Many of you may not be aware of it, but for over a decade, toxic sludge has been an ingredient in many fertilizers that farmers use to grow your food, and also in the bags of fertilizer that you might use to grow your organic garden. In fact, sewage sludge used to be dumped into our oceans, but this practice was banned as many saw it as an environmental catastrophe, and rightly so. But with the Ocean Dumping Reform Act of 1988, the applying of this toxic sludge to farm lands began. Incredibly, even environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense agreed to support this policy of applying the sewage to land instead of dumping it into the oceans!
Some of you might say, what’s so bad about sewage sludge? Unfortunately, it is not just innocuous compost, but actually contains many toxic chemicals! Often the processing of sewage combines industrial waste with home waste. It is true that the EPA does require the killing of fecal coliforms before the sludge is used as fertilizer, and also that nine heavy metals (including mercury, arsenic and lead) are not present in “unacceptable levels.” However, many other toxic chemicals are found in these sludges, including pharmaceutical drugs, pesticides, toluene, PCBs, dioxins, petroleum products, radioactive waste, and more. Also other viruses and bacteria may be present.
There are other options to dispose of this toxic sludge, such as putting it into landfills, but of course it cheaper to add it to fertilizer! (Well, not cheaper for those of us who consume the food from this “fertilized” land, but cheaper for those trying to get rid of the sludge…)
Unfortunately, home gardeners really have to beware. Even the “green” city of San Francisco was caught recently giving away this sludge. They labeled it as “organic biosolids compost” and gave bags of it away to unsuspecting home gardeners and schools as well. So make sure and investigate any fertilizer that you buy for your home garden before you apply it! Also you might want to consider buying organic food more than ever, as much of our non-organic foods are grown on fields that are fertilized with this type of sludge!