compost sewage sludge

The Grossest Compost News Ever

Well-meaning organic gardeners are sometimes tricked into buying toxic compost.

The Grossest Compost News Ever

If you're not making your own compost, know how to spot the good stuff at the garden center.

Gardeners wishing to grow organic veggies face a raunchy roadblock this season—"organic compost" laced with human sewage sludge and industrial and mortuary waste. Um, gag!

This obstruction to truly organic gardening occurs because sludge companies are allowed to take the sludge left behind in wastewater treatment plants, bag it, and sell it as an organic amendment found in garden centers and big-box stores, unbeknownst to many organic gardeners. This is a real problem, considering the sludge is chock-full of pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, industrial waste, and gender-bending, hormone-disrupting chemicals—all of the nonsense organic-minded souls are trying to avoid in the first place.

Problems associated with sewage sludge aren't limited to bagged compost, either. Many farms in the United States fertilize with human sewage sludge, an application process that causes fumes and dangerous dust to linger in neighboring communities. A 2013 study from University of North Carolina researchers found that residents living near fields doused with liquefied or human sewage sludge cake stayed indoors instead of spending time outside their homes or going out to socialize with family and friends, thanks to offensive odors.

What may come as a surprise to those hunkering down inside in sludge zones is that previous studies found people living near sewage sludge-treated fields experienced headaches, skin rashes, breathing and stomach distress, and other health problems.

Whether you live near a sludge field or not, you can help keep the dangerous material out of your garden with a little persistence. For now, unless you make your own compost, it's best to be skeptical about bagged organic soil amendments. For instance, avoid compost that lists "biosolids" as an ingredient—that's a friendlier-sounding word for human sewage sludge. Compost should be crumbly, dark, and earthy smelling, not heavy and caked together with an ammonia or sewer smell.

Products on the Organic Materials Review Institute list do not contain sewage sludge because these products are allowed in organics. A search for "compost" on the OMRI database includes sludge-free soil products from Organic Mechanics and dozens of other suppliers.

For more specific tips on how to choose sewage-sludge-free compost, read How to Buy Compost. To learn how to build your own composting system at home, check out Organic Gardening magazine's How to Build a Compost Pile.

Filed Under: COMPOST

Published on: May 9, 2011

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Hello, Thanks for posting to

Thanks for posting to our story. Rodale News, which is published by the for-profit Rodale Inc., is not affiliated with the Rodale Institute, which is a nonprofit research institution also owned by the Rodale family. The Sourcewatch page that you linked to has mistaken our two organizations, incorrectly attributing Rodale News stories to the Rodale Institute. We've attempted to contact them and clarify the relationship but they haven't responded. Rodale News has never participated in or endorsed a video promoting sewadge sludge.
Thank you,
Emily Main
Online Editor

composting sewage sludge:

hello Both the sludge and compost increased the salinity and chloride levels of the soil to a level which may affect salt-sensitive plants. The soil's cation exchange capacity increased as much as threefold as a result of the addition of sludge and compost. Nitrate-nitrogen levels were highest at the 15–20 cm soil depth but decreased sharply below this level. Available phosphorus was high during the 2-year study and appeared to be in excess of that needed for good crop growth.thanks for the post.
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composting sewage sludge:

The four most common methods for composting sewage sludge are aerated static pile, windrow, aerated windrow, and in vessel. Most municipalities are composting a dewatered sludge or sand bed dried sludge. Belt filter presses appear to be the most common type of dewatering system used.
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compost laced with human sludge

This is why I use my own homemade compost in my compost tumbler

compost and human sludge

The point that human sludge contains "pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, industrial waste, and gender-bending, hormone-disrupting chemicals—all of the nonsense organic-minded souls are trying to avoid in the first place" is enough to make a person sick!

Thank you for posting this article.


RE: Composting Council video

Hi Leah,

Reading about the composting video that mentions biosolids in conjunction with being associated with Rodale, I just had to see it for myself. The video may not have been posted on Rodale's website, but the content certainly makes it appear that Rodale endorses biosolids.

Perhaps the video was made by the University of Hawaii & the US Dept of Agriculture (opening credits), with participation by Rodale (also listed in the opening credits) in just a small portion. Perhaps Rodale did not know that the video was going to recommend biosolids. But surely someone at Rodale reviewed the video for conflicts or errors before allowing anyone to use the Rodale name and location?

The video can be watched on the SourceWatch website at . If Rodale did not intend for the pro-sewage sludge message that is implied in the video, then something should be done right away, because the message that Rodale endorses using biosolids is definitely implied.

Biosolids/sewage sludge compost

We are pleased that this article warns against the risks associated with using sewage sludge as a compost ingredient. The Sierra Club has long opposed using sludge/biosolids as fertilizer and, more recently, the Club's Compost Policy also opposes using sludge and other industrial-waste-containing residuals as an ingredient of composts. Heinz, DelMonte, and many other major food processing companies refuse to use produce that has been grown on land treated with biosolids.

Yet a month ago the US Composting Council posted a Rodale video on its list serve, promoting the use of sludge-containing composts.

What then is Rodale's real position on using biosolids products as fertilizer? If you truly believe that sludge should NOT be used as fertilizer, then why did you produce the promotional video? Do you have two contradictory positions? One for readers that access your website, and another one for subscribers to the US Composting Council list serve?
Thank you for clarifying this. For recent science-based information, including a new study that indicates that sludge contaminants, other than metals, can be absorbed by plants,

Composting Council video

Hi Helane,

We just wanted to let you know that we did not post a video promoting sewage sludge on our website, as you indicated. We have written extensively about the health dangers of using human sewage sludge on field crops and in home gardens.

Leah Zerbe
Online Editor

sludge biosolids compost

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on your article warning against buying sludge biosolids "compost".

I was disappointed about a month ago to see the Composting Council video posted on your site, promoting sludge biosolids compost.

All sludge biosolids contain large quantities of industrial pollutants, drugs, pharma, etc.

Here is the link to the EPA's most recent report identifying the pollutants it found in sludge biosolids: Only the 9 toxic metals in bold text are regulated. The rest of the chemicals EPA listed are untested, unmonitored and unregulated.

Your readers should know it is risky to use any sludge biosolids product on any food or animal fodder crops because plants uptake sludge pollutants. Toxins can bioaccumulate in humans and in the meat and milk of livestock.

Respectfully submitted, Helane Shields, Alton, NH

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