Biosolids give-away: Use becomes matter of choice

John Poppe of West Sound Utility District tells me that his phone has been ringing off the hook over biosolids — processed sewage sludge — that will soon be offered to anyone free of charge.

I announced in Monday’s Kitsap Sun that the utility district had received a Class A certification for its “pasteurized” biosolids. The certification allows the material to be used even on vegetable gardens, because the certified treatment process is designed to destroy all measurable pathogens.

Biosolids have been proven to be a rich soil amendment, but their use remains controversial. I consider the controversy to be in the realm of debates where the question is, “How safe is safe?”

Some people worry about active compounds, such as pharmaceuticals found in sewage. The question is where these compounds go when released into the environment in biosolids. Most research shows that such compounds are generally bound up with soil particles, but research continues into the rate that various chemicals are taken up by various plants. We’re talking about very low levels.

It is an entirely different story if we’re talking about pharmaceuticals and personal care products being released with sewage effluent into rivers and streams or even saltwater, where organisms have direct access to the compounds.

I covered these safety issues last year when West Sound Utility District was considering an application of Class B biosolids to forestland near Port Gamble. Please check out the Kitsap Sun, March 26, 2011.

Whether you choose to use some of West Sound’s biosolids on your lawn or garden is a matter of personal choice. Here are some references that cover various sides of the issue.

Cornell University Waste Management Institute

King County Frequently Asked Questions on Biosolids

Sierra Club policy against most uses of biosolids (PDF 20 kb)

Mother Jones magazine: “Sludge Happens”

University of Washington soil scientist Sally Brown in an interview at Kansas State University (video below)

5 thoughts on “Biosolids give-away: Use becomes matter of choice

  1. Heed with caution! If one would like to use the problems encountered at the Bio-Solids Facility on Webb Hill as an example of how little is truly known, scientifically, I would approach this opportunity with a sense of skepticism!

  2. There are other sewer plants who have been giving or selling (most ofter selling) this stuff for years. If there is negativity to people using it, where is it? One negative case would make bold headlines in news media. I haven’t seen it yet. If you’re not comfortable with it then don’t use it. Leave it for those of us who don’t have a problem using it and please,don’t lobby to have this discontinued because since you don’t like then nobody should have it.

  3. In October 2011, scientists declared Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is a prion
    disease like mad cow. (Soto, C. 2011)

    AD victims shed infectious prions in their blood, saliva, mucous, urine
    and feces. Sewage treatment for either Class B OR CLASS A SLUDGE does
    NOT inactivate prions. To the contrary, it reconcentrates the infectious
    prions in the sewage sludge, including sludge biosolids compost, being
    applied on home gardens, US cropland, grazing fields and dairy pastures,
    putting humans, family pets, wildlife and livestock at risk.

    Other prion contaminated wastes discharged to sewers include rendering
    plants (which process remains of 2 million potentially BSE infected
    downer cows each year), slaughterhouses, embalmers and morticians,
    biocremation, taxidermists, butcher shops, veterinary and necropsy labs,
    hospitals, landfill leachates (where CWD infected and other carcasses
    are disposed),

    Drinking water is at risk for prions if it comes from a surface source
    (river or lake) which receives treated sewage effluent.

    The US EPA lists prions as a contaminant of concern in sludge and water
    eight times:

    Renown prion researcher, Dr. Joel Pedersen, University of Wisconsin,
    found that prions become 680 times more infective in certain soils:

    Dr. Pedersen’s research also proved sewage treatment does not inactivate
    prions: “” Our results suggest that if prions were to enter municipal
    wastewater treatment systems, most of the agent would partition to
    activated sludge solids, survive mesophilic anaerobic digestion, and be
    present in treated biosolids. Land application of biosolids containing
    prions could represent a route for their unintentional introduction into
    the environment. Our results argue for excluding inputs of prions to
    municipal wastewater treatment.”

    “Prions could end up in wastewater treatment plants via slaughterhouse
    drains, hunted game cleaned in a sink, or humans with vCJD shedding
    prions in their urine or faeces, Pedersen says”

    In the July 3, 2010 issue of VETERINARY RECORD, Dr. Pedersen stated:
    “Finally, the disposal of sludge was considered to represent the
    greatest risk of spreading (prion) infectivity to other premises.”

    The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recently warned that plants can
    uptake infectious prions: “. . . there is a potential risk to humans via
    direct ingestion of the compost or of compost particles adhered to skin
    or plant material (e.g. carrots). Another potential route of exposure is
    by ingestion of prions that have been taken up by plants.”

    Helane Shields, Alton,, NH 03809

  4. When I was a kid in the late 50’s in Northern lower Michigan the sewage sludge was sprayed on the flower and shrub beds of the city and parks. They grew well. Tomate seeds were not destroyed and so there were always lots of little tomato plants springing up! Some were cared for and produced a fine crop!

  5. Biosolids are loaded with the remnants of heavy metals, flame retardents, dioxin, pesticides etc…on and on. The proper name for this product is sewage sludge, because that’s what it is. Anything that goes into a water treatment facility is left in the sewage sludge. Since the water is clean something must be dirty: sewage sludge. Don’t put crap on your property, unless you know the source, like horses and cows. Anything else is asking for trouble.

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