When it comes to fresh farm produce, most people don't give much thought to where it comes from, let alone how it's grown.
But for Marilyn Cameron, a Kings County veterinarian who is passionately opposed to the use of biosolids, the truth can be downright frightening.
Cameron, who is also the chair of the Biosolids and Waste Water Caucus with the Nova Scotia Environmental Network, made a special presentation to West Hants council Oct. 5, requesting they consider banning biosolids in the area.
“I’m passionate about preserving farms for future farmers and for protecting our soils. I know that good soil should be healthy and produce safe and delicious foods,” said Cameron at the Committee of the Whole meeting. “I hope that we will all agree that we are supposed to leave a better world behind after we’re gone for our children.”
But using biosolids, which is treated sewage sludge, is not the answer.
“Our health concerns are escalating in Nova Scotia and the healthcare costs are consuming almost half of our budget. If we don’t change what we’re doing to our soils and our water, our forests and air and wild ecosystems, we’re only going to get sicker,” she said.
“Everyday, residential, commercial, and industrial waste are flushed into our sewer systems. Substances such as chemo and radiation therapy residues, feces, urine, household cleaners, vomit, blood, personal care products, prescription drugs, illegal drugs, vast arrays of industrial chemicals, carcinogens, and heavy metals are some of those,” she continued.
This cocktail is then treated in sewage plants across the province. The water is treated and discharged. The solid waste, called sewage sludge, is treated and turned into biosolids — a healthy alternative to chemical fertilizers. The province supports its use.
Considered rich in nutrients, biosolids can then be applied to land requiring fertilizer, including farms.
Although testing shows biosolids either meet or exceed all present regulations surrounding the treatment and disposal of wastewater products, Cameron questions the health benefits.
“I believe that applying sludge to farmland is a risky, short-term solution that will have devastating, long-term and costly effects,” she said.
“We will never be able to test all the thousands of chemicals or hundreds of possible pathogens that could be present in sludge. It’s too expensive to do it once, let alone do it regularly. And taxpayers should not be expected to bear the cost of such testing, especially when treatment processes are not able to remove most of those contaminants in the sludge.”
County council agreed with Cameron's argument. At their regularly scheduled council meeting Oct.12, councillors unanimously voted in favour of writing a letter to the Union of N.S. Municipalities, copied to all municipal units within the province, requesting a moratorium on the use of biosolids for the agricultural industry in N.S.
During the Oct. 5 Committee of the Whole meeting where Cameron spoke, Coun. Randy Matheson applauded Cameron for her efforts in keeping issues like biosolids on the forefront of people's minds.
“Thank God we have people like this that are out there fighting for us and keeping the issue current, because I think it’s very, very valuable,” said Matheson.
Matheson said he feels companies that use biosolids should be required by law to label them as such.
“If they are going to have them grown in this type of soil and have them genetically altered, they should label it so I have the choice because my choice is very clear,” he said.
Coun. Shirely Pineo agreed with Matheson on the issue.
“I, over my lifetime, have seen a lot of new diseases. I see a lot more sicker people than when I was a teenager and I see children that are developing diseases that I never heard tell of or didn’t see. And everybody says 'Why?' Pineo said.
“Well, it almost has to be what we’re breathing or what we’re eating or drinking. I shuddered when I found out that some of the things that I was eating was coming out of countries where they used human sludge — and I stopped buying them.”
Cameron said some farmers are being enticed by low prices to use Class A biosolid fertilizer. She hopes bringing the issue to light and challenging the province to ban its use on all agricultural land will cause many farmers to think twice before buying it.
“Land application of treated sewer sludge is not recycling. It’s pollution transfer. Agricultural soils are unique. They’re a valuable and non-renewable resource. And your agricultural soils in Hants County are very valuable to the economy,” said Cameron.
“Once contaminated, the damage can be permanent and soil fertility could be lost.”
The province regulates the use of two classes of biosolids – class A and class B – based on pathogen and metal content. Class A is considered safe for agricultural land. Class B, which has higher concentrations of pathogens and metals, is considered not safe for use on agricultural land. Class B biosolids are still acceptable for recreational lands, land reclamation sites, on trails and in the forest.
“The ick factor that surrounds the use of biosolids is not just about the recycling of human waste onto our food. It’s more likely to do with the fact that consumers don’t want their food contaminated with industrial toxins and pathogens,” said Cameron.
According to Cameron, farmers using biosolids are not required to divulge that information to the general public. As such, Cameron has been compiling an extensive list of farmers, co-ops and businesses throughout the province who do not use biosolids. She provided the list to council. Matheson thanked her for the list — which contains 400 entries, many located in Hants County and the Valley.
“Consumers want the right to make informed decisions about their foods they purchase themselves,” said Cameron.
“We all know that knowledge is power, but without labelling, consumers are denied that right to make decisions about what they deem safe for their families. We also know that zero traceability equals zero liability.”
Cameron has been lobbying municipal and provincial governments for support. Most recently, a petition with more than 1,000 signatures was presented to the legislature requesting the Nova Scotia government to declare an immediate moratorium on the use of sewage sludge on Nova Scotia lands and to adopt, with minimum delay, safe options for sewage sludge disposal or destruction.
Cameron said another petition will be presented in the near future.