Biosolids: one person’s sludge…

Jar of biosolids was passed around at TNRD board meeting.

Jar of biosolids was passed around at TNRD board meeting.

One persons’s sewage sludge is another’s biosolids.

“Biosolids” is the term for organic matter recycled from sewage, and opinions on it are much divided. Biosolids are used extensively in such things as non-food agricultural production and land reclamation but when it shows up in a neighbourhood people can get upset.

Those who oppose biosolids projects prefer to call it sewage sludge. A project near Merritt has brought objections from residents who say it’s too close to homes, and a forum there a couple of weeks ago resulted in a large turnout of concerned residents.

That was followed Thursday by several presentations to the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board of directors. I learned a lot about biosolids Thursday, and I expect to learn much more as the issue progresses.

John Lavery of Sylvis, an environmental consulting firm, assured the board and the two dozen residents who attended the boardroom meeting that biosolids are not feces. He prefers the term “feedstock.”

He said the TNRD provides many opportunities for the use of biosolids. “Within the TNRD we see the entire spectrum of beneficial uses.”

Lavery acknowledged there are potential risks with the use of biosolids, including nutrients, odour pathogens, and heavy metals, which have to be regulated and managed. Careful site selection is critical, he said.

Slides showed several projects in which biosolids have been used to reclaim land that was considered difficult or unfit for reclamation, including minesites.

Laurie Ford and Janelle Hunt of the Metro Vancouver Biosolids Management Plan showed how biosolids have been used in a number of projects to rehabilitate land. “Biosolids really kickstart that soil formation,” said Hunt.

In answer to a question about biosolids possibly containing discarded medicines, Hunt said the levels of concentration are very small.

Carol Danyluk of the Ministry of Environment and Mike Adams of the Interior Heath Authority explained their jurisdictions with respect to biosolids, with Adams pointing out that the medical health officer has the authority to stop a biosolids project if there’s a risk to human health.

I’m a great believer in the integrity of neighbourhoods and, by extension, of communities, and that the wishes of people who live in an area must have a heavy influence on those who make public decisions.

Director Steven Rice made a comment that resonated when he said, “I wonder if there’s some property value issues. People were there before the composting — to me it seems a big issue.”

The meeting was designed to provide the board with technical information about biosolids rather than as a public forum, so the residents who attended didn’t have a chance to ask questions or make comments, but a folder of information passed out to directors by the Friends of the Nicola Valley opposed the use of biosolids on farm land.

“”This product is clearly a hazardous waste being remediated on agricultural land, under the guise of farming, nothing could be further from the scientific truth,” one of the handouts states.

Clearly, more education is needed on biosolids and more consultation is needed on the Merritt project in particular. The TNRD board’s role in the controversy is unclear but Thursday’s meeting was a good step in what’s bound to be an ongoing public discussion.

 

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