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Trash Talk: Sewage sludge is a problem we all need to think about


Whenever we flush the toilet, problems are created with sewage sludge.
Credit: ELLEN MOORHOUSE PHOTO

Trash Talk delves into some nasty stuff occasionally, but Toronto resident Maureen Reilly has been doing just that almost daily for 15 years. Her subject: sewage and sewage sludge.

We spoke to her over a year ago and thought it timely to check back to find out what’s happening with the waste we all help generate. Indeed, just 120 kilometres northwest of Toronto, Dundalk residents are challenging plans to build a facility that will take sludge, some from Toronto, mix it with septage and industrial waste, turn it into a liquidy fertilizer product for spreading on farmers’ land.

Reilly has immersed herself in disposal issues ever since she fought (successfully) to keep industrial paper sludge off pasture surrounding her country house near Cannington. Her experience with regulatory authorities, politicians and waste haulers changed her life.

Reilly has made it her mission to cull the media for information about sewage treatment technologies, sludge controversies, industry misbehaviour and failures, scientific studies, environmental contaminants, hygiene and health issues. She sends these reports, with critical commentary, to subscribers of her Sludge Watch email service in a dozen countries. (To join, Google Sludge Watch.)

She and many others believe spreading urban sewage sludge on agricultural land is a grave mistake given the contaminants and pathogens that end up in sewers because of our chemicalized and medicated lifestyles and effluents from hospitals and industry. The impacts of these substances on soils, health and ecosystems are not understood, and as Reilly says, “Of the 10 of thousands of toxic compounds that could be in sewage, the sludge is tested for less than 12.”

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