August 19, 2016
The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago is asking the public for its help in renaming a sewage-based product it markets and sells as “nutrient-rich” compost. Biosolids, produced by wastewater treatment plants, consist of sewage sludge combined with various types of industrial waste from the fracking, pharmaceutical and agriculture industries.
Though it undergoes a filtration process, the end product often contains high levels of heavy metals, pesticides, pharmaceutical waste, pathogens and other toxic organic pollutants.
Municipalities around the nation, including Austin, Texas, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, sell different versions of this toxic compost to generate revenue, an interesting practice considering the idea that processing of sewage sludge should be a cost incurred in the running of a city, not a market for fertilizer.
Chicago looking to rename sewage sludge; hoping it will become a moneymaker
Nevertheless, cities looking to make an extra buck are framing the sludge as an environmentally friendly product that’s good for all of us, which is likely why Chicago is looking for help in finding a nice name that makes you think “green.”
A recent change in the law made Chicago eligible to start selling sewage sludge as compost, according to reports. The water authority says its product is made from adding microbes that help to filter out nutrients to the wastewater.
“The product is much cheaper, and perhaps an even more effective, alternative to chemicals used to fertilize soil, the district said. Now that the product can be sold to the public, the agency is hoping to come up with a more marketable name,” reports DNA Info.
The water authority launched a campaign to help draw awareness (and likely sales) about the new product, which in Milwaukee is called “Milorganite,” and in Washington, D.C., “bloom.”
Some cities going bankrupt on selling sewage sludge as a compost
In the capital of the Lone Star State the product is called Dillo Dirt, named after the official state mammal. While Austin’s composting operation has received national recognition, it’s actually losing money, and a lot of it.
“Dillo Dirt has run in the red in recent years: Last year, costs to produce Dillo Dirt edged over $650,000, while revenue amounted to about $205,000. Over the last five years, the program has typically lost between $400,000 and $500,000, according to information provided by Austin Water,” reported the Austin-American Statesman.
The loss of revenue has prompted the City of Austin to try and sell the program to an outside distributor called Synagro, which if the contract goes through, would market the product under a new name.
The proposed five-year contract with Synagro is valued at an estimated $20 million. Austin Water director Greg Meszaros claims that the contract “is good for the environment, good for the utility, and good for our ratepayers.”
The adverse effects of biosolids
But research suggests otherwise.
Dr. David Lewis, a former scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) exposed the agency’s flawed program by reporting on the adverse effects of biosolids, which ultimately cost him his job, money and in some ways his reputation as a well-respected researcher.
Lewis says that spreading biosolids on the land as fertilizer is a danger to public health and the environment for a number of reasons, but primarily because of its toxic nature.
“Priority pollutants include endocrine disruptors, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, plasticizers and other chemical groups that concentrate in animal fats. As the fat solubility of chemicals increase, so does their neurotoxicity,” Lewis said in a interview with Mother Earth News.
“Not surprisingly, exposures to these chemicals are linked to autism, ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other neurological diseases and disorders.”