopping the Nicola Valley from becoming B.C.’s toilet
 (Published in the Georgia Straight  on June 29th, 2015)

It came as quite a shock to the First Nations of the Nicola Valley. Big-city sewer sludge had been dumped in their traditional, ancestral lands for over a decade. The news was a blow. It was also a catalyst. For the past eight months or so, the five bands from the valley, together with the community group calling itself Friends of the Nicola Valley, have worked hard to stop further importing of these so-called “biosolids” into the Nicola region. As Chief Aaron Sam and others have stressed many times, there was absolutely no consultation from either the sludge industry or the government about this practice.
The five chiefs recently declared a moratorium on any dumping of sewer sludge within the Nicola Valley, because, as they stated in the document, “they have a legal and moral responsibility to exercise their own inherent jurisdiction to protect their lands, waters, plants and animals, as well as the health and well-being of their members”.

After many attempts at real open dialogue with the province about stopping this dumping on their lands, the five chiefs finally resorted to occupying Christy Clark’s Kelowna office for several days. The results were unfortunately predictable—promises of talks and little action.

To further underline their position as protectors of this valley, the bands organized a caravan to Victoria in order to deliver to the government pure water and earth from the five band areas. The group rode horses, ran, and walked its way to the steps of the B.C. legislature with their clear message: We are the stewards of our land and we will not let this water and this earth be poisoned.

This was a message I had already heard at several meetings where elders of the area explained how deeply their people rely on the forests and rivers for their foods and medicines. Imagine within these forests, on this same earth where their ancestors have hunted and harvested for centuries and lived and died and were buried, here they have been spreading sewage—it is disrespectful and disgusting. The industry is only obliged to put up signs stating that nothing should be eaten from the forest for a stipulated number of months or years. As one elder pointed out to me with a wry smile, “I’m not exactly sure how many of the deer and other animals can read a sign posted that high up!” He, like many here, is very worried about how this goulash of toxins will enter the food chain. Many locals have remarked on the poor health of some of the animals recently, especially in the areas where they have found out dumping has been going on for years.

So what’s all the fuss? Doesn’t the government say it is okay? Well, the government seems to have a pretty short memory. There is a reason why we built all those water treatment plants that produce the sludge. Years ago, people were getting sick from the toxic environment they lived in. We got really good at removing toxins from the water system and putting it aside. Then here we are today spreading that same by-product of the water purifying process back into our environment—the very stuff we tried so hard to get rid of!

The people here in the valley have come to recognize that there are two main reasons we should not put our health, nor the health of the environment, in the government’s hands: because of recent scientific research, and because of the government’s track record.

So what is recent science telling us about this land application of sewer sludge?
The dangers fall into a number of categories, including: hormones, prion contamination, toxin contamination (heavy metals and toxic organic chemicals), and so-called emerging substances of concern (microbial, organic, and inorganic contaminants, pharmaceuticals and personal care products, amongst a number of ESOCs). They are all worrying and all demand far more study.
It seems that a lot of people believe that we can trust the government and its laws and guidelines to safeguard our health and that of our children. However, government legislation is always playing a catch-up game—tobacco, thalidomide, asbestos...all government approved until science caught up—and now we are paying the price for these (and many more) government errors. What the people of the Nicola Valley are advocating is a precautionary principle towards acts that may endanger health and or the environment. What our provincial and federal governments have neglected to take into consideration is that they have agreed to act in environmental issues (like the one we are facing) with the precautionary principle in mind. The precautionary principle denotes a duty to prevent harm, when it is within their power to do so, even when all the evidence is not in. This principle has been codified in several international treaties to which Canada is a signatory.

It is time to reconsider this dubious practice of land application of biosolids. There are alternatives (see recent clean incineration methods in Denmark and Germany that actually return energy to the grid) that may have an initial cost for the government to implement, but future medical costs and environmental clean-up costs will surely amount to much more in the long-term. It is important to note that the government is relying on legislation and science that is outdated. The process as it now stands is almost wholly self-regulated by the sludge industry itself. With the environment and our health at risk, this is just not sufficient.

Farmers and ranchers in the Nicola Valley have been offered sewer sludge too. A few of them have used it for years, swayed by the offer of free fertilizer, and seduced by glossy pictures of green hay fields. “Biosolids” do after all contain things plants like—nitrogen and phosphorus being the main two. But anyone who has read a little deeper would not be swayed by pretty pictures showing how green and high the hay grows after an initial application. The problem with sewer sludge is obviously not the few beneficial nutrients—it is all the other toxins that come with the package. It is rather like going to get a shot for measles only to find out later that it was a dirty needle—surprise—you did safeguard against measles but you now have hepatitis, HIV, and cholera. Country after country are finding the risks too great to continue to allow land application of biosolids. We urge Canada to follow their precautionary lead.

Many in the area would like to see the Nicola Valley promote itself as a fecal-free zone (except animal manures of course). We would like to convert the few “users” to see that marketing the valley as completely “biosolid free” would be a boon to farmers in this area. The First Nations’ moratorium is really a marketing gift. Where else in B.C. (or Canada?) can you be sure your food came from a sewage-free farm? Our unified group will keep pressuring the government to get on the right side of history and join the enlightened countries that believe in protecting their farmers, their soils, their citizens, and their environments.

The First Nations and the Friends of the Nicola Valley have been keeping two blockades going along Highway 8 now for 100 days and nights. They are unified in their resolve that no more sewer sludge will enter this beautiful valley. Time and again I hear from both Natives and non-Natives how wonderful this experience has been in terms of bringing together these two cultures. Both sides I think have been pleasantly surprised by the depth of the love for the land that they all share in common. Those blockade fires at night have been a wonderful scene of drumming, songs, stories, prayers, and laughter—and many, many friendships have been made. Over the past months we have collected thousands of signatures for our petition calling for an end to this practice.

The blockades are there both to protect and to educate. Most travellers from other areas of B.C. have no idea that the Nicola Valley is being used as a toilet for big-city sewage. Most are horrified. Many apologize in embarrassment. The next time you flush, give pause to the waters and lands you may be jeopardizing, and help us push this government to seek out more sustainable approaches to dealing with our waste.