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Although some of the solids from untreated sewage at the city’s water treatment plant are incinerated or sent to landfills, most is given away freely to farmers for use as crop fertilizer.
But advocates say these “biosolids” are contaminated and fall into a loophole in provincial legislation.
There’s strict regulations on the quality of fertilizers farmers buy, but when it’s given away by the municipality it isn’t held to the same stringent standards, says Maureen Reilly, who manages a forum called Sludge Watch that educates the public about biosolids.
For most, it’s a win-win situation.
Municipalities get to greatly reduce the amount of biosolids they’d have to dispose of, while farmers get cheap and readily available fertilizer.
Yet Reilly insists that means contaminated waste is being spread on farmer’s crops, and each time it rains, seeps right back into rivers and streams.
“What we want to do is to drink clean water and we want to eat good quality, clean food. So when you have a government program that promotes the use of wastes that pump toxins into your food-producing land, it runs counter to what the public’s looking for.”
With tile-drained farm fields, those biosolids simply run off into the river when it rains.
On its website, the Ontario environment ministry says it’s an “environmentally protective and beneficial” way to make use of sewage biosolids.
But Reilly argues it’s simply a dangerous practice.
“When Walkerton hit in 2000, people were saying this was far too liberal, and far too dangerous, and far too unregulated and unenforced. Even if there were regulations and requirements, they didn’t stand up to scrutiny.”
But Coun. Maria McRae, chairwoman of the environment committee, said the city stands behind the provincial mandate.