Organic Consumers Association

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Gavin Newsom Hopes to Leave His Sludge in San Francisco

Last month, I wrote Chez Sludge, the first inside report on the sewage sludge scandal unfolding in San Francisco, based on internal documents obtained by the Food Rights Network and now online in the Toxic Sludge wiki on SourceWatch.

San Francisco, under its "green mayor" Gavin Newsom, has since 2007 perpetrated a greenwashing scam upon city gardeners. The city, known for its environmentally sound practices and commitment to a precautionary principle approach to dealing with environmental hazards, has deceptively and fraudulently been giving away free "organic Biosolids compost," that is actually nothing but toxic sewage sludge from San Francisco and eight other counties, "composted" by the giant waste handler Synagro.

This issue hit the news in San Francisco first last September and gained national media attention in December, 2009. On March 4, 2010 a protest in Mayor Newsom's office that also received national attention, led by the Organic Consumers Association, forced the Mayor to put the program on temporary hold, at least during the political season. He is currently the front runner for the office of California Lieutenant Governor and come December Mayor Newsom is likely on his way to Sacramento. And, apparently, he wants to leave his sludge, if not his heart, in San Francisco.

In the face of the controversy, and the dioxins and other dangerous contaminants found in their sludge, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission spent $25,000 to conduct some very limited and inadequate testing of their free "organic Biosolids compost." Like most sludge industry tests, this one examined a minuscule sample of the mountain of sludge, and only searched for a small fraction of the thousands of persistent chemicals and substances, and none of the biological contaminants, in sewage sludge.

It was designed as a PR stunt and worked well in that regard when the results were fed to the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. Both papers filed stories on July 28th, and both papers reported that the SFPUC staff would be bringing this controversy before the five citizens who make up the SFPUC Board of Commissioners, appointed by the Mayor, and who have never, despite the year-old public controversy, taken a close public examination of the sludge-to-gardens issue in any of their frequent meetings. But with two PUC commissioner meetings scheduled for August -- the 10th and the 24th -- that would soon change, the articles implied.

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