(Beyond Pesticides, August 11, 2010) Independent tests of sewage sludge-derived compost from the Synagro CVC plant -distributed free to gardeners since 2007 by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in their “organic biosolids compost” giveaway program — have found appreciable concentrations of contaminants with endocrine-disruptive properties. These contaminants include polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants, nonylphenol detergent breakdown products, and the antibacterial agent triclosan. The independent tests were conducted for the Food Rights Network by Robert C. Hale, PhD of the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences.
The antibacterial triclosan, an endocrine disruptor, was also found in the sewage sludge compost, at an average of 1,312 ng/g (or ppb). Last week, the Centers for Disease Control updated their National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals and noted that triclosan levels in people increased by over 41% between just the years 2004 and 2006. Also last week, a scientific paper showed that triclosan from sewage sludge can be taken up by soybean plants and translocated into the beans themselves, then consumed by people and animals. PBDEs are persistent and bioaccumulate in the environment and elevated levels have been found in California citizens. The average total of the PBDE congeners tested in the compost was 731 ng/g (or ppb – parts per billion) (dry weight basis).
Triclosan is one of the most detected chemicals in U.S. waterways; about 96 percent of triclosan from consumer products is disposed of in residential drains. This leads to large loads of the chemical in water entering wastewater treatment plants, which are incompletely removed during the wastewater treatment process. When treated wastewater is released to the environment, sunlight converts some of the triclosan (and related compounds) into dioxins. Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor and has been shown to affect male and female reproductive hormones, which could potentially increase risk for breast cancer. Triclosan is also shown to alter thyroid function, and other studies have found that due to its extensive use in consumer goods, triclosan and its metabolites are present in, fish, umbilical cord blood and human milk.
Beyond Pesticides, in partnership with Food and Water Watch and 78 other groups, submitted petitions to both the FDA and EPA requiring that they all non-medically prescribed triclosan uses on the basis that those uses violate several federal statutes. Prompted by this petition, which was then echoed by Rep. Markey’s (D-MA) letters of concern, the FDA responded, “existing data raise valid concerns about the [health] effects of repetitive daily human exposure to these antiseptic ingredients,” and announced plans to address the use of triclosan in cosmetics or other products. EPA, however, in its response maintains that the agency does not currently plan to reevaluate its regulations surrounding the use of triclosan until 2013.
Michael Hansen, PhD, Senior Scientist with Consumers Union, reviewed the tests conducted and stated, “Giving out sludge-based ‘compost’ that contains PBDEs, triclosan, and who knows what other toxins, while calling it ‘organic compost,’ knowing it would be applied to school and home gardens, is wrong on a number of levels. Given the toxic compounds that have been found in this San Francisco sludge product, the ‘compost’ giveaway should be permanently ended by the City of San Francisco.”
Last September, the Center the Food Safety and the Resource Institute for Low Entropy Systems petitioned the City of San Francisco and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) to immediately suspend the SFPUC’s Compost Giveaway program because the compost is made with sewage sludge which contains toxic chemicals and hazardous materials. The petition cited that the distribution of contaminated compost will spread toxic sludge to homeowners’ backyards, increasing the risk of health problems to children and the community.
John Mayer, Bay Area resident and researcher for the Food Rights Network, stated: “The sludge tests that the PUC released in late July 2010, are grossly insufficient, relying on outdated science and regulatory standards, and limited to ‘priority pollutants,’ a list developed more than 30 years ago. As the Center for Food Safety noted recently, the PUC failed to test for nanoparticles, ‘antibiotics and their degradation products, disinfectants, other antimicrobials, steroids, hormones, and other drugs present in sewage sludge as indicated by EPA’s 2009 Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey. “Our ongoing investigation of this issue has shown that the Office of the Mayor and the staff of the PUC have colluded with the national sewage sludge lobby, Synagro corporation and other private interests to promote and defend growing food in sewage sludge. We call upon the five PUC Commissioners to put this issue on their public agenda for September, and to stop allowing sludge politics to trump health, environment and the precautionary principle in San Francisco.”
Composting is still a great way to improve the health of soil by adding much-needed organic content to soil. However, it is best to utilize organic compost, free of synthetic chemicals and avoid compost consisting of sewage sludge and other synthetic chemicals. Luckily, compost is relatively easy to make at home. For more information on organic compost, read Beyond Pesticides’ factsheet, “Compost Is the Key to Successful Plant Management”
TAKE ACTION: Join the ban triclosan campaign and sign the pledge to stop using triclosan today. Avoid products containing triclosan, and encourage your local schools, government agencies, and local businesses to use their buying power to go triclosan-free. Urge your municipality, institution or company to adopt the model resolution which commits to not procuring or using products containing triclosan.
Source: PR Newswire