They still invoke the bogeyman

Despite progress in public communication, Biosolids still get a bad rap

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Land application of biosolids is welcome in and around many communities. Still, we occasionally see news reports on the “horrors” of the practice. Most recently, an article in PR Watch (www.prwatch.org) described the experience of a man who prefers organic foods in questioning the Whole Foods stores about the company’s policy on foods grown with “sewage sludge.”

The article described the material as “dried and heated human and industrial waste” and called the term biosolids an “Orwellian PR euphemism.”

The article also stated, “Sewage sludge is created by all of the human waste flushed down the toilet and sinks – which includes all the pharmaceutical residues the men, women, and children in the city using the sewage system use – and all the material corporations flush down the drain, which can include industrial materials, solvents, medical waste, and other chemicals.” The article also said the material contains metals cancer-causing flame retardants, and resistant pathogens.

Allegedly, some of these can bioaccumulate in plants and remain as residue on vegetables eaten by children and adults. The man who confronted Whole Foods about his practices was unhappy to learn that the company doesn’t check whether farmers who supply the stores grow their crops with “sewage sludge” as fertilizer. He wants Whole Foods to label produce grown in “sewage sludge.”

You can read the entire article at http://www.prwatch.org/print/11618.

The point here is not to be critical of Whole Foods or of people who prefer to eat organic produce. The point is that misinformation about biosolids is still out there. The criticisms leveled in this article contain enough kernels of truth to get attention, but the list of distortions and omissions is long.

For example, there is no mention of industrial pretreatment programs; there is a mischaracterization of anaerobic digestion as merely a process of heating; there is omission of pathogen reduction processes; there is failure to note that with few exceptions, biosolids are used on livestock feed crops, not produce. There is also no discussion of Class A biosolids, which are about as far from raw "sewage sludge" as you can ge.

The lesson here is that the clean-water industry needs to stay vigilant about conveying the facts about biosolids. Members of the public who are concerned about using biosolids have a right to ask questions, and if they prefer not to eat foods grown with biosolids as a fertilizer, then they have a right not to. But their perceptions and the resulting decisions should be based on factual information, not scare tactics.



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