Would you mind if your neighbors were using treated human waste instead of animal manure as a crop fertilizer? Residents in Pennsylvania, where the practice has been on the incline recently, are concerned that the use of sewage sludge on farmland has contaminated local water sources and has kept people inside to escape the smell.
The Morning Call reports:
Lynn Township residents want neighboring farmers to stop using sludge to grow crops, a practice residents say is polluting their water supply and leaving a stench in the air. Dozens of residents packed a Lynn meeting in January after traces of fecal coliform and E.coli were discovered in a resident's well. Though no evidence was found linking the bacteria to neighboring farms, residents say their wells were clean before the sludge was spread.
According to state authorities, the sludge – which has been spread on more than 1500 sites around the state in the last 20 years – doesn't pose any hazards and is monitored to meet federal and state regulations.
Controversy has followed the use of sludge on farms since the practice began in the 1990s, according to SourceWatch. After the government banned dumping sewage sludge into the ocean or incinerating it, the sewage industry had to find alternatives … and gained the EPA's blessing to dispose sludge on farmland instead. It also effectively rebranded the term from "sludge" to a more attractive industry term "biosolids," now frequently marketed as compost without any reference that it came from processed human and industrial waste.
A Penn State extension specialist, Luke LaBorde, said that "standards for the enforcement and application of biosolids are murky." An article in a new edition of Environment International reports that biosolids from California and North Carolina had concentrations of flame retardants, triclosan and other chemicals that "have the potential to migrate out of consumer products and enter the outdoor environment."
It seems like there is a lot of public awareness that needs to be raised concerning this issue, including from the government, which ultimately contracts companies that haul sludge from city wastewater treatment plants to farmers (who are paid to accept it). Hmmm…too many conflicts of interest there? No wonder there's little oversight.
For more on this topic, check out The Center for Media and Democracy's FoodRightsNetwork.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.