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Would You Like Sludge with That?

Yesterday I was scrolling through my Dr. Mercola newsletter when a headline stopped me in my tracks.  These days, it takes a lot to stop me in my tracks when I’m headline gazing.  I consider myself pretty jaded when it comes to the crap (literally, as the headline I was reading told me) that gets put in or on our food.  But this particular headline had me gobsmacked:  Toxic Sewage Sludge in Your Food

The teaser for it, should you need more incentive to click through to the article was this:  “Who would have known that something like this, and even worse, could ever wind up in your food supply?” (Toxic Sewage Sludge in Your Food)

My initial reaction was disbelief and then absolute fury and then a sinking sensation as I tried to tell myself that this didn’t mean Canada did it, but knowing that Canada thinks of the States as a cool older brother, so we tend to do what they do. 

Of course I started doing some digging and what I found wasn’t very reassuring.  This has been going on for 30 years.  It started when they realized that dumping sludge into the oceans the way they were doing was “an environmental and human health disaster” (Andrew Kimbrell, Huffington Post, November 25, 2009: Give Thanks, But Not For Toxic Sewage Sludge).  Obviously the thing to do with it then, was to spread it on our crops. 

If this reasoning sounds familiar to you, it should.  The same thing happened with sodium fluoride, toxic waste left over from aluminum smelting (Fluoride Follies), and then it just progressed from there to other types of fluoride.  They didn’t know how to dispose of it, so they thought, hey, let’s put it into the water and tell people it’ll give them healthy teeth—just don’t tell them it causes fluorosis of the teeth, brain and bones, and other yucky things no one wants.  To top it off, they insisted on telling everyone that it was especially good to give it to children.  But I’ll save the fluoride rant for another day.  

There are indications that some farmers and some food companies have managed to make the leap of logic from toxic waste to toxicity.  Unfortunately for others, the barrier preventing that leap is that sludge is offered for free to those who would willingly spread it on their crops.  To quote Upton Sinclair, “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” 

It gets worse.  The government is actively promoting its use.  A May 2009 press release on the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association website (CWWA–Canadian Water and Wastewater Association website), a non-profit organization established in 1986 to address Canadian water and wastewater issues at the national level, reports that Ontario plans to “allow sewage sludge to be spread on farmers’ fields without a waste-disposal permit” (Communities Opposed to New Sludge Rules). 

In essence, they would be qualifying sludge as nutrient rich when applied to crops but as toxic waste when used as biofuel.  Come again?  Yup.  You heard me correctly.  If you put it on your vegetables then it’s good for you.  If you use it as fuel, it’s hazardous waste.  According to that press release, farmers use about 120,000 tonnes of sludge as fertilizer every year.  It would appear we’re in deep sh*t. 

Of course, the kaka-manipulators maintain that “biosolids” (of course they came up with a euphemism—who likes the sound of “sludge”?) are safe, and, to quote the title of Douglas Adams’s fifth book, “Mostly Harmless”—as long as there is adherence to regulations (see the Toronto Star article When Sludge Disposal Rules are Broken). 

In a July 12, 2008 news article in the Toronto Star, Dr. David Williams, chief medical officer of health uses the classic “no established link to adverse health effects” defense, and says that using sludge on farmers’ fields is safe (Is sewage fertilizer safe?).  But as this article, and further articles in the Star indicate, people are getting sick (see also Oakville Family Files Suit Over Treated Sewage Lagoon Near Their Home and They Started to Become Ill When a Farmer Spread Sludge on His Fields, then Their Wells Became Contaminated and Farmers Split Over Safety)

If you review the list of ingredients that eventually become sludge, you wonder how they could think that this would work:  feces, urine, hormones, drugs, vomit, heavy metals, blood, and anything you can think of that would be flushed down the toilet or carried from your home, business, industrial plant, or hospital.  They turn this crap (literally) into a number of things, including the aforementioned fertilizer.  To view how the magic happens, see the Toronto Star slide show

To their credit, not all companies have jumped on the sludge bandwagon.  The following Toronto Star Article, called Food Firms Shun Sludge Use, mentions a number of companies that refuse to make their products using sludge fertilized ingredients: Food firms shun sludge use

I noticed, though, that Nestle only refuses to use it in their Gerber Baby Foods products.  I’m glad they’re thinking of babies, but I guess they don’t care so much about the rest of us, including pregnant women and their fetuses.  That article presents studies that show heavy metal toxins have been found in produce grown in sludge fertilized soils.  Do any of you find that surprising, or just those of you who work for the government departments that promote this swill?

In my opinion, it would be a great idea if all farmers switched to organic farming practices, which do not allow the use of sludge fertilizers.  But if you agree with me, then don’t tell Michael Mack, CEO of Syngenta, a company that makes, along with seeds,  (you guessed it), pesticides. 

In a New York Times article called Agribusiness Chief Slams Organics, Mr. Mack is quoted as saying “If the whole planet were to switch to organic farming tomorrow, it would be an ecological disaster.”  I guess that’s opposed to the pure and stable environment we have today.  He must not be getting enough mercury in his flu vaccine and wants to eat it in his food, too. 

Hopefully, you didn’t read this over lunch, unless you were eating totally organic.  That reminds me—it’s time for me to do another cleanse.


Val Tobin, ATP® with Advanced Training



6 Responses

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  6. Thanks for your feedback, everyone. It is much appreciated.


    Val Tobin

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