Recently, a group of farmers and neighbors in Salmon Valley, near Prince George, British Columbia, successfully blockaded Wright Creek Road and turned back a truck full of sewage sludge headed for a 117 acre parcel of farm land contracted as a dump site by the City of Prince George. One neighbor brought a snowmobile towing a portable fire pit on a sled so that they were able to keep warm while they blocked the road. As of this writing, the trucks have not returned.
Dumping Sludge on Farmland
The Center for Media and Democracy's Food Rights Network (FRN) spoke with Andreas Angele, whose land adjoins the contracted land at Arnette Ranch on Wright Creek Road. He gardens and grows hay for horses on his land. He says he first heard about the plan to dump processed human and industrial waste near his property in May, from a neighbor. (The private company that drafted the sludge application plan for the City of Prince George, Sylvis, claims it has been in touch with Angele since February). He says that although the City of Prince George application indicated that all neighbors within one kilometer would be notified in advance, that didn't happen. One of his neighbors received notification at work, and he and two others received none.
What's at Risk
Angele told FRN, "This is quite a water resource-rich area, with six springs within 600 meters of the property where the sludge would be spread" and a spring near the center of that land.
Other concerns he listed in an email to local officials on Sunday included the high water table in the area, the slope of the land towards the spring as well as a local creek, copper levels in the sewage sludge that exceed allowed limits, the presence of triclocarbon and other endocrine disruptors in the sludge to be dumped, and the presence of highly toxic PCBs.
City of Prince George Spins the Sludge
In an interview with FRN, City of Prince George Superintendent of Operations Bill Gaal responded to citizens' allegations:
In British Columbia, biosolids use is regulated, and we follow those regulations. Before being applied to land, an application plan is created by a professional (in this case, John Lavrey of Sylvis[, a Canadian environmental consulting firm]). Through that process we're ensured that all criteria under Organic Management Recycling Regulations [(OMRR)] are met. We have utmost confidence that we will not be violating those regulations or creating problems to surrounding farmland or in fact the land where we will be applying the biosolids.
"Biosolids" is the Orwellian PR euphemism for treated human and industrial waste; i.e., toxic sewage sludge. The name was created and chosen in a PR contest by the United States lobby association for the sewage industry, the Water Environment Federation (WEF), in 1991.
Sewage sludge has also been shown to contain flame retardants, endocrine disruptors, pharmaceutical residues, phthalates, industrial solvents, resistant pathogens, and perfluorinated compounds, which can bioaccumulate in plants grown in sludge-contaminated soil.
Gaal referred FRN to John Lavrey, Senior Environmental Scientist at Sylvis, who completed the land application plan for the City of Prince George.
Lavrey told FRN, "This activism does come at the end of a long consultation with the parties involved. ... We've been in discussion with the community in general and one of the people key in the blockades since February (Andy Angele) ... We had an open house meeting for the broader community at which the group was welcome to ask further questions." He added that this community consultation is not required under OMRR (Organic Matter Recycling Regulation).
When asked if Sylvis had tested the "Class B Biosolids" -- defined and regulated by each province in Canada -- for dioxins and furans, flame retardants, pharmaceutical residues, phthalates and resistant pathogens, Sylvis responded by email:
The City of Prince George undertook an exploratory sampling of specified components from all of the above microconstituent families in 2010. ... All microconstituents were compared with relevant guideline requirements for soil and water quality, and found to meet the requirements of those guidelines following application to the soil. ... The City does not undertake regular sampling for the above mentioned microconstituents.
"Microconstituents" are defined by WEF (pdf) -- the same sludge trade group that came up with the euphemism "biosolids" -- as "natural and manmade substances, including elements and inorganic and organic chemicals, detected within water and the environment for which continued assessment of the potential impact on human health and the environment is a prudent course of action." No major cause for alarm, right?
The term is misleading because it emphasizes the size of the particles of the toxic contaminants without addressing the total quantity of the contaminants or their individual or combined toxicity.
Sylvis also wrote the "best management practices" for sludge application to land under OMRR guidelines in 2008.
Despite this, the approved land application plan for Arnette Ranch, obtained by FRN, allows for copper levels above OMRR guidelines for Class A or Class B "biosolids." It also provides for a sludge stockpile surrounded by a berm "to mitigate leachate movement," suggesting that "the intercepted water collected within the ditch on the outside of the berm will drain away naturally" -- right into groundwater. Under the plan, "no post-application sampling of groundwater is required nor proposed."
Turning the Truck Around
Despite the public outcry, Angele received an email from the city informing him that they would start hauling sludge to the property on November 28. So he made a sign and went out to the highway at a point they would pass. Nothing happened for two weeks, more neighbors joined him, and then one Friday afternoon, the truck showed up and they created the blockade.
The truck turned around and returned to the City of Prince George later that afternoon.
Angele responded, "In order to protect the environment around me and the water resources around me, I'll have to do whatever I can to stop it. I'll block the road again -- and other neighbors are also willing -- even if an injunction comes."