Sewage sludge, or “biosolids” – as they’re referred to with a PR spin – are a type of fertilizer that began being “recycled” into food crops when, ironically, it was realized that dumping them into rivers, lakes, and bays was an environmental disaster.
This sludge is what’s leftover after sewage is treated and processed.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that about 50 percent of all biosolids are recycled to land and explains:
Biosolids are treated sewage sludge… Thirty years ago, thousands of American cities dumped their raw sewage directly into the nation’s rivers, lakes, and bays.
Through regulation of this dumping, local governments [son] now required to treat wastewater and to make the decision whether to recycle biosolids as fertilizer, incinerate it, or bury it in a landfill.”
By applying biosolids to agricultural crops, gardens, parks, and more, the need for chemical fertilizers is reduced, as is the amount of waste being sent to landfills, which makes it seem as though biosolids are an environmentally friendly, even natural, product.
And the truth is, sewage sludge could be a great system for recycling nitrogen and phosphorus back into the soil by using it as fertilizer.
The problem is the sludge approved for use in fertilizer also contains industrial waste, which is loaded with toxins and heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, and other chemicals that may be harmful to human health and the environment.
“So while your first thought may be the “yuck factor” of human waste being used to fertilize your food, that is only the tip of the iceberg. Every time a paintbrush gets rinsed, an old bottle of medication flushed, or solvents are hosed off a factory floor, it ends up in the sewage system… and now potentially on your food.
Pharmaceuticals in Sewage Sludge May Be Damaging Crops
Sewage sludge used for fertilizer may contain a cocktail of pharmaceutical drugs. It’s no secret that many Americans take medications, and these drugs are excreted in their waste and find their way into wastewater treatment plants, which typically don’t adequately remove such drugs.
When the sludge is then applied to a farm field as fertilizer, the plants get exposed to pharmaceuticals as well.
A new study from researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom revealed the plants may be suffering as a result, even when exposed to drugs at the low concentrations that might be found in the environment. 
The team analyzed damage caused by two common drugs – a seizure medication called carbamazepine and a high blood pressure med called verapamil – to zucchini plants.
Even with low-level exposure, the drugs interfered with plant hormones that support the zucchini’s defenses against predators and diseases.
As reported by Civil Eats: 
“‘At some higher concentrations, the drugged-up zucchinis’ roots were stunted and their leaves developed burnt edges and white spots. ‘We thought the discoloration meant that the plants were suffering from a nutrient deficiency,’ dice [study author Laura] Carter.
But instead they found that the damaged plants had higher levels of some essential nutrients such as potassium, compared to control plants that were not exposed to any drugs. More essential nutrients can be good thing, but if the levels become too high they poison the plant, says Carter.
The drugs also damaged the zucchini’s alchemic ability to make its own energy from sunlight, the process known as photosynthesis. At the higher drug concentrations, the research team saw drops in the leaves’ levels of chlorophyll a, the substance that makes plant leaves green.
‘This suggests a reduction in the photosynthetic ability of the plant,’ says Carter. Less photosynthesis means less energy for the plant to grow an edible zucchini.”
Caution Urged for the Large-Scale Use of Biosolids
Biosolids are already being used on a large scale, for instance in forestry projects and on local farms. Yet experts such as Dr. Christopher Higgins, an environmental scientist at the Colorado School of Mines, are cautioning against large-scale usage until the real risks are known.
He told Civil Eats: 
“There are no controls at most wastewater treatment plants to ensure you have low concentrations of pharmaceuticals in biosolids. There is no telling what you might have at high concentrations.”
Even as a consumer looking to buy a fertilizer to put on your backyard garden, there’s no way to know whether you’re purchasing biosolids, as companies are not required to disclose when they’re being used. De hecho, no one really knows how extensively biosolids are being applied to the environment.
In the Vancouver, Canada Nicola Valley area, residents were outraged earlier this year when biosolids were applied to local agricultural land. John Werring, a science adviser at the David Suzuki Foundation, sampled piles of biosolids applied in an area accessible to cattle and had it tested for toxins.
What he found were more than a handful of toxins a niveles que excedan los límites previstos para los sitios contaminados bajo regulaciones Columbia Británica.
Esto incluyó altos niveles de:
- ion de sodio
- Hidrocarburos aromáticos policíclicos
Werring dijo The Vancouver Sun: 
“En realidad, son vertidos suelo contaminado en las tierras agrícolas ... No tiene ningún sentido para nosotros estar (extensión) que se posan en los alimentos que producen ... Se pone en las raíces, y luego se toma en la vegetación. Luego viene lo largo de una vaca de pasto que se alimenta de la vegetación y ahora está en la vaca. Y luego haces matar la vaca y que lo puso en la plataforma para que la gente come.”
Biosólidos estudio trata del estado de Nueva York
Estado de Nueva York el asambleísta John D. Ceretto, along with 14 funcionarios y ciudadanos, han hecho un llamamiento al Departamento de Salud del Estado de Nueva York para realizar un estudio sobre los efectos en la salud humana de los biosólidos.
Muchos residentes han expresado su preocupación por los biosólidos que se propaga en las granjas locales, particularmente una marca llamada “equiparar,” realizado por una empresa llamada Grupo de Energía Quasar. According to the Niagara Gaceta: 
“Quasar mercados equiparan como una alternativa a los fertilizantes tradicionales del suelo. Se produce como un subproducto de digestores anaeróbicos de Quasar, que descomponen las aguas residuales con microorganismos y producir metano para alimentar los generadores de electricidad.
El lodo digerido, el medio ambiente de acuerdo con Quasar, luego se extendió en los campos agrícolas de forma gratuita.
Pueblos han respondido con escepticismo ante el empuje de Quasar, incluyendo Campo de trigo, Lewiston, y Pendleton, all of which are pursuing stricter laws to prohibit the spread of equate. The DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] has endorsed the fertilizer, but requires a permit application in order to spread it.”
Residents and officials expressed concern that the DEC was not properly monitoring the spread of biosolids or testing what may be found within it. Lawmakers specifically suggested that equate may have had contact with “industrial waste, emerging contaminants, human feces, and funeral home and hospital refuse.” 
A study into the human health effects is long overdue, especially considering that a past analysis of sewage sludge by the Environmental Working Group found: 
- Over 100 synthetic organic compounds including phthalates, toluene, and chlorobenzene
- Dioxins in sludge from 179 out of 208 systems (80 por ciento)
- Forty-two different pesticides – at least one in almost every sample, with an average of almost two pesticides per survey sample
- Nine heavy metals, often at high concentrations
Did the EPA Fake the Science of Sewage Sludge ‘Safety?’
Former EPA employee and whistleblower David Lewis, PhD claims the EPA actually faked science to uphold the status quo of using sewage sludge as fertilizer.  While still an employee of the EPA, Dr. Lewis published evidence showing that a teenager living in New Hampshire died as a result of living near land where sewage sludge was applied. He also provided evidence showing that cows at two Georgia farms were poisoned as a result of grazing on sludged land.
He contends that multiple agencies, including the EPA and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), engaged in a coordinated scheme to “misleadingly present sewage sludge as scientifically safe.”
The deception revolves around the issue of whether the toxins found in the sludge are rendered non-bioavailable. According to the EPA, there are “unique properties” in the sludge matrix that prevent harmful toxins from being taken up by plants, animals, and humans. These properties, the EPA claims, sequester metals and other toxins, thereby rendering them harmless. According to Dr. Lewis, this is patently false.
Further, today city sewer lines run right to industrial factories, allowing them to dump their waste into the city’s sewage treatment plants. This is now a standard part of our infrastructure, and it saves industries of all kinds a ton of money — billions of dollars — because once a regulated chemical or waste enters the sewer line, they’re suddenly exempt from EPA regulation!
“None of the toxic organic chemicals are regulated in sewage sludge, not one of them,” Dr. Lewis explains. “Only nine of the 27 toxic, heavy metals that are in the sewage sludge are regulated. The industry has incalculable vested interest in protecting this idea.”
What the EPA created is a system in which chemicals we know to be problematic in part per billions and even part per trillions levels in water and in air, are concentrated millions of times higher in sewage sludge, and then applied to farmland and areas where we live and work.
“In 1970, you would have to work in a chemical plant or a petroleum refinery or something similar to get exposed to the hundreds of thousands of toxic chemicals… [a] higher levels. It would be mainly an occupational exposure. Today, over 30 years later, everywhere we live and work it’s being spread.”
Dr. Lewis detailed these problems in two papers published in Nature, and it was these papers that led to his dismissal from the EPA. He also wrote a book about his experience called Science for Sale: How the US Government Uses Powerful Corporations and Leading Universities to Support Government Policies, Silence Top Scientists, Jeopardize Our Health, and Protect Corporate Profits.
The book elaborates on the enormous conflict of interest between industry and federal regulatory agencies that allows toxins to be quite literally spread all around us.
USDA Petitioned to Ban Wastewater for Irrigation for Organic Crops
The use of sewage sludge is banned in the production of organic crops precisely because of the many toxic chemicals it may contain. sin embargo, el Instituto Cornucopia ha pedido a la USDA para apretar los estándares federales de otras dos fuentes potenciales de contaminación - el uso de las aguas residuales fracking y las aguas residuales de los sistemas de tratamiento de aguas residuales municipales para el riego de cultivos orgánicos.
Hydrofracturing, o fracking, is “el polémico proceso de extracción de gas a partir de formaciones de roca mediante el bombardeo con agua enriquecida con productos químicos tóxicos.”  Produce grandes cantidades de aguas residuales que está contaminado con productos químicos tóxicos y petróleo.
Likewise, como residuos sólidos procedentes de depuradoras de aguas residuales (i.e. biosolids), las aguas residuales de líquido también típicamente contaminada con residuos de medicamentos, heavy metals, y los productos químicos tóxicos. Jerome Rigot, PhD, científico del Cornucopia, said: 
“Reciclado de aguas residuales tratadas / aceite o gas utilizada para el riego puede ser contaminado por una variedad de productos químicos, including industrial solvents such as acetone and methylene chloride, and hydrocarbons (oil components)…
As an example, irrigation water provided by Chevron contains a variety of contaminants, including several polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs); various volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as benzene, toluene, xylenes, and acetone; several hydrocarbons; a high concentration of sodium chloride (table salt), other halide salts (bromide, fluoride, and chloride), heavy metals, and radioactive metals (2 radium isotopes). Many of these compounds are potential and known carcinogens.”
If you want to get involved, you can sign Cornucopia’s petition to the USDA calling for no drilling or sewage wastewater to grow organic food now.
Supporting Local, Small Farms Can Help
As mentioned, companies do not have to disclose when sewage sludge has been used to grow your food or if it’s lurking in that bag of compost you purchased from the garden center (and there’s a good chance there is). Your best bet for avoidance of not only sewage sludge but also the use of contaminated wastewater for irrigation is to shop locally from small-scale farms (or farmer’s markets) you know and trust.
Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute, explained:
“‘… [W]hile we wait for the USDA to take action, a little research to learn where your organic food is coming from will pay dividends.’ Cornucopia states that the vast majority of family-scale organic farms around the country do not use any risky irrigation water. The families that farm these operations are eating the food out of their own fields, unlike the owners of large industrial operations, producing both organic and conventional produce, that typically work under contract to a major agribusiness.
‘By eating as close to home as possible, and buying food that is labeled both local and certified organic, consumers are getting the freshest and most nutritious food possible, and protecting their families from industrial-scale operations that might be more likely to use risky practices.'”
Also, if the bag of compost you’re looking at happens to include “milorganite” on the label, avoid it like the plague. Milorganite is a term denoting biosolids. Aside from that, there’s no way to tell whether the compost has toxic sludge in it or not. Your best alternative is to contact your local nursery and ask them if they use biosolids in their compost. I happen to live close to a nursery that creates its own compost.
I asked them about the presence of biosolids, and they said, “No, we do not use biosolids. We compost our own soil.” They were very well informed about the toxic dangers inherent with the use of biosolids. So it’s vital that you discuss what is added to the compost with the person that is actually responsible for producing it. Another alternative is to make your own using a composting bin or wood chips, por ejemplo.
Environmental Science & Technology September 29, 2015
Civil Eats October 22, 2015
The Vancouver Sun August 13, 2015
Niagara Gazette April 19, 2015
The Cornucopia Institute August 25, 2015
1 U.S. EPA, Sewage Sludge (Biosolids) FAQs
2 Environmental Science & Technology September 29, 2015
3, 4 Civil Eats October 22, 2015
5 The Vancouver Sun August 13, 2015
6, 7 Niagara Gazette April 19, 2015
8 Environmental Working Group, Sewage Sludge
9 Independent Science News June 9, 2014
10 Mother Jones April 19, 2013
11 The Cornucopia Institute August 25, 2015
New York Times bestselling author Dr. Mercola graduated from the Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1982. And while osteopaths or D.O.s are licensed to prescribe medication and perform surgery just like medical doctors (M.D.s), they bring something extra to the practice of medicine.
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