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Tell your Governor and local officials to ban the use of biosolids in farms and parks!

Chrys Ostrander

The world's leading anti-pesticide advocacy organization, Beyond Pesticides, has recognized the threat that municipal sewage sludge used as fertilizer poses. They have put together a means by which you can easily let your elected officials know it's time to end the practice.

It takes just a minute or two and is well worth the effort. Please follow the link to their website.

In 1992, the Washington State legislature municipal sewage sludge, deemed “biosolids” (a made-up, euphemistic trade name) to be a beneficial resource and mandated that the Washington State Department of Ecology promote its use on soil, including disposing of it on farms where crops for human consumption are grown, parks and on forest lands. The practice is called “land application”.

On June 24, 2021 the WA Dept. of Ecology held a public hearing on the renewal of the five-year General Permit for Biosolids Management with an introduction by Emily Kijowksi, Biosolids permitting specialist with the Dept. of Ecology.

“We do know that people are concerned about emerging contaminants in biosolids that come from the products-- shampoos and soaps-- that we use,” said Kijowksi.

The term “emerging contaminants of concern” is used in scientific and regulatory documents meaning chemicals, or families of chemicals, that have either only recently been discovered, or the ability to detect them wasn’t available before or the degree of their potential toxicity has been updated with newer research. Emerging contaminants are not a current threat, they’re just emerging, implied Kijowksi. Kijowksi assured us that “Ecology utilizes ‘Chemical Action Plans’ to address emerging contaminants and potential exposures including the role wastewater treatment plants and biosolids play.“

So, what’s wrong with this rosy picture? The contaminants are not emerging. They’re here! The first EPA report on emerging contaminants of concern in the wastewater industry was way back in 2009. EPA found the following contaminants of concern in the wastewater at nine waste water treatment plants (WWTPs): Pesticides, Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products, Steroids and Hormones, Alkylphenols and Alkylphenol Ethoxylates (surfactants used in some detergents and cleaning products), Bisphenol A (the now much-eschewed white coating on the inside of food cans), and Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs - components of commercial formulations often used as flame retardants in furniture and non-stick cookware – The current umbrella term for these “emerging” contaminants is “PFAS,” Per- and PolyFluoroAlkyl Substances that have been found in biosolids in other states where testing, unlike Washington state, has been conducted). How long does it take the EPA or the Dept. of Ecology to recognize an “emerging” poison has become a clear and present danger? The question and answer session revealed Ecology to be more vested in defending the normalization of toxic waste as fertilizer than to acknowledge there’s more to an iceberg than its tip. This list goes way beyond what soap or shampoo you use.

It’s not working. The pollutants are in the sludge. Ecology prefers to ignore them because nobody told them to test for them. Ignorance is bliss.

The state opened a two-week public comment period on the proposed five-year Statewide General Permit for Biosolids Management that ended on July 12, 2021. Out of 113 public comments received by the Washington State Department of Ecology, 63% favored an immediate ban on land-application, 21% sought more stringent regulation. The remaining 16 comments (14%) were either pro or neutral.

Ecologically sound alternatives to land-application of sewage sludge exist and are in use in the U.S.A. and in other countries. It's imperative that Ecology find another way to manage the disposal of the 86,000 dry tons of biosolids that the agency says are currently land-applied each year in Washington. In the mean time between an outright ban and deployment of replacement infrastructure, hazardous waste landfills exist accessible by truck and train from points in Washington and some existing incinerators in the state can be adapted to incinerate sewage sludge while the transition to a different disposal methodology takes place.

July, 2023