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Biosolids (Humanure) - is this a scandal for the future?

Fertiliser. A necessary component for an abundant harvest.

There are many types of fertiliser out there and I'm going to talk about one called 'cake' or 'biosolids'.

Someone at work who is into the environment was talking about this fertiliser and I wondered what it was so I did a little investigation. She was against this fertiliser as it is created from human waste harvested from sewage treatment plants. Apparently it really doesn't smell nice and my research confirms that biosolids smell quite different from traditional fertiliser.

*WARNING* - I am not an expert on this and I don't have an answer but I just want to share what I'm learning.

The idea of human waste being used to fertilise our crops doesn't fill me with a warm glow, I'll be honest. However, talking to Tim about it, he said that back in the day when people had outdoor toilets on the allotment, they used it as fertiliser for the allotment so is there a problem? The problem is perhaps that our world has changed - there are a lot more chemicals and toxins than there used to be.

Recent research has shown that biosolids contains waste from industry, laboratories, hospitals, funeral parlours, in fact, all waste that is flushed down sinks and drains wherever they are. It also of course includes whatever is in us humans.

The dangers fall into 3 main categories:

  1. Hormones and Synthetic Hormones

  2. Prion Contamination

  3. Toxin Contamination

Hormone & Synthetic Hormones

"In 2012, Scientists at the University of Aberdeen studying sheep maintained on pastures fertilised with sewage sludge (treated waste derived from human sewage processing plants, often called Humanure) found a high incidence of abnormalities in the animals.  The abnormalities are being attributed to the presence of man-made hormones, particularly as those found in the contraceptive pill, in the treated waste.

They found that exposure to the chemicals in sewage sludge or 'Humanure' as it is called in the UK, affected the structure or function of testes, ovaries, uteri, parts of the brain, and thyroid and adrenal glands of sheep foetuses. In adult sheep changes in bone structure, the testes and offspring behaviour were observed.

The researchers explained that man-made chemicals known to be endocrine disruptors, found in such things as electrical equipment, building materials, plastics, adhesives, paints and vehicle exhaust, have long been considered a health hazard. However the synthetic hormones found in contraceptive pills, known as progestins, which mimic progesterone, either alone or combined with estrogen, and excreted in human waste pose a greater problem because they are not removed or destroyed by sewage treatment and find their way into the food chain."

Prion Contamination

"Typical wastewater treatment processes do not degrade prions. Prions are virtually indestructable rogue proteins that cause incurable brain infections such as Mad Cow disease and its human equivalent, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, are difficult to inactivate, resisting extreme heat, chemical disinfectants, and irradiation. Until now, scientists did not know whether prions entering sewers and septic tanks from slaughterhouses, meatpacking facilities, or private game dressing, could survive and pass through conventional sewage treatment plants."

Toxin Contamination

"There are 27 heavy metals found in sewage sludge. None of the toxic organic chemicals it contains are regulated, or even monitored. Not even priority pollutants, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and plasticisers are regulated in sewage sludge. May of these poisons are accumulative."

"The brain’s development is uniquely sensitive to toxic chemicals, and even small amounts may negatively impact our academic achievements, economic success, risk of delinquency, and quality of life. Chemicals such as lead, mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic, and certain solvents and pesticides pose an insidious threat to the development of the next generation’s brains. All of these chemicals are present in Biosolids. When chemicals in the environment affect the development of a child’s brain, he or she is at risk for cognitive deficits, learning disabilities, more serious mental retardation, ADHD, autism, cerebral palsy, and other disorders that will remain for a lifetime. Please view this video with Proffessor Philippe Grandjean, 2013" -

(WTE - Sustainable Waste treatment company)

This does not sound good to me. It also sounds like a really big problem.

Now, if you don't want your food to be grown using biosolids, how can you be discerning? With a lot of difficulty.

In the UK, biosolids cannot be used to grow vegetables or fruit but it can be used to grow cereals or oil seed rape. Given there is no compliant reason for the use of biosolids to be identified on food packaging, there doesn't appear to be a way for us to know if the food we are buying was created using biosolids. That's just in the UK. How about outside in the UK? It's used heavily in the US (of course). Where do the ingredients in food products come from? We just don't know. What are we eating?

"Switzerland - which used to land-apply 40% of its sludge - has banned the practice because of fears from farmers that it was harming their soil. The Netherlands has banned agricultural use of sludge, and national farmers' associations in France, Germany, Sweden, Luxembourg and Finland are against it, partly because of concerns about organic contaminants such as PCBs and brominated flame retardants (linked to liver and neurodevelopmental toxicity and hormone disruption), which some research has shown persist in sludge.

Food retailers Del Monte, Kraft and Heinz won't accept produce grown on sludge-fertilised fields. EU organic regulations - which are followed by all UK organic certification bodies - won't allow it, even though the principle of closing the nutrient cycle is one that is dear to organic hearts." 2008 Guardian article by Rose George.

My summary.

I'd rather not consume food that is subject to this sort of contamination. Water treatment plants seem to have a pivotal role to play. They can't currently filter the toxins covered in this blog and they also can't filer plastic particles so they end up in the sea.

I'm not in favour of biosolids. Both my farmers - Tim & Richard - do not use them and unless something changes, Be Locals policy will not be to supply any produce based on Biosolids fertilisation.

If you want to know more, these 2 articles were really useful:


#belocals #lovelocalfood #biosolids #ethicalfarming #fertiliser #southsea #portsmouth #debate #contamination

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