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San Francisco Asked to Stop Toxic Sludge Giveaway


Paige Tomaselli, Center for Food Safety

Laura Orlando, Boston University School of Public Health

Heath Fradkoff, Goodman Media

San Francisco, CA, September 23, 2009 -

Compost is the sine qua non of organic gardening and farming. But the material that San Francisco is giving away to homeowners, gardeners, and the general public is toxic sewage sludge masquerading as compost. This is why the Center for Food Safety (CFS) has petitioned the City to immediately stop its "compost giveaway events" that will spread toxic sludge to homeowners' backyards, increasing the risk of health problems to children and the community. "I do not believe the Mayor and leadership of San Francisco can have been aware that the compost being given away is heavily contaminated with hazardous and toxic material. Now that they know I am sure they'll stop this giveaway program," said Laura Orlando, an adjunct professor of Environmental Health at the Boston University School of Public Health.


Sewage sludge contains heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, PCB's, flame retardants, endocrine disruptors, and other toxic chemicals. There is scientific consensus that composting in no way reduces the toxic and hazardous materials in sewage sludge.

"San Franciscans may think they're getting a gift from the city, but this is no gift.  City residents could be at serious risk of poisoning from the application of sewage sludge to local crops and gardens," said Paige Tomaselli, Staff Attorney for the Center for Food Safety. "With this petition, we're strongly urging the Mayor to put an immediate end to the toxic giveaways, which carry the risk of dangerous and far-reaching impacts on the health of our most vulnerable citizens."

Peer-reviewed studies show that sewage sludge can pose severe threats to human health, especially for children who are more developmentally vulnerable to toxic chemicals than adults.  

San Francisco's sewage sludge is produced from wastewater containing a combination of industrial, commercial, hospital, and household contaminants that is routed through municipal sewage treatment plants.  The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) claims that sewage sludge treated with heat, anaerobic digestion, and then composted is "non-hazardous and nontoxic" and can be "safely used for growing edible vegetables and fruits." However, no toxic analysis has actually been conducted by SFPUC.

The EPA's most recent Sewage Sludge Survey (January 2009) showed that nearly all sewage sludge samples contain 27 metals, 10 different flame retardants, 12 pharmaceuticals, and high levels of known endocrine disruptors.  Serious health problems have been directly linked to the land application of sewage sludge, sludge that is no different than that which the City of San Francisco is giving away to the people of San Francisco.  

The next San Francisco City-wide compost giveaway event is planned for Saturday, September 26.  Petitioners plan to flood the Mayor's office with thousands of comments from concerned local citizens.

The Center for Food Safety is national, non-profit, membership organization, founded in 1997, that works to protect human health and the environment by curbing the use of harmful food production technologies and by promoting organic and other forms of sustainable agriculture. On the web at:

For more information on sewage sludge, see Sludge News at