Are we seriously eating food grown with sewer sludge? The answer is a disgusting YES. It’s a common practice in the United States for sewage waste facilities to sanitize, package and sell the leftovers as fertilizer.
What is Sewer Sludge?
Sewer Sludge, also called “biosolids” is whats leftover after water goes through the waste water treatment plants.
Why is Sewer Sludge Used for Agriculture?
Previously water treatment facilities would burn sewer sludge or dump it in the ocean, but it was prohibited because of environmental issues such as marine dead zones and air pollution.
As you might imagine this biosolid sludge can be expensive to dispose of. So the waste management industry came up with a solution to package the sludge as fertilizer and sell it cheaply to farmers.
This fertilizer is then shipped all across the country and used in agricultural farms.
You can also go to the gardening store and pick up a bag fertilizer for your backyard that contains biosolids. These packages of gardening soil are labeled as “eco-friendly” and you would never know they are made from human feces unless you read AND understand the label.
What’s in Sewer Sludge?
Of course the biosolids are processed to get rid of pathogens and viruses. Methods include air drying, pasteurization and composting . Lime is often used to raise the pH level to eliminate odors. About 95% of pathogens, viruses and other organisms are killed in the process.
Pathogens are killed, so let’s discuss the other chemicals that get filtered out from the waste water and get concentrated into this sludge.
- Traces of household chemicals poured down drains.
- Laundry detergents from washing machines.
- Heavy metals from industrial factories.
- Synthetic hormones from birth control pills.
- Steroids and other Pharmaceuticals that people use.
- Pesticides from agriculture/landscaping.
10 hidden things that make sewage sludge dangerous.
- Heavy metals
- Increase in dioxin
- Flame-retardants and other household chemicals
What about testing of sewer sludge?
The EPA has done testing on biosolids and has identified over 350 pollutants. 61 of these are “as acutely hazardous, hazardous or priority pollutants”. Only 9 of these are required to be removed by law.
EPA and wastewater treatment plants don’t test for most of the 80,000 man made chemicals that exist.
Though regulators and industry don’t know everything contained in biosolids, there’s strong evidence that it can be dangerous.
Many chemicals found in sewer sludge testing can be hazardous to our health. A good example is PFAS, or “forever chemicals”.
PFAS is link to serious health problems like
- thyroid disorders
- Immune disorders
- low birth weight
“They’re finding kilograms of PFAS in sewage sludge when nanograms are harmful to humans, so you can’t regulate it as a fertilizer,” said Laura Orlando, a civil engineer who tracks problems with biosolids.
Environmental Impact of sewer sludge
“When you put heavy metals, PFAS, plastics, pharmaceuticals and all that in the soil, sooner or later it gets toxic, and you can’t wish that stuff away. You’re ruining the topsoil forever,”
This study suggests that the pharmaceuticals in these bio solid fertilizers may have a detrimental effect on crops.
When used for agriculture, sewer sludge contents contaminate the waterways. Animals and aquatic life are harmed by the chemicals contained in biosolids. Male fish are developing female anatomy!
A University of North Carolina study found 75% of people living near farms that spread biosolids experienced health issues like
- Burning Eyes
- Contracting MRSA
A dairy farmer in Maine lost his farm due to contamination in his cows milk caused by sewer sludge. This is happening in other farms as well, but people are resistant to testing for fear of the same situation happening.
What is being done about it?
Countries like Sweden and the Netherlands have already banned the practice of using sewer sludge as fertilizer for crops. Let’s face it, who wants to eat poop?
Other countries and a few states are finding more environmentally friendly ways to deal with sewer sludge. With a little effort it is entirely possible to come up with a more agreeable solution than fertilizer.
You are now one of the few people who have the knowledge of sewer sludge and the horrifying consequences. Would the EPA and the US Government still be allowed to dump sewer sludge on our food if more people knew about it?
What to do about it?
Since it’s not on the label, you may have a hard time avoiding sewer sludge.
- Buy organic – organic practices don’t allow the use of sewer sludge
- Grow your own food – make sure you are buying gardening soil that doesn’t contain sewer sludge. Look for soils that are certified by OMRI (Organic Materials Review Institute). Here is a list of soils you may want to avoid.
- Buy local foods directly from the farmers, or from farmers markets where you can talk to the farmer and understand how they grow their food.
The two keyword to pay attention to here are “sewer” and “most” pathogens. Common sense makes both of these ideas sound like a terrible idea when it comes to our food. How can it possibly make sense to take the chemicals we try to get rid of and put it back into the food supply? In addition killing “most” pathogens isn’t good enough, that gives anyone a 5% chance to contract some deadly disease.
- Top 10 Reasons Why Biosolids are Dangerous
- Biosolids: mix human waste with toxic chemicals, then spread on crop
- Yes, Food Is Grown in Sewage Waste. That’s a Problem.
- Biosludged Film
- photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc