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Is Your Compost Made of Sewage Sludge?

The dirty truth about biosolids.

Biosolids in CompostBy Bill Kohlhaase, Planet Natural

Compost is rightly celebrated as the perfect soil amendment and a great way to recycle yard and garden waste. But not all compost is created equal. In fact, commercial compost based on “biosolids” or sewage sludge can be downright dangerous.

You know what biosolids are, right? Solids made from bio materials, just what the term suggests. One can’t help but think of Shakespeare, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Except biosolids don’t smell so sweet. And what’s in this name is otherwise known as shit.

There’s no reason to think that making the best compost is out of reach. At Planet Natural we supply everything you need: bins, tumblers and activators to get your pile cooking, plus worm farms for kitchen scraps. We know what makes gardens grow!

Truth is, “biosolids” is a marketing term, a euphemism for sewage sludge. Sewage sludge is what remains of everything flushed down the sewers — human and animal feces, industrial chemicals, medical waste, oil products, pesticides, home cleaners — after the water is removed. The Environmental Protection Agency says it’s okay to call “biosolids” compost. The marketers who came up with the term biosolids (they did it by holding a contest) want you to think of it as natural. To that end, they’ve invested a ton of resources.

What’s wrong with using compost made from sewage in your garden? After all, it’s been treated and tested right? Guess again. Allowing sewage to “cure” for a period of time does not remove its toxins. Heavy metals, including lead and mercury, as well as such industrial compounds as flame retardants persist, even concentrate, during the cure (some biosolids are treated to remove a small number of heavy metals). Compost may be heat-treated to kill some pathogens. But heat treating doesn’t kill them all. And how do you know the compost was treated in the first place?

The biosolids-are-sewage-sludge secret is one that commercial compost marketers, some city waste disposal utilities, the EPA and even some environmental interest groups work hard to keep. Large amounts of money in the form of expensive public relations campaigns have been spent to make you think that spreading sewage on commercial food crops and your own garden is okay. But of course, it isn’t.

Sludge, the kind that ends up in a number of brands of commercial and municipal compost, the kind spread on farm crops, is the end product of sewage treatment, the process by which everything flushed, poured and dumped into the sewage system by home dwellers, businesses and industry is separated into liquid and solid components. The goal is to treat the liquid so that it is “clean” water ready for reintroduction into the environment. All the bad stuff, the toxins, pathogens, chemicals, heavy metals, pharmaceuticals and poisons, settle out with the sludge. What to do with all that sludge is the problem. Using it to make compost, selling it to gardeners and spreading it on agricultural land — despite all the contaminants–is the cynical and dangerous answer.

Horror stories about biosolids abound. In 1979, a dairy farmer in Georgia began to lose his milk cows after he started applying locally produced sludge fertilizer to his fields. Eventually, 700 of them died. The EPA refused to test his field so the farmer hired out to have it done. The result? The fields contained high levels of thallium, a toxic metal that is the active ingredient in rat poison. It turned out that a nearby factory used the chemical in its production of NutraSweet and flushed the residues down the drain. Thallium was later detected in local supplies of milk at levels more than 11 times above the legal limit for drinking water. When the farmer sued the Federal Government for disaster relief, a judge found that, according to Mother Jones magazine, “senior EPA officials took extraordinary steps to quash scientific dissent and any questioning of the EPA’s biosolids program.”

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Why would the EPA fight the truth? Because the recycling of sewage sludge is big business. It’s estimated that half the sewage sludge generated in the United States ends up on farm land and backyard gardens. In 2007, the infamous Carlyle Group, an investment consortium known for its armaments speculation, bought the sludge recycling company Synagro for $772 million. Synagro, object of a recent CBS television broadcast of “Undercover Boss,” is the largest processor of sewage sludge in the country. Investors see sludge as a guaranteed growth business. Municipalities, saddled with the responsibility of what to do with all that sludge, see composting as a gift from on high.

Even Michelle Obama’s celebrated White House garden used sludge-based compost, something that precludes its claims to be organic (the U.S. Department of Agriculture says any food crops grown with sludge-based amendments is not organic; on the other hand the EPA does not regulate the labeling of compost so that manufacturers may call it anything, including organic). While the EPA has given the use of sewage sludge its blessing some of its own scientists disagree that it’s safe. And for good reason.

When you spread sludge on farmland or use a bag of compost you bought at a nursery or home-and-garden supply that’s made with sludge, you’re also spreading contaminants. Some one-thousand contaminants have been identified in sewage sludge, a short list of which includes lead, mercury and dozens of other metals, flame retardants, steroids, organochlorine pesticides, plasticizers, hormones and antibiotics. A 2009 nation-wide EPA study found that all samples of sludge tested contained various contaminants in varying amounts (you can get a more complete list of the contaminants here).

The problem is you may not even know that the compost you buy contains sludge. Since 2003, the EPA has allowed marketers to substitute the word “compost” for sewage sludge (or biosolids) on ingredient lists. The fact that some sludge is allowed to cure before it is used or treated to remove a handful of the thousands of contaminants it contains, does not make it safe. More amazing is the fact that some makers of compost that include sewage use the word “organic” in their marketing.

The struggle to inform the public on the dangers of biosolids pits small gardeners and environmental activists against some high-profit industries, handsomely-paid public relations firms and some of the country’s largest municipal governments. It’s a battle between those who want to green wash the product by depicting sludge as beneficial recycling and those warning that sewage sludge, the basis for several brands of commercial compost, is a toxic mix of lead, dioxin, asbestos, concentrated pesticides and numerous heavy metals and pathogens.

How did we get here? For years, sludge was dumped off shore (first 12 miles, later over 100) or in landfills. Leakage into water tables was common. Then the EPA discovered that fish and shellfish off New York’s coast where sludge was dumped were contaminated, the waters contained unusual amounts of pathogens and the sea bed contained unusually high levels of toxic metals and inorganic compounds. In 1988, Congress passed the Ocean Dumping Ban, which went into effect in 1992.

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That same year, the drive to legitimize dumping sludge on farm land went into full swing. Municipalities began selling or giving away sludge to farmers and makers of commercial compost. The effort to disguise the risks of this “fertilizer” reached epic proportions and involved local governments, the EPA, agricultural interests, the waste-removal industry, high-powered public relations firms and celebrities. The effort so characterized the dishonesty of labels in the American marketplace that it inspired a 2002 book Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies And the Public Relations Industry.

There’s lots of money to be made from government programs as well as unsuspecting gardeners while providing our largest cities a solution to one of their biggest problems: where to get rid of all that shit. That’s why marketing biosolids seems an easy sell. It takes care of one environmental problem by employing a wise-use recycling. But how wise is it to recycles contaminants into our soil?

Here’s how one county and its sewage reclamation partner describe biosolids, the “organic matter drawn from the clean water treatment process.” “Biosolids compost-enriched soil conserves water, reduces soil erosion, alleviates soil compaction, improves soil texture and reintroduces important nutrients back into depleted soils so that plants and trees can thrive in a nutrient-rich environment.” Sounds good, right? Not a word about feces and contaminants.

Cities have been especially insidious pushing sludge as compost. San Francisco suspended its compost giveaways and stopped labeling its sludge-based amendment as organic after protestors wearing Hazmat suits and respirators dumped toxic sludge on the steps of City Hall to call attention to the dangers of sewage based compost. (The city continues to produce and use the product.)

In Los Angeles, television producer Norman Lear’s “Environmental Media Association,” a group whose stated mission is “…to influence the environmental awareness of millions of people… EMA mobilizes the entertainment industry in educating people about environmental issues, which in turn, inspires them to take action” seemed an unlikely organization to push sludge sold as compost. But that’s what they’ve done.

In 2009, EMA with a corporate partner who manufactured compost from sludge, began contributing to the LA School District’s organic gardening program. A number of young celebrities became involved to publicize what seemed a worthy endeavor: teaching students to establish and maintain organic gardens. By using the corporate partner’s compost — compost made from sewage sludge — the gardens were not what they were presented to be.

As seen on The Martha Stewart Show! The Can O Worms provides a quick, odorless and space efficient way to convert kitchen scraps into rich, crumbly vermicompost. Includes a coco-brick, to be used as starter bedding, and a handy “how-to” booklet. May be used indoors or out. Roughly 1,000 Red Wigglers are all you need to get started.

In 2011, The Foods Rights Network wrote to EMA (PDF) asking them to quit their relationship with the compost maker while characterizing their efforts as an attempt to green wash a product that was not organic and indeed possibly dangerous. EMA has so far denied the green washing charges and refused to sever ties with the compost maker. But the reputation of the EMA which has included stars the likes of Ed Begely, Jr. and Daryl Hannah on its board of directors has suffered because of their obvious hypocrisy.

At first glance, it may seem that recycling sewage sludge as compost is a wise and wonderful solution for a growing problem. After all, something has to be done with all that waste. And compost, as we all know, is a wonderful addition to our gardens. But disguising toxins and pathogen-rich sewage sludge as compost is at once deceitful and bordering on criminal. Spreading sewage sludge on our lands is postponing and at worst, redirecting a serious contamination problem. How will we get rid of all that sewage if it’s not used as compost?

The answer may lie in energy conversion. Already projects are underway to extract methane from sewage and use it to power our cities. But the huge infrastructure required to do this, despite its obvious returns and economic benefits, seems a long way off. Even if sewage is utilized as energy, there’ll still be toxins to dispose of. In a political climate that resists even the repair of bridges, investment that would eventually solve a serious world-wide pollution problem while supplying needed energy, may be nothing but a pipe dream.

What to do? First, beware of any commercial compost you buy. Commercial compost has a number of problems, the possible inclusion of sewage byproducts being the foremost. Making your own compost — controlling what goes into your composter and composting piles — is the best way to safeguard your soil and family. Short of that, use only compost from trusted local producers, preferably from organic farms. Or buy organic soil that is certified by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI).

In the meantime, the spread of sewage sludge on America’s gardens and farmland continues. For your family’s safety and the integrity of the environment, don’t unknowingly be part of it.

Sources, resources:

Sludge News
Toxic Sludge
Center for Media and Democracy
Synagro Technologies

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36 Responses to “Is Your Compost Made of Sewage Sludge?”

  1. Walter Dill on December 30th, 2013 at 2:50 am #

    B S is the only thought that comes to mind when talking about the EPA and the bottom feeders of the federal government who back them. Public health interest for our elected officals would be a great platform for the next election but we all know how that worked out for the people last election. I personaly think the only hope is just what this site has to offer, information and facts.

  2. Tina on December 30th, 2013 at 6:42 am #

    How do you feel about Liquid Composting Machines used for diverting solid food waste from landfills? No chemicals used in biochips or enzymes. What you put in machine comes out as gray water. If foods have high quantities of salt, u.v. Filter needed before using on gardens. I would appreciate knowing your feelings about this technology for commercial use.

  3. Rebecca Rosch on February 1st, 2014 at 12:35 pm #

    This is seems to be a disaster waiting to happen.

  4. Me on May 6th, 2014 at 6:52 pm #

    I work at a sewage plant. and have for over a decade. It is blatantly obvious that the author of this article has NO idea what he’s talking about. The amount of analytical testing which is required by federal and state regulations prevents all the horror stories authors like this try to drum up. Heavy metals must be below certain limits before it is permitted to be used as compost or spread on land at all or even taken to a landfill for that matter. Try a search on 40 CFR part 503. That is EPAs sludge guidelines. As for the pathogens, guess what??? They are monitored as well and permitted levels must be achieved before the sludge is allowed to be used for compost, fertilizer or any form of land application. Furthermore, in order to be classified as compost it must also me the requirements for EQ or exceptional quality sludge which has extremely stringent metals and pathogenic standards which must be met AND also requires that a printed copy the analytical “ingredient list” of the material being sold or given away be provided to EACH person receiving the product and that list contains the metals content of the material as well as nutrient and pathogen content. Do you people honestly think that sewage plants are just allowed to haul tons of human sh!t anywhere they want with no monitoring??? People writing crap like this ought to be the ones being monitored for their fear mongering and dissemination of less than creditable information!!!!

    Whats wrong??? Does the truth not fit your agenda?

    • Lisa on May 18th, 2014 at 8:27 am #

      I understand that because you work at a municipal sewer treatment plant (who does their own testing) that you feel the way you do. Do you realize there are processors (individuals) of sewer biosolids that couldn’t care less what they are putting out – it just has to go somewhere! These are people who are permitted to take septic tank pumpings, porta-a-john waste, military waste, and previously dewatered sludge (who knows where this came from) and dewatering the mess further and then run it through an in-vessel “composter” and selling or giving the mess away. Our Department Of Evironmental Quality here in Louisiana is permitting individuals to do this very thing! The public IS unaware! I fear where this “compost” situation is going to end. I don’t believe it’s going to be good!

      • Me on June 15th, 2014 at 9:51 pm #

        That’s Louisiana’s problem. In my state those haulers you mentioned are required to take ALL of their material to a wastewater treatment plant for disposal. They must have a permit from a treatment plant before they are then issued a permit from the state to haul waste. It sounds like Louisiana isn’t holding your septic haulers up to any accountability, which is most likely a federal offense. I would suggest, if you really are concerned about this, to investigate further and pursue this in your own community/state.

        And we do not perform our own testing on biosolids…we use a non-affiliated third party, independent laboratory so as to eliminate any accusations of “fudging the numbers” for our own benefit. Seriously, people are misinformed…but quite often they are also misinformed about the structures in place to prevent the “horror stories” like you’re trying to portray. For every situation such as you’ve described, there are a thousand more how are going above any beyond to insure this type of scenario doesn’t occur.

        Any amount of pollution is of course detrimental; however, by volume, the haulers you mentioned are miniscule in the amount of volume they are turning out in comparison to municipal sources. And the EPA is concerned, most of the time, with what they call “major contributors.” Those little guys you mentioned, they just aren’t on the radar. Another great reason why your state should require that all they material they handle be taken to an appropriate treatment facility, governed via a NPDES permit.

    • Goitsemodimo on August 21st, 2015 at 12:32 am #

      Good morning Rebecca!!! can u please give me more detailed process for making compost with human sludge, the health hazard effect of such compost and the benefit of such compost. I will really appreciate your help.

    • Curious4Science on August 5th, 2016 at 8:42 am #

      Thanks for adding science and logic to the conversation.

    • d cook on April 23rd, 2019 at 12:44 pm #

      You’re a moron! Do a mass speck on this shit and you’ll see. There’s over 4000 chemicals. The people are being lied to and it’s sold everywhere. Not telling the people is wrong.

  5. keralafarmer on July 1st, 2014 at 7:17 pm #

    If each house is connected the sewage waste to a biogas plant including the input of organic wastes to burn methane for cooking to convert in to carbon-di-oxide to save the ozone. Bathroom water, washing machine water etc can be separated to treat before getting in to soil. The increasing population will spoil the entire water sources with E.coli bacteria if it is not treated properly by each house hold. Slurry can be dried through aerobic composting techniques. Save the Universe instead of spoiling it.

    • Me on July 18th, 2014 at 6:26 am #


  6. Barb Davy on August 6th, 2014 at 9:29 am #

    The problem is the toxins going down the drain, not using feces for compost. Composted feces of whatever kind is good for soil, so long as it is composted, and does not have residues from harmful chemicals in it. It has to go somewhere, and it would certainly be better for the environment to use it in agriculture than chemical fertilizers. Closed loop planning would make sense.

    • Me on September 5th, 2014 at 11:57 am #

      Read the above posts…”toxins” ie, metals, are regulated. In order for “feces” to be used in a composting process and made publicly available, such as the author of this article is suggesting, metals, ie “toxins” must be at extremely low levels. But guess what??? Plants (as well as any other living organism) needs these “toxins” at certain levels. They’re called micro-nutrients.

      • Fem on November 19th, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

        Some pple just cant think. test your soil outside(metals scan) you will find metals at various background levels. once the waste is either anerobically digested in a deigester or BVF, a solids wasting program would see it aerobically composted. boisolids testing is requred! proior to composting to ensure these levels stay within safe levels. additonally, testing is done after composting!

  7. me on September 8th, 2014 at 1:37 pm #

    I find it incredulous and hypocritical that this article rails in paragraph 5 about how all these agencies are spending vast sums of money to keep the whole “sewage sludge compost” issue a secret…yet in paragraph 6, they are pushing their own products through “Planet Natural.” Its blatantly obvious that the author of this article has had ZERO interaction with the EPA regarding this issue. I have, and I can assure anyone that the EPA is FAR from being “on the dole” of some commercial composter to “keep this quite.” Yeah, I’m certain “Big Compost” has a massive lobbying presence in DC. This is so laughable…

    • Mark on April 23rd, 2018 at 2:36 pm #

      The EPA under Pollutin’ Pruitt is what is “laughable”. The term “organic compost” is just as “laughable”. The fact that I can not be sure what I’m putting on my garden unless I go out and harvest my own cowpies is even more “laughable”. Except I’m not laughing.

  8. Go Me! on September 22nd, 2014 at 2:41 pm #

    Go Me! As a wastewater design specialist, “me’s” words are right on! For anyone that knows anything about the process, the author of this article is a factless moron. It’s a shame that he gets a forum to spew such ridiculous one-sided self-promoting banter. The testing and regulations that are required are arduous, well intentioned, evolving and successful.

  9. me on September 24th, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

    “Go Me,” is spot on. It is a shame that uneducated drivel such is this is allowed to be panned as “fact.” What’s even more disturbing is the number of average people who, apparently, fall into lock step with this type of nonsense. In the 5th post, “Lisa” made the statement that she understood why I “feel the way you do.” Well, this business isn’t about feelings. All those analytical tests we’ve been discussing are based in FACT, not emotion, not feelings. Unfortunately, emotion and feeling, more times than not, trump the facts. Why do you think all this testing goes on, just for the fun of it? Do you have any idea how expensive it is to have these very extensive tests performed and how expensive and time consuming it is to provide all the process control and record keeping required to make a quality product like composted biosolids? Every time feeling and emotion are allowed to trump the facts being presented, all of YOUR hard earned tax dollars that were used by operators to provide the required testing, process control and record keeping necessary to protect ALL of our communities, those same operators included, all those aforementioned water/sewer rate dollars and efforts put forth on the rate payer’s behalf goes right down the toilet, pun intended. You waste your own money and misuse the personnel who are the true environmentalist in your local communities when you allow your emotions to win out over the facts.

  10. Winston on February 22nd, 2015 at 1:20 pm #

    Is it so hard for people to speak the truth these days. This article is nothing but BS.
    Do you own research; don’t believe a word of this crap.

  11. Shawn on April 2nd, 2015 at 2:44 pm #

    I am personally against using biosolids in my own garden for my own reasons. In fact, I don’t use any manure (other than worm castings), however, do you know of any illnesses that have been directly linked to foods grown in biosolids or linked to the use of them? As I understand there are two classes of biosolids. Class “A” biosolids which seem to have more quality control standards and testing regimens and Class “B” which is less regulated. We have compost companies here that sell Class “A” as well as biosolid free compost and they have extensive testing reports showing the amounts of the various metal amounts, as well as microbiological measurements.

    • me on April 13th, 2015 at 9:06 am #

      I’m certain you can dig around and find a “story” of someone who claims to have fallen ill due to the application of biosoilds. The same can probably be found of chicken liter, cow, horse, or any other form of manure used for this purpose. In such instances, the material in question was most likely applied outside of the recommend methodology. There are also guidelines for application of these products based on the type of crop, intended use of the crop, harvest times, etc. If you are applying any form of manure (regardless of the source) onto a crop post emergence, particularly produce type crops and more particularly as harvest time approaches, your risk of contamination goes up; however, as stated, there are regulations issued by the USEPA and many state agencies regulating application times and application based on crop type. The ironic thing regarding the use of manure based forms of fertilizer is that the cow, horse, chicken, etc, is not regulated AT ALL. You can spread as much of that stuff as you want with no regulation. This is not true of biosolids, which are highly and stringently regulated. From a health and safety perspective, you are much more protected in terms of quality and safety in the use of biosolids as opposed to agriculturally based manures. What’s more, you as an individual citizen are prohibited from using the Class A&B forms of biosolids…you can only the product mention in the next paragraph.

      There is another classification of biosolids other than Class A and B, called EQ, or Exceptional Quality. Composted biosolids typically fall into this category. EQ biosolids are in a class all their own due to the extremely stringent treatment processes this class is required to go through.The EQ classification is considered the safest and most desirable classification of biosolid production, even above Class A. This is the only form of biosolids which are accessible to private citizens for use in their gardens/yards. The Class A&B products are relegated to agricultural, forestry, and mine reclamation applications and are subject to stringent application rates, agronomic loading rates, set backs, tracking and monitoring requirements, site approvals from regulatory authorities, and other control mechanisms to ensure water quality is maintained.

      At the end of the day, there’s risk in every activity we engage in. How many news reports have we heard of recently regarding ecoli, listeria, and pesticide contamination in products that have never seen any form of “organic” farming practice? The term “organic” is a loaded one, imho. At the end of the day, every product we come into contact with, even if its one we consider to be “synthetic,” was generated and produced from elements found on this plant. It all comes from “nature.” Have we altered them? Sure, but they still are a constituent of this world in which we all live. Words mean things, and words are used as means of manipulation, agenda pushing, and let’s face it, as a weapon. The term “organic” seemingly being at the top of the modern lexicon ammo dump.

  12. AllisonTaylor on April 19th, 2016 at 1:22 am #

    This is the first time I read about biosolids, and I think that I’d never use them in my garden. There’s even no need to explain that these products contain chemicals and heavy metals. The description of the production process is enough to make some conclusions. And I can’t understand why would anyone use biosolids in his garden.

    First of all, you know what they are made of and that they cannot be entirely BIO. I mean, all kinds of dump goes in the sewer. I can’t even think of the consequences these products can cause, but it looks pretty horrifying in my head.

    Secondly of all, these biosolids, don’t they have any odour? Wouldn’t one’s garden smell of sh*t if he uses biosolids?

    And thirdly, would you feed your children with veggies treated with biosolids? Or would you let your children and pets play around your garden if there are biosolids spread all over it?

    Regards, Allison, a gardener from London

    • me on May 19th, 2016 at 11:52 am #

      Allison, all of your “observations” are either, 1) made in ignorance of the product/process or 2) emotionally, and not analytically driven; therefore, any rational reply to your comments would be futile. I’m wondering whether or not you actually read any of the comments made by the knowledgeable persons on this topic. That said, I fully support your personal decision not to use biosolids. No one here is attempting to proselytize you or anyone else to use or not use any product (other than the website owner and its writers). Rather, my attempt and hope is to educate others regarding the truth concerning composted biosolids and how its generated. Of course, biosolids are not “organic,” if by “organic” you are using the modern marketing definition. But have you ever considered that the term is used as a marketing & political ploy as means to separate you from your money and, more importantly, limit your otherwise, free choice? BTW, yes, I use biosolids in my garden and eat the produce therefrom, as well as my family.

      • Mark on April 23rd, 2018 at 2:40 pm #

        “I use biosolids in my garden and eat the produce there from, as well as my family.” Guess that settles it. Mr Sewer worker eats it so it must be ok.

  13. Melissa Green on July 4th, 2016 at 6:24 am #

    Hi, I think this is bigger than just biosolids. The compost makers can call their composts “organic” without the legitimacy of definition and oversight. Manures from conventional ranches can be loaded with wastes which might include fungicides sprayed on hay, antibiotics, GMO corn or soya, insecticides and growth hormones. Even the most reputable composting operations use manures from conventionally raised turkeys or cows. All that violates my idea of organic. The important thing is that there is big money involved in this. There are profits in the selling of this compost both for municipalities and local businesses. There are also cost savings to municipalities and landfills which would likely pay much more to dispose of their wastes. I think that there is need for much greater oversight in the composting industry in general.
    Best regards, M. Green, a member of Handy Gardeners in London.

    • me on July 6th, 2016 at 10:10 am #

      The term “organic” is a problem, imho. Not sure what the laws are like in GB, but here in the States, organic does have a very specific definition. If the term is rather loose in GB, I can definitely see where that can be problematic. For example, when we give our compost away, we must state that if the person receiving it is intending to use it in organic farming practices, the use of our product may void their status as an organic grower.

      Not sure that more oversight is the answer. And I must disagree, there is not “big money” involved in compost. That simply isn’t true, depending on your definition of “big money.” It definitely isn’t on the scale of “big oil,” “big agriculture,” “big pharma,” etc. To me, that’s big money. If you believe “big money” is part of the problem, then adding more “oversight” will definitely increase the money involved. And that money will be purely taxpayer money. That’s never good imo.

  14. Andrew on August 1st, 2016 at 5:11 am #

    I’m just amazed at some of the stuff that I’m reading from sludge proponents here.

    How about this: A Thought Experiment:

    Take every single chemical, heavy metal, virus, drug, prion etc., produced in a given city, add them all into a slurry and flush them into a wastewater treatment plant..

    Do you figure that might end up as a toxic substance?

    Filter it and extract the water. Add some lime or additional neutralizing chemicals. Let it sit, heat, sit, heat, sit etc.. Add sand and wood-chips.
    Now, do you believe that this basic process “cleaned ” up (thousands of) molecular-level pharma-chemical-bio-etc. components – when in fact, perhaps +98% of North America’s wastewater treatment plants lack the facilities to do so?
    I dunno’ let’s look at some of the EPA’s very own results:


    That was run about 7 years ago, and all that’s happened since is that mankind has come up with hundreds more chemicals.

    The EPA tested for 145 chemicals, and found 145. I can strongly suspect that if they searched for any of the Top 300 nasty human engineered substances – they likely find all 300.

    This is madness. It’s going to trash the land and water for both our generation as well as generations thereafter.

    Anyone who does not believe this statement needs to come up with a science-based explanation for the EPA’s test results linked above. I can present with you with many other test results if you like.


    • me on August 2nd, 2016 at 7:08 am #

      “Take every single chemical, heavy metal, virus, drug, prion etc., produced in a given city, add them all into a slurry and flush them into a wastewater treatment plant..

      Do you figure that might end up as a toxic substance?”

      You’ve forgotten one major thing….its call a PRE-TREATMENT PROGRAM, which is also EPA mandated. You are operating under the assumption (or trying to paint an untrue horror story) that every person and business is in the habit of sending all these constituents you mentioned down the drain, all day, every day. That simply isn’t true. There’s this pesky little thing called the Clean Water Act of 1977, not to mention the thousands of pages of regs written since then that would slam the door on every industry in existence if what you proposed really happened. These business and municipalities are monitored and regulated by the EPA themselves to insure this doesn’t occur.

      “The EPA tested for 145 chemicals, and found 145.”

      You’ve forgotten another very import thing….maximum allowable concentrations, also EPA mandated. This is what the pre-treatment program does, keeps maximum allowable concentrations below their threshold. Just because something is present doesn’t qualify it as hazardous or dangerous. Ever looked at what the FDA allows to be found at certain concentrations in your food supply, such as maggots, insect eggs, mold, insect feces, etc?

      There are two science based explanations, by the EPA no less, for the link you gave. And I’d like to know where you came up the the static “perhaps +98% of North America’s wastewater treatment plants lack the facilities to do so?”

      • Julie on April 17th, 2018 at 6:43 pm #


        My understanding is that the EPA does not test for all chemicals and toxins found even in our municipal drinking water much less in the concentrations found in sludge. Yes, we have a Clean Water Act of 1977 and we have an EPA but most of us understand that the standards are not stringent enough and do not test all the newer toxic contaminants including pharmaceuticals, industrial and agricultural. The EPA has become a shell of the regulatory agency it once was. It is foolish to believe that the EPA ensures that our water and treated sludge is safe.

        If all the municipalities were so good and the EPA so good why do we have so much bad drinking water in this country?

        If you watch the story I linked you will find that an independent lab found dangerous toxins, including Dioxins, in the “biosolids” given to schools for their “organic” gardens. You talk a good game – saying that organics is nonsense and that folks that don’t trust the EPA and biosolids are just not being logical or scientific like you but I would say that you are being dishonest to assert that our governmental agencies protect our air, soil and water as it should.

        • Mark on April 23rd, 2018 at 2:44 pm #

          Me & Go Me don’t even talk a good game. They are obvious shills.

    • tom on November 21st, 2016 at 4:59 am #

      Thanks Andrew for leading us to the EPA’s statistic report on levels of toxins in biosolids produced at POTW’s (Publicly Owned Treatment Works). At no point in the document does it suggest that the biosolids produced are going to be used as a fertilizer. Table 4-7 page 44 is the only spot I saw that gives “Land application ceiling standards” for nine different types of metals. Only 4 samples they took exceeded these limits from 3 different facilities. One facility of which incinerates there biosolids and one other that just crams it in the land fill. The land fill still being suitable enough to trash the land and water for your oh so dear further generations. Kind of like sweeping all the dirt on the floor in your house under a rug and then telling yourself that its all gone…
      Plus your grand assumption that +98 percent of the wastewater treatment plants don’t have the facilities to clean the incoming water. 75% of the u.s. population is connected to a POTW and the other 25% is on a decentralized or private septic systems.

      Also information given forth by the EPA on there very own website. https://web.archive.org/web/20150906005124/http://water.epa.gov/infrastructure/watersecurity/basicinformation.cfm. We don’t need science anyway to debunk the entire statement you were trying to make. We just need the link you gave us and the EPA.

  15. Anonymous on January 12th, 2018 at 6:09 pm #

    So how do we fix the sludge problem?

    • Julie on April 17th, 2018 at 6:50 pm #

      I think a good place to start is to dramtatically reduce the use of toxins in our environment – particularly chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

      The EPA is not a strong regualtory agency. Regulations are weak as is oversight.

      We have to change the whole way we produce our food, and change how we use our resources – less chemicals, plastics, etc. It will take a whole change in how we as Americans think about how live our lives – how wasteful we are – how we think nothing of using so many petrochemicals/plastics in our daily lives.

      And the idea that we have to keep growing our GDP – constant growth is not sustainable. Our whole way of thinking/living has to change.

  16. P Whitman on June 4th, 2018 at 2:58 pm #

    I seldom believe articles written in the style of a Chicken Little arm waving exercise. I neither believe nor disbelieve everything written in this article. Is it plausible? Yes, and I’ll even go so far as to say, “It’s probable” given the tendency for our government agencies to have their practices subverted by those corporations who are willing to “fund” studies done by those agencies. However, Mr. Kohlhaase (the writer of this article) would advance his cause in my opinion were he to add citations for the proffered facts rather than succumbing to anecdotal evidence. Is the sky falling? Probably, but I refuse to jump on a bandwagon driven by those who simply use fear-and-loathing tactics vs. verifiable data or, at the least, *well* documented personal experience. Thanks anyway, Mr. Kohlhaase.

  17. Twofishfamily HeritageBreed Farm on September 4th, 2018 at 8:08 am #

    Bio Sludge has been dumped by the tons on much of these interconnected bodies of land and water that lead to the lake. Class B biosolids are highly toxic containing capacious quantities of dangerous bacteria, human viruses in addition to heavy metals.

    Measures to clean the water all along its route of travel well before entering Lake O, needs to start by people being informed that the water is contaminated by human waste that is Deregulated Class B Bio sludge and dumped by the tons on Florida’s Agricultural lands that are surrounding the Florida Aquifer — this needs to stop as quickly as possible. Awareness is needed of this horrific abuse of land water and ecosystem. Please share and please investigate what is happening because of the use of human waste. Thank you for reading PLEASE SHARE

  18. Nick on March 28th, 2019 at 3:55 am #

    Far from being an expert, I like to use biosolids but have no issues whatsoever with anybody who disagrees. Helpful article and interesting to read people’s opinions too.