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I Dare You: Put Sewage Sludge in Your Mouth

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Organic Fertilizer or Toxic Sludge page and our Environment and Climate Resource page.

A new Washington Post piece by Darryl Fears claims sewage sludge is safe enough to put in your mouth. Specifically, the statement was made about "Class A Biosolids," the treated sewage sludge (renamed "biosolids" to make it sound less unpleasant) that has regulated amounts of 10 heavy metals, salmonella, and fecal coliform.

What else might you find in sewage sludge? Well... Alkylphenols and alkylphenol ethoxylates, dioxins and furans, flame retardants, heavy metals (including some that are not regulated), hormones, pesticides, perfluorinated compounds, pharmaceuticals, phthalates, polycyclic aromatic hydrogens, steroids, and more... Still wanna put that in your mouth?

Fears was not advocating that anyone put sewage sludge in their mouths... at least, not directly. The article was instead about how sludge should be used as fertilizer for food crops... which people would then put in their mouths.

For the past year, on and off, I've been working with the Center for Media & Democracy's Food Rights Network, a group that opposes the use of sewage sludge as fertilizer on food crops. So, full disclosure, I've been getting paid to research the hell out of sewage sludge and to write about it. I've even been paid to go to my local Home Depot and buy three bags of sludge compost to send samples to a lab for testing. And let me tell you... if the long list of sludge contaminants and the EPA's own record of what they found in sewage sludge doesn't scare you off of using sludge as fertilizer, the smell of it will. It's not a poop smell - it's a chemical smell. An incredibly volatile, potent one.