Blog readers may remember Panorama's programme about sewage - see my blog here - well a few weeks ago I was at the Wessex Water Customer Liaison panel on behalf of Stroud District Council - the next post will cover that meeting but here I wanted to talk about sewage more.....here is a rather hasty discussion...
Photo: Inside the WW building - great cafe for meeting - acclaimed as a good design for people to work in...
One of the questions I asked related to the use of sewage sludge - in the US there is much concern from some Organic campaigning organisations:
That link leads to a number of US articles that raise questions about the safety of the use of sewage sludge in agriculture. I asked how the British use of sludge varies from the US and what WW make regarding the allegations that effectively say this sludge is a hazardous waste renamed as "organic fertilizer" (or "biosolids")?
One of the article reads: "Household sewage, contaminated as it is with chemical cosmetics, toxic household cleaners and any number of pharmaceutical drugs poured into toilets and kitchen sinks, isn't pristine; but, to paraphrase Bob Hope, it's not the shit, it's what we've done to it. After the toilet is flushed or the drain is emptied, household waste is funneled into a vast underground sewage system, where it joins a toxic stew of industrial and hospital wastes and rainwater runoff from our streets and highways. Allowing corporations to flood the environment and the waste stream with 100,000 synthetic, mostly toxic chemicals, (most of which end up in sewage sludge), less than 1% of which have ever been proved to be safe for the environment and public health, is a form of insanity. Besides contaminating the water and soil, this irrational so-called "sewage treatment" process wastes enormous amounts of potable water..."
"Human and animal manure, (separated from and free from chemical and pharmaceutical residues), throughout the centuries, and in the present time can and should be safely composted and utilized as a fertilizer on fields, farms, and forests. Although current organic standards prohibit the use of compost derived from human manure (properly composted animal manure is allowed) on food crops, feeding the soil with properly composted "humanure" (or producing methane gas for energy use through bio-digesters) will no doubt become the norm in the future as fossil fuel and water supplies dwindle and chemical fertilizer costs become prohibitive."
I had a detailed response which I can't cover here in full but suggested the articles are an unfortunate miss use of information and overstating of the problem. There are apparently differences between US and European legislation but WW note that the facts do not support the views expressed in these papers, which use very excitable language unusual for scientific papers. Indeed they do, but I still think there is good reason to be concerned....
I was pleased therefore that WW noted that the concerns raised about the use of chemicals in the home and the environment are legitimate and have been considered for a long time.
In the UK we have a range of legislation that deals with the use of chemicals and which chemicals can be used without harm once they are disposed of. We have whats called 'a safe sludge matrix' that monitors the quality of sludge that can be put to land and have for many years monitored the levels of metals in sludges intended for use as fertiliser to ensure that no toxicity emerges.
Legislation for the use of such chemicals continues to evolve and there are a number of new or updated pieces of legislation dealing with chemicals and their disposal either being implemented or about to be implemented. There is no evidence of acute toxicity but work continues to understand the effects of pharmaceuticals disposed of and particularly their daughter compounds as well as the effects of other organic compounds such as endocrins. Indeed I was pleased to hear that WW are specifically looking into this area with their own research.
I would appreciate other's thoughts on this.