sludgelede.jpgControversy continues to build as San Francisco gardeners continue to argue that they were tricked into using toxic compost laden with sewage to fertilize their gardens. In the latest chapter of our story, a food activist will be addressing the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission in an attempt to impress upon them concerns many have about the dangers associated with using compost the Commission has deemed harmless.

The compost is free from the SFPUC, which has made 50 tons of free compost available every year since 2007. Mayor Gavin Newsom has already been asked to clean up the school yards and the backyard gardens that have been some say have been contaminated. However, after a variety of activists caused such a big stink at City Hall in March, the compost giveaway program by PUC seems to have come to a halt: no giveaways are planned in the near future.

Tests paid for by the government found the compost to be safe for garden and crop use, however, the Center for Food and Safety conducted their own tests on the compost and that it is not the safe, organic concoction everyone believed.

The bone of contention: The CFS test results say the compost is laden with heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, flame-retardants, and other hazardous materials, which they say is dangerous, and the opposite of the organic and safe discription given to gardners.

PUC defends its compost saying that it is treated at a facility in Merced, where it is mixed with organic green yard waste and heated to 130 degrees for a 30 day period. Many argue, however, that that’s not enough, saying that heat does not neutralize heavy metals, pesticides, or drug residue.

Despite the 25,000 dollars worth of tests conducted, many say the findings are inadequate because the EPA only requires testing for nine pollutants, and did not target dioxins, flame retardants and PCBs. Dioxin is a dangerous hormone-disrupting chemical byproduct of burning chlorine-containing plastics.

Furthermore, the compost is susceptible to the presence of plastic bottles, industrial strength solvents, agricultural runoff, and oils, which all enter the sewage system.

San Francisco activists have been enraged since March, when a group of community gardeners and farmers decided to dump the toxic compost on the City Hall steps to prove a point about their indignation with the dangerous chemicals and heavy metals they are using on their crops.

Today, food activist John Stauber from Wisconsin will speak at the SFPUC’s meeting and will address SFPUC and City Hall staff.

Stauber told the Examiner “I’m not here to suggest what should be done with (the compost). What we should not be doing is calling it organic biosolids fertilizer and pretending that it’s safe and spreading it on farms and gardens.”

Organic compost activist John Mayer echoed this, saying, “Our position is that sewage sludge should not be used to grow food. Period.”

The goal of Stauber’s appearance today, he says, is to convey the importance of finding a safer solution to the use and distribution of sewage waste. Other plans in the works include trying to keep non-sewage waste from ever entering the sewage system at all.

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