The factory, hospital, and household waste that enters the sewer system is often disposed of on farmland and even used to grow food. Sewage sludge fertilizer is banned in organic agriculture because it contains innumerable toxic chemicals, heavy metals and pathogens that could harm farm workers and the environment while contaminating food. Out of 80,000 chemicals in commercial use, only 10 are regulated in sewage sludge used as fertilizer.
San Francisco, like most municipalities, struggles to find cheap ways to dispose of its sewage sludge. The city sends it to landfills, farmland in surrounding counties, and, most controversially, offered it to Bay Area gardeners as so-called "organic biosolids compost."
When the Organic Consumers Association learned that San Francisco, where Gavin Newsom was named "World's Greenest Mayor" by Organic Style magazine, was pulling off this scam to trick organic gardeners into using sewage sludge, the first person we thought would want to help was Alice Waters. Waters, the celebrity chef who founded Chez Panisse, is one of the world's most famous organic advocates. Plus, she's a Bay Area community gardener who started the Edible Schoolyard movement. We were sure that she would be appalled by San Francisco's attempt to get people to dispose of toxic sewage sludge in their organic gardens.
But, our request for help from the Chez Panisse Foundation was rejected.
We couldn't believe it when we learned why! The director of Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Foundation, Francesca Vietor, also works for Mayor Newsom as the Vice President of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), the agency responsible for dealing with the city's sewage sludge.
When Organic Consumers Association asked Alice Waters whether she agreed that food should not be grown in toxic sewage sludge, Francesca Vietor emailed San Francisco Public Utilities Commission staff:
"Alice and CPF are not going to respond but it's really important for SFPUC staff to come up with answers about whether the stuff does or does not contain the chemicals that Stauber, et al, say it does, and if so, in what doses and what those dose levels mean. It's not enough, at least in San Francisco, to say it's better than fed and state regs require. Can you get these answers quickly -- as now that people are trying to oust me from the PUC -- so I can decide whether to go on the offensive against these guys."
Alice Waters and the Chez Panisse Foundation did go on the offensive against us, but the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission decided to halt their sludge-to-gardens giveaways. The decision was made by Ed Harrington, the General Manager of the SFPUC who told Vietor that the giveaway program was on temporary hold. He wrote, "We have told [Organic Consumers Association] we have no plans to do any further giveaways at this time - feel free to tell them that again. We do not want to promise anything more than that - our real concern is the larger issue of our disposal of sludge . . . on land in Solano County which they may go after next."
In their continuing efforts to defend and promote their toxic sludge giveaway program, on July 27, 2010 the SFPUC released test results they claim prove the safety of their sludge "compost." But the testing is nothing new, just the same old song and dance. The testing only reiterates how woefully and dangerously inadequate testing standards are: no testing for flame retardants, pharmaceuticals, PCBs, dioxins and thousands of other dangerous contaminants known to be present in the chemical cocktail that is toxic sewage sludge. The testing was also based on the EPA's 1989 National Sewage Sludge Survey, rather than EPA's 2009 Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey, which, 20 years later, revealed that dozens of unregulated, untested contaminants were present in all samples nationally. The testing was also based on science and standards from 1976 establishing the Priority Pollutants list - 34 years ago! The SFPUC's "new and improved testing" is nothing but a smokescreen meant to deflect attention from their scam sludge giveaway, and to silence critics.
To date, San Francisco is still dumping toxic sludge on Solano and Sonoma Counties, Francesca Vietor is still both director of Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Foundation and Vice President of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and Alice Waters still hasn't taken a stand against the disposal of San Francisco's toxic sludge on gardens and farmland.
Take action. Ask Alice Waters to stand up against San Francisco's toxic sludge dumps!