I had to chuckle when I read the story, but the news isn’t funny.
It seems for years during the Clinton Administration that officials poured industrial waste, euphemistically called “sewage sludge,” onto the White House lawn and other areas around the White House in an attempt by the EPA to show that sewage sludge — “biosolids” as the industry likes to call it — is a safe soil amendment for the home gardener and the commercial farmer who feeds this nation and the world.
Fast-forward through two administrations and now it appears that the sludge that was poured onto the grounds of the White House is now responsible for the contamination of Michelle Obama’s “organic” garden. Well… it’s not “organic” anymore.
According to stories published by Mother Jones — http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2009/07/more-thoughts-sludge-and-white-house-garden — and — http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2009/06/did-sludge-lace-obamas-veggie-garden-lead — sewage sludge has poisoned the First Lady’s garden with toxic levels of lead well in excess of government standards, based on soil sample studies performed by the National Park Service. According to one story published by Mother Jones: “Starting in the late 1980s and continuing for at least a decade, the South Lawn was fertilized by ComPRO, a compost made from a nearby wastewater plant’s solid effluent.”
The danger with sludge is that it contains traces of almost anything that gets poured down sewer drains.
This was one of the arguments used against EPA officials who were regularly ferried at taxpayer expense to California in the late 1990s when the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, based in Modesto, was pushing for an all-out ban on the application of sewage sludge on farmland in Stanislaus County. Stanislaus County is one of the top-10 ag-producing counties in the United States, with ag receipts in excess of $2 billion.
The issue not only pitted Farm Bureau against the government, a common occurrence, but it pitted farmers from various regions of California against the other as farmers in Kern County, California were regularly accepting loads of sewage sludge from Orange County, California. Not all farmers in Kern County were happy to see the stuff come into their county; vegetable farmers were rightfully concerned of the public relations nightmare that would ensue if people across the United States got wind that their vegetables might be tainted with the toxic substance. Even if it could be proved safe, the perception of sludge was enough to frighten farmers and keep them from wanting this stuff anywhere near their lands.
While this is not one of those hot-button topics of discussion around the water cooler or on the evening news, a story published online at http://buzz.yahoo.com/buzzlog/92869 reminded me of just why this issue is so important; our government spent untold millions of dollars trying to convince people in California that the land-application of sewage sludge was safe, while out of the other side of their mouth, stating with certainty that the ocean-dumping of sewage sludge, which was previously practiced, was now too dangerous to aquatic life. This point was not lost on those pushing for the sludge ban in Stanislaus County, as it was argued in testimony before the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors in Modesto, CA during the sludge debate, if sewage sludge is too dangerous to dump in the oceans, it’s certainly too dangerous to dump on the nations farmland, where it can’t be diluted like it would be in the ocean.
I’m not necessarily arguing that we go back to ocean-dumping of sewage sludge, but we need to come up with a solution of safely disposing of this toxic stuff, rather than dumping it onto farmlands and pouring it into bags of composted materials that are sold at local home improvement stores and then dumped into backyard gardens and flower pots.