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April 7, 2010

SF Mayor discovers the difficulty of trying to be green

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Donning hazmat suits and carrying compost, activists with the Organic Consumers Association paid a visit to Mayor Gavin Newsom at San Francisco's City Hall yesterday. Their grievance? Since 2007 the city has been giving away bags of "organic biosolids compost" to residents to use in their backyard, community and school gardens. But it turns out that the compost is anything but "organic" if you go by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's definition of the word. The compost actually contains sewage sludge.

Biosolids is really just a clever way of saying crap, and the water that went down with it -- it is the byproduct of the water treatment process. And the compost that was given to San Franciscans came from nine counties, which are home to oil refineries, metal container manufacturers, foundries and electronics manufacturers, Jill Richardson writes. Which means there's the potential for the compost to be a noxious soup of chemicals, metals, pharmaceuticals, bacteria, parasites and more.

Definitely not the kind of thing you'd want to be planting your food in. Although using sewage sludge on farmland is not a new or uncommon practice. Richardson writes that in 1992 the Environmental Protection Agency reclassified sludge -- it went from being a hazardous waste to a fertilizer. Which conveniently helps out treatment facilities that are left trying to find ways to dispose of a whole lot of sludge after wastewater is treated. Currently about half of all sludge is applied to farm fields.

And while there are documented cases of animals dying and people being made ill from that very practice, it is still fine by federal and state laws. But it doesn't fly by with the USDA's organic standards. San Francisco's choice to label the compost "organic" has really got residents steamed. Richardson writes that the city claims they meant "organic" not to connote the USDA's program but that it instead "referred to the scientific definition of organic matter as in containing significant amounts of organic carbon." Hm, I'm guessing that might not have been immediately apparent to all the gardeners who hauled away sludge-laden compost. And in a city full of greens, the city almost certainly knew better.

Organic Consumers Association is calling on Newsom, who ironically was named the country's greenest mayor by Organic Style, to stop the "toxic sewage sludge giveaways."

At SF Mayor Green

Read More in: Fertilizer | Worms, Bugs & Gross Things

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Posted by Marilyn Renaker at April 7, 2010 8:20 AM
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