Biosolids risk in the Bay of Fundy

Biosolids threat is real in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia.Biosolid sludge spread on farmland across the province is leaching into the waterways and making their way into the Bay of Fundy. Nova Scotia Environment claims it is a safe practice and that biosolids meeting the Class A criteria — do not require an approval for land application provided the facility producing the Class A municipal biosolids has a valid approval from Nova Scotia Environment. The guidelines from Nova Scotia Environment also say, “Regular monitoring and sampling of municipal biosolids will be required to ensure that they continue to meet the Class A municipal biosolids criteria” — but they aren’t sampling what is leaching into the Bay.

If you are wondering why you should care, you should know there are “at least 21 known carcinogens, 30 heavy metals, flame retardants, steroids, hormones and so on, all adding up to around 60,000 chemical substances and pollutants to be found in biosolids.” according to Stefan Morales, co-director of the Wayward School. He was a student in the late ’90’s at Acadia University in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia. His thesis for his degree was based on biosloids, and since he was living in Nova Scotia at the time, it was also based on biosolid use in this province. He said:

As if that weren’t bad enough, they also threaten the health of our region’s soil. Toxins enter the groundwater, drain into surrounding farms, are carried by animal and human foot traffic and can be carried by wind. Biosolids have a habit of both sticking around and being incredibly mobile at the same time.

It wasn’t until thirteen years later, in 2010, Nova Scotia grocery stores banned produce grown using biosolids. Jeannie Cruikshank of the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors made an announcement stating, “Despite assurances from Environment Minister Stirling Belliveau that biosolids, or human sewage sludge are safe for fertilizing crops, any farmers using it won’t have their products sold in Atlantic Superstore or Sobeys outlets.”

One can applaud the ban from grocers, but how could a government department claim this was safe at all? Just like Health Canada raising the level of acceptable radiation exposure so the government didn’t have to deal with the west coast radiation poisoning from Fukushima, Stefan Morales says:

Concern regarding the use of biosolids on agricultural or silvicultural land has a much longer history, extending decades prior to its emergence as an issue in the political landscape of the Canadian Maritimes. Since the Clean Water Act (CWA) was passed in the United States in 1972 (with major revisions in 1977, 1981, and 1987), “beneficial use” of sludge was codified, creating the legal conditions necessary to allow public and private companies to redirect sludge (now ‘fertilizer’) from bodies of water to the land. As far as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) saw it, the solution was simple: by raising the legal limits of acceptable exposure to many harmful contaminants, it became possible to reclassify toxic sewage sludge as ‘clean.’

If it can contaminate the crops grown in it, what does it say about the seafood taken from the Bay? How big of threat is this?

Last Summer the Coastal Zone Canada Association had a meeting held on 15-19 June 2014 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Martin Tango, School of Engineering, Acadia University explained:

Over the years, Bay of Fundy Environmental Partnership (BoFEP) has strived for concerted efforts to monitor and protect the health and environmental sustainability of Bay of Fundy’s (BoF’s) ecosystem. Recently, there is a considerable evolving emphasis on combating the disposal of emerging pollutants into the bay’s watershed as well as in its coastal shores. Among others, the target contaminants as identified by Health Canada, Canadian Water Network as well as USEPA include; pesticides, bisphenol A (BPA), estrogen, pharmaceuticals, and nonyphenols. Typical other source materials attributed to release of these compounds at higher concentrations vary from biosolids, synthetic fertilizers, electronic wastes, industrial and agricultural wastewater. Most of these chemicals are released into the natural environment during their life cycles of production, transportation, storage, consumption, as by-products and waste streams. The rising rates of cancer, obesity and infertility in human as well as in aquatic species suggest that there are compounds recently introduced into the environment are responsible for these deleterious effects.

Heavy metal contaminants from biosolids

Clearly class “B” biosolids are far more dangerous, but the guidelines governing their use aren’t quite as forgiving as those of class “A”. The guidelines state, ” Municipal biosolids that meet the Class B criteria require an Approval for land application. Strict controls on the use and management of Class B municipal biosolids will be imposed through the Approval process.”

Before these toxins (class A) are shipped to farms for fertilizer they get treated at N-Viro since 2008. On their website homepage it says, ” The N-Viro patented process is known as Advanced Alkaline Stabilization with Subsequent Accelerated Drying, or AASSAD. In this process, an alkaline admixture (AA) is added to dewatered biosolids, mixed, heated (in part through a chemical reaction) and dried.”

Farmers using biosolids save a lot of money. In 2014 the CBC reported, ” In Nova Scotia, for example, farmers spend up to $30 per tonne for the treated product. The equivalent amount of commercial fertilizer and lime would cost $125 per tonne.” Rumours persist “sludge material from N-Viro is sewage sludge mixed with cement kiln dust from Lafarge Brookfield. Unfortunately Lafarge Brookfield burns used oil and this leaves thallium and other toxic metals in their cement kiln dust.” — but N-Viro would have trucked the kiln dust into their facility. A phone call on May 15, 2015 with Scarth MacDonnell, plant manager at LaFarge in Brookfield confirmed LaFarge does not process any biosolids.

The harmful bacteria and contaminants are reduced through the treatment process, but groups like Biosolids Free Nova Scotia feel these measure aren’t enough . It said in a letter they wrote in 2011 to the Capital Regional District (CRD), “Most municipalities in Nova Scotia are now considering supporting a ban on farmland application of biosolids…”

Those who oppose the use, according to the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, ” argue the product contains contaminants that could prove harmful to human health and the environment. There is no comprehensive, independent, third party testing of the biosolids to ensure safety and efficacy.”

Testing includes only a small percentage of contaminants. Many contaminants that could be harmful to the environment or human health are not tested. Testing is not conducted by a neutral third party; it is undertaken by individuals who are employed by the company producing the product. There is scientific uncertainty around the future impacts of allowing certain contaminants to be spread on agricultural land.

An article on Water Encyclopedia claims, ” A major public health concern is the safety of seafood as it relates to the chemical pollution of waters used for commercial and recreational fishing and mariculture. Heavy metals (e.g., copper, lead, mercury, and arsenic) can reach high levels inside marine animals, and then be passed along as seafood for humans. A well-known case of human poisoning occurred in Japan, where one industry dumped mercury compounds into Minimata Bay from 1932 to 1968. Methyl mercury that accumulated in fish and other animals was passed along to humans who consumed them. Over 3,000 human victims and an unknown number of animals succumbed to what became known as “Minimata Disease”, a devastating illness that affects the central nervous system.”

Yet a search on the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture website shows there is very little published and none of the content is new. As Kennedy Stewart. NDP MP for Douglas, BC stated, ” At the demand of oil and gas lobbyists, the Conservatives recently removed the protection of 98% of Canada’s water bodies. As a result of these changes, proposed development projects would no longer need environmental assessments or public consultation before proceeding across our lakes and rivers.” A recent email received from our MP, Scott Armstrong said, ” Although the federal government develops the laws governing pollution, it is the province that administers the various Environmental Acts.”

Department of Fisheries and Oceans shut down its marine pollution monitoring program and laid off all habitat inspectors in B.C. this year. The Nova Scotia Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture is not monitoring pollution from biosolids any longer. Perhaps our inspectors will be laid off as well. The extent of the toxic poisoning of our fish and shellfish and the damage to our ecosystem goes unchecked. And as stated earlier in this article, according to Stefan Morales there are “at least 21 known carcinogens, 30 heavy metals, flame retardants, steroids, hormones and so on, all adding up to around 60,000 chemical substances and pollutants to be found in biosolids.”

Think about this the next time you have an order of fish & chips. You have no idea what chemicals you’re ingesting.

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  • Here is a pdf file to download that shows how plants take up pathogens, drugs, chemicals, pollutants from sewage wastewater and sewage sludge “biosolids” used as fertilizer. This file contains descriptions and links to several articles.