Organic Consumers Association

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Municipal Sewage Sludge Scandal: When Environmentalists Go Bad

Since 2007, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has given away "free organic biosolids compost" to gardeners and school gardens in San Francisco. Of course, their "organic" compost could not be legally applied on an organic farm because its made of sewage sludge - what the sewage industry likes to euphemistically call "biosolids." Sewage sludge is minimally regulated by the EPA and its use as fertilizer for food crops has resulted in human and animal deaths in the past. Of course, usually it doesn't result in such acute toxicity, but those are the chances you take when you play with such a minimally regulated chemical soup.

I've told this story on this blog before, but there's a reason I'm bringing it up again: new revelations, discovered by the Food Rights Network. Until now, I've largely given the SFPUC the benefit of the doubt and took them at their word. I was wrong to do so.

The Vice President of SFPUC is Francesca Vietor, a famous environmentalist in the Bay Area. She's credited with influencing the city's adoption of the Precautionary Principle, which means treating nothing as safe until it is proven so. Yet SFPUC's sludge giveaways represent the very opposite of that: giving away a product of unidentified risks, closing your eyes, and hoping you don't get caught. (To date, the sludge "compost" giveaway program ran from 2007 until it was recently ended and, to the best of my knowledge, SFPUC is only now performing comprehensive testing on it to check for safety.)

When this scandal broke out, at first it seemed that Vietor could be the key to reforming SFPUC's sludge policies. Sadly, Vietor took the low road. Instead of doing the right thing and adding one more credential to her environmentalist resume, she lied, stonewalled, made legal threats, and covered her own - and SFPUC's - ass.

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