Organic activists protest free San Francisco compost
San Francisco's free compost, which comes from sewage sludge, is being protested by an environmental activist group, which says it may contain harmful chemicals.
San Francisco wears its environmental consciousness like a green badge of honor. A city department even gives away processed sewage sludge for use in community, backyard, and school gardens.Skip to next paragraph
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The biosolids compost has drawn the ire of a public interest and environmental advocacy group.
The Organic Consumers Association doesn't think the variety used in gardens or the one laid on farmlands is tested enough and is waging a national campaign against its use. The sludge, they say, could potentially include thousands of industrial, pharmaceutical and chemical toxins and carcinogens.
"This sludge belongs in a hazardous waste dump," said Ronnie Cummins, the group's national director, before he poured some of the compost on carefully laid out plastic sheeting at the steps of San Francisco City Hall recenty.
In San Francisco, a utility spokesman said that federally mandated testing shows that the compost it distributes to the gardens has far lower levels of nine pollutants than the Environmental Protection Agency deems acceptable.
"We're in the business of protecting public health and the environment," Tyrone Jue said. "That's our mandate and our mission statement. That's what we do. If for even a minute we thought one of our activities was going against that mandate we would absolutely stop."
Several cities in California have bio-solid compost giveaways, including Los Angeles, San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Rosa, Fortuna, Carlsbad, and Calabasas, according to the Organic Consumers Association. Sewage or biosolids compost is also packaged and sold in major house and garden centers across the country.
A different category of fertilizer made from biosolids is used on millions of acres of land all over the United States to grow plants, according to the US Geological Survey. That fertilizer is not treated and heated to where it becomes compost and is not used for human food crops, although it is used for animal food crops.
The organic advocates group chose San Francisco for its protest because the city is so environmentally aware. "San Francisco as the greenest large city in the country should be the first to stop this," Mr. Cummins said.
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which manages the city's sewage treatment, says that the 1 percent of the city's 80,000 tons of sewage that is converted into compost each year is treated and tested to the point of sterility.