BY KIRK STARRATT
Kings County Advertiser/Register
A petition against the use of so-called bio-solids - treated sewage sludge - on Kings County farmland created quite a stink when presented recently at Province House.
The petition of 2,800 signatures from Kings County residents started as an initiative of the Nova Scotia Environmental Network’s Bio-solids and Wastewater Caucus group members.
Kings North MLA Jim Morton, who tabled the petition April 8, says the petition got a significant amount of attention at the legislature and in the media. As an MLA, it’s his responsibility when constituents present a petition with three or more names on it to affix his signature and present it to the House of Assembly.
Environment Minister Sterling Belliveau then made a ministerial statement on the petition, which allowed both opposition parties to comment.
Morton says the reaction to the petition didn’t surprise him., well aware since before he was elected lots of citizens have an interest in the issue.
Morton has been in continual talks with the Department of Environment to make sure communication is going both ways. Provincial guidelines on bio-solids were developed after considerable effort, and Morton thinks they are based on good science. There were consultations with and a lot of input from citizens, a science committee examining a huge body of evidence: the province’s guidelines are among the most stringent in the country.
“I think in Kings County, there is lots of concern about using the material on farmland,” he says. There are some incidences of the material being used; it’s a choice farmers have, and Morton points out they’re stewards of their own land.
“I have a lot of confidence in their doing what’s right for the land,” he says. “I see this as being an issue that exemplifies the democratic process.”
Morton says science, in the long run, will provide the best possible solution to the never-ending waste humans produce.
Belliveau said in his statement one difficulty is the perception some people may have of an unattractive material. He said bio-solids are derived from sewage sludge treated to remove harmful constituents.
The province is a co-leader on a national committee under the Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment developing a national strategy on bio-solids management.
Belliveau said, when proper guidelines and regulations are followed, bio-solids pose no health risk to people, crops or the environment.
Dr. Marilyn Cameron, chairwoman of the Bio-solids and Wastewater Caucus, says she is disappointed an environment minister is making such a strong defense of such a risky and publically unacceptable product.
She says federally commissioned researchers recently stated there is a notable lack of sound science concerning emerging contaminants detected in treated sewage sludges and a complete lack of removal efficiency data by different treatment processes for most contaminants.
“I was rather insulted when Belliveau stated ‘some people’ are uninformed about bio-solids and are basing their decisions on unsound science,” Cameron says. “Who here is basing their decision on bad science?
“Being a veterinarian, I understand the scientific language of these research papers and I can find no proof that the use of bio-solids is safe or without risk.”
She is worried about bio-solids, even if the environment minister is not. Cameron is especially concerned farmers are not being provided with all the facts and the potential negative impacts using bio-solids could have on their soil, groundwater, livestock and property values.
“The end users will be the ones who will bear the burden for any experienced ill effects,” she says. “Most good farmers know that soil is a living organism and what you put into it is what you get out.”
Cameron says even a small handful of good, healthy soil holds millions or billions of microorganisms, with more electrical and chemical reactions going on in than in an entire human brain.
“Without healthy, fertile soils and safe drinking water, what will we have left?”