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Daily News Blog

24
Jun

Communities Ban Biosolid (Sewage Sludge) Use As Researchers Investigate Whether It Can Contain Covid-19

(Beyond Pesticides, June 24, 2020) Communities across the U.S. are restricting the use of biosolids (sewage sludge) in their jurisdictions, as researchers at Michigan Tech plan to study whether Covid-19 can persist in wastewater and sewage sludge. While relatively unknown to many city-dwellers, the use of recycled human waste on farm fields is a common practice in many rural communities throughout the country. Issues associated with smell, runoff, and contamination are often the impetus for local leaders to investigate and consider banning their spread, but the potential for the waste to vector coronavirus gives the issue a new sense of urgency.   

In Oklahoma, the small town of Luther earlier this month voted to ban the use of biosolids on farmland. The issue was brought to town leaders after a report from FOX 25 found that a local sewer plant was spreading the waste on area farmlands. “Our goal with the biosolids program is to get beneficial reuse rather than just taking it to a landfill and filling up a landfill with this…And [the farmers] get it for free and of course, the farmers line up for this,” Kris Neifing, Director of Water Resources for Edmond, OK, told FOX 25.

Local leaders looked into the safety of biosolid use, and found concerning information, including a report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Inspector General, which identified over 350 pollutants in biosolids, 61 of which are considered hazardous. “The more research I did, the more I realized this is something we really need to fight and we have to all come together,” said local resident and farmer Saundra Traywick to reporters. “The EPA only requires testing for nine to twelve contaminants. There’s 250 contaminants that aren’t being tested for.”

Ms. Traywick noted that Oklahoma City did not use biosolids on their parks and golf courses. “This is a health issue for a lot of people especially if you are immunocompromised, you do not want to be near this stuff,” Ms. Traywick told FOX 25. After the victory in Luther, Ms. Traywick plans to move her ban campaign to Oklahoma County.

Local leaders in Indian River County, FL have also taken action against sewage sludge applications in their community. After first banning use in 2018 due to concerns over runoff into Blue Cyprus Lake causing toxic algae blooms, TCPalm reports that the county approved a six month extension on the moratorium. Some county commissioners are calling on the community to make the ban permanent.

While biosolids and wastewater have long been sources of exposure concern as it pertains to pesticides, industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and household chemicals, researchers at Michigan Tech are exploring a new potential contaminant: Covid-19. A team of scientists plans to understand its fate after an infected person’s waste enters the wastewater stream.

“We’re not just interested in seeing if the virus is in the wastewater — it undoubtedly will be. We want to know what happens to the virus in wastewater and biosolids,” said Jennifer Becker, PhD, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. “We want to make sure the SARS-CoV-2 virus particles are no longer infectious when we spread biosolids. If any of the virus particles stay in the wastewater stream during treatment, what happens when wastewater is discharged to the environment? We know almost nothing about the answer to this question right now.

The researchers “do not want to take it for granted” that current water treatment technologies are removing coronavirus from the waste stream.

Ms. Traywick in Oklahoma noted in her concerns the potential for another human disease – strep and staph bacteria – to persist in sewage sludge. “We have tested sludge that contains staph and strep. That’s huge for me. My daughter got an autoimmune disease from a case of strep that attacked her brain. I’m not OK with humanure being applied on fields where we have to breathe it and it has confirmed strep in it,” Traywick said.

In many parts of the country, it is often low-income and people of color communities that are most impacted by the hazards of waste pollution. Localities are encouraged to take a preventative approach to the range of concerns associated with biosolids. A ban is strongly recommended due to the range of chemical contaminants that cannot be filtered out, but in the least, a moratorium for residential safety is appropriate as researchers make a determination whether the pandemic virus can persist and spread through biosolids applications. Beyond immediate concerns associated with drift from biosolid application sites are issues related to the safety of foods that have had wastewater or biosolids applied to them.  

Beyond Pesticides has produced extensive reports on contamination issues associated with reusing waste from sewer treatment plants. For more information see Biosolids or Biohazards, and Wastewater Irrigation on Farms Contaminates Food. Under the Organic Foods Production Act, certified organic production and food labeled USDA organic, may not be produced with biosolids or fertilizers containing biosolids. If you’d like to work to stop the use of biosolids in your community, contact Beyond Pesticides at [email protected] or 202-543-5450.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: FOX25, TCPalm, Michigan Tech

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