The free biosolid compost that the city gives out to gardeners, school groups, and homeowners is not *too* toxic, according to a study released yesterday by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC). However, food-safety activists that claim biosolid compost is truly toxic sludge are not impressed.
Since 2007, the city has held six compost giveaways. The biosolid compost is fertilizer made from treated sewage. Yep, that means human poop – which is totally normal and fine for composting. It’s the other stuff that ends up in the sewer system that is the problem. In 2009, the Center for Food Safety, a national non-profit, petitioned the SFPUC to stop giving the shit away.
At least SF has a free compost program, right? Silly hippy activists always have something to complain about. Not so fast, you jaded readers. Just imagine what gets flushed down the toilet or swept into sewer drains. Not only human poo, but heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, flame retardants and other hazardous material end up in the mix. Growing food in soil laced with that crap, many say, very bad for you.
What really pissed off the food safety activists was the way they say they were misled to believe they were getting free organic compost. SFPUC spokesperson Tyrone Jue claimed that they were not trying to mislead the public, and that they have literature available about the makeup on the compost on their website and at the giveaway events. Anyone who doesn’t want to use the sludge doesn’t have to come and get it.
The tension escalated in March of this year when the Organic Consumer Association organized a demonstration at city hall. Protesters showed up at the Mayor’s office in hazmat suits and gloves to give the city government back the free fertilizer by dumping it on the steps of city hall.
The advocacy efforts apparently worked as the program was suspended while the compost was analyzed. The $25,000 study found that the biosolid compost is comparable in toxicity to what you can buy at gardening stores.
Jue thinks that this info should comfort people. He told the Guardian, “It shows that just because you pay a lot of money for a product at a store does not mean that it is any better”. That’s not too comforting when you consider that many farmers wouldn’t use the comparable stuff sold in the stores either.
Activists also say that the testing was inadequate, as it only tests for about 1 percent of the hazardous materials that could be found in sewage. The EPA’s laws only require testing for nine pollutants.
What to do with our waste is the bane of our existence, I suppose. The end of free compost giveaways will not help that huge problem. Currently, the program uses 20 tons of the 82,000 tons of material removed from the sewer every year.
The study will be presented to the Commissioners next month, where they will decide whether or not to continue the program. SFPUC Manager, Ed Harrington, says that a new campaign could be launched to help reduce the contaminants in the sewage system.
Photo from the Organic Consumer Association’s City Hall demonstration: Chris Roberst For The Appeal.