By Shannon Galley
The first Biosolids – Soil Conference was held at Pier 21 on Sunday March 13. The conference was the brainchild of Lil MacPherson, owner of The Wooden Monkey, a Halifax restaurant. The conference was designed to promote discussion and raise awareness about the use of biosolids on agricultural land.
The seven-hour conference began with a screening of Sludge-Diet, a film showing the effects of biosolids on the agricultural landscape and the effects it can have on human health. Sludge-Diet inspired MacPherson to raise awareness about this issue.
“I want people to realize what the issue is because no one is being told,” says MacPherson. “People don’t realize how many pharmaceutical drugs and toxic chemicals are in this stuff (biosolids). If we don’t say anything, who will?”
Ellen Page funded the conference and was able to join the event briefly via live feed from Texas. She emphasized how much she cares about sustainability in Nova Scotia and how people in the province have to start doing things differently. “This is an opportunity for Nova Scotia to make new choices.” Says Page.
According to the Nova Scotia Environmental Network’s website, “Biosolids are derived from human sewage sludge from residential, commercial, industrial, hospital, and street run off sources and are mixed at waste water plants, dewatered and transported to a facility for processing.” These compounds include heavy metals and carcinogens, which are being sold to farmers as cheap fertilizer.
Jim Poushinsky, chair of Ottawa Citizens Against Pollution and Sewage spoke about the different diseases that can be transmitted through breathing in toxic aerosols from biosolids. Poushinsky emphasized how people in rural communities are at a greater risk to develop variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the human form of Mad Cow Disease. The occurrence of dementia cases are also up in the these areas. He wants to see a moratorium on sludge spreading.
The keynote speaker for the day was Dr. David Lewis. Lewis is an American scientist who has moved his research to the University of British Columbia because the United States Environmental Protection Agency stopped funding his work on the effects of land-applied sewage sludge. He has visited areas in the US where families are dealing with diseases and deaths related to the toxic chemicals in the air around where the biosolids are applied. “There is no way mixing municipal, industrial, and human waste can be rendered safe.”
Ron Zima is the founder of the Children’s Clean Air Network. He is glad to see awareness being brought to these environmental issues. “Lil and Ellen are becoming symbols for the movement,” says Zima. “We are faced with a lot of bad choices, and we are not going to take what we are told as gospel. This conference is great because it is not just about raising awareness, it is also about finding solutions.”
In the remainder of the conference, speakers talking about potential solutions for dealing with biosolid waste such as urging consumers to buy organic and educating people on food, waste and how they are interconnected.
Scott Travers, President and COO of Minas Basin Pulp and Power was the final speaker at the event. His talk focused on what can be done with biosolids instead of spreading them on farmers fields. Travers wants to see biosolids turned into energy in an environmentally friendly way.