This Common "Natural" Fertilizer Contains Dangerous Chemicals Linked to Health Issues

Sewage sludge from wastewater treatment facilities is often treated and processed to become biosolids, which can be used as fertilizer on cropland. Sound great? Not really. Consider that the sewage sludge includes human excrement and anything else we flush down our toilets.

Read about controversial food practices in the U.S.

Although sewage sludge is regulated under the Clean Water Act, there are contaminants in it. Everything that is flushed down the toilet, plus metals that leech from sewer pipes, end up in sewage. Sewage sludge is treated, but there are still chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and metals found in it. 

In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tested sewage sludge samples from publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) for nine different chemicals. The samples came from POTWs that treat over one million gallons of wastewater per day, which generate about 94 percent of the wastewater flow in the U.S. A total of 84 samples from 74 facilities in 35 states were collected for the EPA survey. The samples were tested for 145 chemicals, including four anions (nitrite/nitrate, fluoride, water-extractable phosphorus), 28 metals, four polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), two semi-volatiles, 11 flame retardants, 72 pharmaceuticals, and 25 steroids and hormones. 

Here is what the EPA discovered:

- Four anions were found in every sample.
- 27 metals were found in almost every sample, with one metal (antimony) found in 72 samples.
- Four out of the six semi-volatile organics and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were found in most of the samples.
- Three of the 72 pharmaceuticals tested for were found in all samples, and nine were found in at least 80 of the samples.
- Three steroids were found in all samples, and six steroids were found in at least 80 samples.
- All but one of the flame retardants were found in every sample.

A 2013 study conducted interviews with 34 people living near farm land in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia that had sewage sludge applied to it. What researchers found is that more than half of those interviewed attributed physical symptoms to the application of sewage sludge. Most of them noted that offensive odors from the sewage sludge interfered with their daily activities. Many of them reported that a lack of public notification about the application of sewage sludge in their neighborhoods. 

It is unknown just how much sewage sludge is used as fertilizer on cropland. A book by the National Research Council claims that the amount is low. However, to avoid any food produced on land with sewage sludge applied to it, the best bet is to eat organic certified foods. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires that organic certified food cannot be grown on land with sewage sludge applied to it. 

Read more about organic food

By Gina-Marie Cheeseman| January 10, 2017
Categories:  Live

About the Author

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer armed with a passion for healthy living and a degree in journalism. Hailing from the dry, sunny Central San Joaquin Valley, she hasn't let the heat fry her brain!

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