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Another Reason to Grow Your Own!

August 6th, 2009

My friend Shaun mentioned that while out running one day he spotted a truck spraying something on a local field.
He assumed it was liquid manure at first, which is common to see farmers spraying on their fields. A closer look revealed something interesting.
That truck reads, “Brown Township Malvern Sewer District”. A couple days later he noticed a new sign had been placed kind of behind a tree, down on one corner of the field.
Sewer Sludge is defined as: an unpleasant material whose the quantities increase each year. According to the Center for Food Safety, this is what’s going on:

Every time you flush your toilet or clean a paintbrush in your sink, you may be unwittingly contributing fertilizer used to grow the food in your pantry. Beginning in the early 1990s, millions of tons of potentially-toxic sewage sludge have been applied to millions of acres of America’s farmland as food crop fertilizer. Selling sewage sludge to farmers for use on cropland has been a favored government program for disposing of the unwanted byproducts from municipal waste water treatment plants. But sewage sludge is anything but the benign fertilizer the Environmental Protection Agency says it is.

Sewage sludge includes anything that is flushed, poured, or dumped into our nation’s waste water system–a vast, toxic mix of wastes collected from countless sources, from homes to chemical industries to hospitals. The sludge being spread on our crop fields is a dangerous stew of heavy metals, industrial compounds, viruses, bacteria, drug residues, and radioactive material. In fact, hundreds of people have fallen ill after being exposed to sewage sludge fertilizer–suffering such symptoms as respiratory distress, headaches, nausea, rashes, reproductive complications, cysts, and tumors.

So I googled Class B sewer sludge to see what we were dealing with and I found this sickening bit of information:

Sludge is classified as either Class A or Class B, depending on the type of treatment it has received. Class A sludge has benefited from both pretreatment and treatment at the wastewater facility. The pathogens in Class A biosolids cannot exceed certain levels set by the EPA. Standards for Class B sludge are less stringent, and their use is therefore more regulated. A landowner who wishes to use Class B sludge as an alternative to conventional fertilizers must apply to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to register his site. Among other items, the application requires information on the type of land, the amount of buffer zones, and the type of soil. The applicant must also provide information from the wastewater treatment facility on the type of pollutants and pathogens in the sludge, and calculations of nutrient needs for the crops. The use of Class B sludge on land has been criticized by the Center for Disease Control and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. A landowner using Class A sludge does not have to register his land.

After searching a while for information I came across a few articles I though you might find interesting if you want to read more about the use of sewer sludge in agriculture.

* Here is a great article about sewer sludge.

* Another story about sewer sludge usage on hay that was fed to cows that resulted in their death, over at the Organic Consumers Association.

* Even the White House garden has been contaminated with sewer sludge.

* Bio-solids: by any other name, Sludge

* Sludge News: a website dedicated to information about and activism against the use of sewer sludge. Including a list of fertilizers sold at Hardware stores that contain sludge.

This is why I want to GROW MY OWN and keep as closed a system as possible in my gardens. I’ll put homegrown compost on my gardens thanks!

Did you know that sewer sludge was used in agriculture, particularly on the food we eat?

25 Comments to “Another Reason to Grow Your Own!”
  1. Autumn Belle on August 6, 2009 at 5:23 am

    Thank you very much for this eye-opening post. Yes, this is the perfect why we must grow our own vegies if we can.
    .-= Autumn Belle´s last blog ..Butterfly on my Periwinkle Plant =-.

    Reply to Autumn Belle's comment

  2. Faith on August 6, 2009 at 6:43 am

    Bummer. Nope, I did not know that one. :(


    Reply to Faith's comment

  3. Andres on August 6, 2009 at 7:49 am

    Wow!! That is incredible that is an acceptable practice. Definitely one reason we are buying farmers at are local farmer’s market and am trying to grow as much as I can, even going as far as guerilla gardening to avoid having to buy things that has been deemed okay by those who supposedly know better. . . .
    .-= Andres´s last blog ..Fall Vegetable Sowing =-.

    Reply to Andres's comment

  4. Seren Dippity on August 6, 2009 at 8:03 am

    oh yuck. That’s gross. And disturbing. Very disturbing. Thanks so much for this post. Not something I’ve heard about.
    It upsets me to find that its being sold in commercially available compost. My soil is not so great and I’ve been purchasing compost from Lowes and Home Depot to supplement the homemade compost we’ve been making. Won’t be doing that any more. With just two of us we don’t have much to add to the compost pile and it grows very slowly. I guess I’ll be finding a more reliable source.
    (Yet another reason I’ll be considering raising chickens.)

    Reply to Seren Dippity's comment

  5. Dave on August 6, 2009 at 8:33 am

    Ick! I think the untreated stuff was what caused the green onion issues a few years ago from Mexico.
    .-= Dave´s last blog ..Preparing for Fall Planting =-.

    Reply to Dave's comment

    • Susy on August 6, 2009 at 9:34 am

      I’ve read that in China they feed it to salmon, one reason I only buy wild caught salmon.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  6. Chicago Mike on August 6, 2009 at 8:38 am

    Yeah. But I didn’t know you could actually use Class B type sludge for food crops. I have heard of it on flowers and landscaping.
    .-= Chicago Mike´s last blog ..Harvest As Family Activity =-.

    Reply to Chicago Mike's comment

    • Susy on August 6, 2009 at 9:33 am

      In this field they were growing wheat, they harvested the wheat and then started spraying with sludge. We’ll see what they grow next.

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • ChicagoMike on August 6, 2009 at 10:45 am

        What do you want to bet that the field is left fallow so the farmer can collect the subsidy for that (yes, there are subsidies for that) then plants a crop the year after that?
        .-= ChicagoMike´s last blog ..Harvest As Family Activity =-.

        to ChicagoMike's comment

  7. Mr. Chiots on August 6, 2009 at 9:50 am

    BTW… this field is right next to a ditch, that runs into a creek, that runs into a larger creek, that people catch fish from. I think if I see anyone fishing there, I am going to stop and tell them to read the blog!

    Reply to Mr. Chiots's comment

  8. Christine on August 6, 2009 at 11:11 am

    That’s actually kind of terrifying. The thought of untreated biowaste being applied to fields is absolutely disgusting, unsafe, and all sorts of other negative adjectives. I can’t believe they’re allowed to do this, especially without some sort of better warning system. That sign is teeny tiny, and can’t even be read without getting super close to it, not to mention it doesn’t even explain what the sludge is.
    .-= Christine´s last blog ..Heirloom Tomatoes =-.

    Reply to Christine's comment

  9. warren on August 6, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Wow…and yuck
    .-= warren´s last blog ..An evening…shot =-.

    Reply to warren's comment

  10. lee on August 6, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    I’ve heard they use it for fruit trees but let’s hope they don’t use it for vegetables though.

    Reply to lee's comment

  11. frugalmom on August 6, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    Wow. This is not good. Im not even sure what else to say to that. Im so glad that I am able to grow so many things on my own.
    .-= frugalmom´s last blog ..Sad and Happy =-.

    Reply to frugalmom's comment

  12. Pampered Mom on August 6, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    I knew that sewer sludge was used – my dad would talk about a large metropolitan area had their sludge turned into fertilizer that homeowners could buy…and would plants would end up volunteering in that area as a result…

    What concerns me most is the reference to “the amount of buffer zones” – wasn’t there a semi-recent article/blog post out there somewhere (Ethicurean?) that talked about the scorched earth policies major veggie growers are required to utilize in hopes of preventing food borne illness? Some of which included eliminating buffer zones and biodiversity? Imagine if these types of products were applied w/out those things?
    .-= Pampered Mom´s last blog ..That’s such a fantastic cat food! (Oops!!) =-.

    Reply to Pampered Mom's comment

  13. inadvertent farmer on August 6, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    Ughhh one more thing to give me reason to go out and thank my garden. I’m sorry but that is just gross…I don’t want someone’s poo and who knows what sprayed anywhere near the food I eat…bleck! Kim
    .-= inadvertent farmer´s last blog ..The Ugly Camel… =-.

    Reply to inadvertent farmer's comment

  14. Dan on August 6, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    I knew about this but thought they only put it on crops that don’t directly go into human consumption. I just looked it up and it would appear they put it on human food crops here as well. That is pretty scary, it would be alright if it was just human excrement but it’s everything that goes down the pipes. The article I was reading about Ontario in particular said in 1996 they stopped them from dumping it into the great lakes so since then they have increased the rate at which it is used as fertilizer. Crazy world we live in.
    .-= Dan´s last blog ..Thurdays Garden Meals =-.

    Reply to Dan's comment

  15. deedee on August 6, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    it makes me feel so good to know that as i basically live in the middle of a corn field. i’m so glad we don’t drink our well water…. i’ve always said i didn’t want to drink it not knowing what else was in there… little did i know! i’ll be keeping my eye on the fields for these signs…. so much for us living in such a “green” culture. my first thought upon reading this article reminded me of a certain church camp in kentucky that has surely been condemned sometime over the last 10 years… :)

    Reply to deedee's comment

    • Susy on August 6, 2009 at 10:46 pm

      Oh yes, what a fun week that was with the 105 degree days, the Earth Ball, raw sewage running by the cafeteria, taking a shower with a hose, sleeping in the van, and who can forget that two-seater toilet (which of course provided the raw sewage that ran by the cafeteria)! Thanks for reminding me.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  16. Renee on August 7, 2009 at 2:28 am

    Think of all the expired medications that get dumped down people’s toilets. Nasty!

    Thanks for opening my eyes. I’m so glad I didn’t fall for the TAGRO sales pitch at a garden club meeting. The guy was pushing it big time and all of the ladies were exclaiming how wonderful it sounded. I’d be heartbroken if I had actually put that stuff on my land without knowing it was sewer sludge.
    .-= Renee´s last blog ..The Reading Room =-.

    Reply to Renee's comment

  17. Frugal Trenches on August 7, 2009 at 4:45 am

    Oh my…!
    .-= Frugal Trenches´s last blog ..Getting Over Your Sense of Entitlement Part II =-.

    Reply to Frugal Trenches's comment

  18. Karen on October 1, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Renee, Tagro is a Class A biosolid, which is MUCH better than Class B sludge. Tagro has been in use since 1991, has won numerous awards, and I must say, in every garden I have grown with it, has produced an amazing quantity of produce both in Tacoma, and now in central WA where I have transported my leftover Tagro.

    As with most things, biosolids/sewer sludge is only as good as the integrity of the waste treatment people. While there are many things the City of Tacoma could stand to improve (like pothole repair), when it comes down to coming up with a safe, effective gardening amendment, that also helps keep sludge out of our already over-stressed Puget Sound waters, they hit it out of the park with Class A Tagro. And that’s why, come next spring, I’m borrowing a truck, heading over the pass and loading up with some more for my garden next year. :-)

    Reply to Karen's comment

  19. Christie on February 12, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    I just started the journey to a more natural way of life for myself and family, I wish I had found your blog sooner!

    That is the most discusting thing I have ever heard.. Thank you soo much for your post… Makes me even more determined to make this new lifestyle happen for my family.

    Reply to Christie's comment

  20. Compost That! « driftwood haven on April 12, 2011 at 1:42 am

    […] of your vacuum cleaner bag!  Instead of buying bags of compost at the store (which may contain sewer sludge), start your own compost pile and use all that stuff that usually ends up in […]

    Reply to Compost That! « driftwood haven's comment


This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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