PBDE Flame Retardants and Triclosan Found in Tests Conducted for the Food Rights Network

Food Rights Network
John Stauber

    [Note: for the obvious reasons articulated below sewage sludge is strictly prohibited in organic farm production]

San Francisco, CA: Independent tests of sewage sludge-derived compost from the Synagro CVC plant — distributed free to gardeners since 2007 by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission in their “organic biosolids compost” giveaway program — have found appreciable concentrations of contaminants with endocrine-disruptive properties.

These contaminants include polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants, nonylphenol detergent breakdown products, and the antibacterial agent triclosan. The independent tests were conducted for the Food Rights Networkby Dr. Robert C. Hale of the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences.

PBDEs are persistent and bioaccumulate in the environment, and elevated levels have been found in California citizens. The average total of the PBDE congeners tested in the compost was 731 ng/g (or ppb – parts per billion) (dry weight basis). The congeners found closely match those of the PentaBDE formulation, which are the congeners most commonly found in human tissue and wildlife. PentaBDE has been banned in Europe and its manufacture was voluntarily ended in the US in 2004, yet exposure continues.

The antibiotic triclosan, another suspected endocrine disruptor, was also found in the sewage sludge “compost,” at an average of 1,312 ng/g (or ppb). Last week, the Centers for Disease Control updated their National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals and noted that triclosan levels in people increased by over 41% between just the years 2004 and 2006.

Also last week, a scientific paper showed that triclosan from sewage sludge can be taken up by soybean plants and translocated into the beans themselves, then consumed by people and animals.

Dr. Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist with Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports magazine), has reviewed the study conducted by Dr. Hale for the Food Rights Network. Dr. Hansen told the Food Rights Network: “Giving out sludge-based ‘compost’ that contains PBDEs, triclosan, and who knows what other toxins, while calling it ‘organic compost,’ knowing it would be applied to school and home gardens, is wrong on a number of levels. Given the toxic compounds that have been found by Dr. Hale in this San Francisco sludge product, the ‘compost’ giveaway should be permanently ended by the City of San Francisco.”

John Stauber is a co-founder of and adviser to the Food Rights Network, and author of the 1995 book Toxic Sludge Is Good for You that first exposed the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) sewage sludge disposal scam of renaming toxic sludge “biosolids” and encouraging its use to grow food. Today, fifteen years later, half of all sewage sludge is spread on farmland.

Said Stauber: “In the face of a public protest on March 4, 2010, the City of San Francisco temporarily suspended its toxic sludge giveaway. The staff of the Public Utilities Commission and Mayor Gavin Newsom have allowed Bay Area residents to become guinea pigs in a heinous scam that has fooled gardeners into thinking they were receiving real organic compost for their gardens, when they were tricked into allowing the sewage sludge industry to use their gardens as a waste dump. This must stop.”

The Food Rights Network will provide the test results to the Public Uutilities Commissioners at a city hall meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 10.

John Mayer, Bay Area resident and researcher for the Food Rights Network, stated: “The sludge tests that the PUC released in late July, 2010, are grossly insufficient, relying on outdated science and regulatory standards, and limited to ‘priority pollutants,’ a list developed more than 30 years ago. As the Center for Food Safety noted recently, the PUC failed to test for nanoparticles, ‘antibiotics and their degradation products, disinfectants, other antimicrobials, steroids, hormones, and other drugs present in sewage sludge as indicated by EPA’s 2009 Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey.'”

“Our ongoing investigation of this issue,” added Mayer, “has shown that the Office of the Mayor and the staff of the PUC have colluded with the national sewage sludge lobby, Synagro corporation and other private interests to promote and defend growing food in sewage sludge. We call upon the five PUC Commissioners to put this issue on their public agenda for September, and to stop allowing sludge politics to trump health, environment and the precautionary principle in San Francisco.”

    The Food Rights Network is a national non-profit, non-partisan research and advocacy organization. FRN opposes dumping sewage sludge on farms and gardens; no food should be grown in toxic sludge.

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