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A Personal Note on Sewage Sludge as Compost

Today, Alternet published a piece I wrote about San Francisco giving gardeners sewage sludge under the guise of free “organic compost.” This piece has a particularly personal significance to me as a gardener and as an unofficial stepmother. Our garden is our food supply, but it’s also a play area and learning environment for my boyfriend’s two young kids. One day while we were outside preparing a bed for planting, his youngest daughter discovered that water plus dirt equals mud. Within minutes she was naked, playing in the mud for the rest of the afternoon. As noted in my piece on San Francisco, all of the samples tested from their free “organic compost” contained PBDE, a flame retardant. The CDC says that children should not play in dirt contaminated with PBDE. If we had used San Francisco’s sludge in our garden, that’s exactly what our toddler would have done as she played in the mud that day. And that’s one out of thousands of chemicals that go into sewage sludge, entirely unregulated by the government. It’s horrifying to think what we and our kids would have been exposed to if we were one of the families in San Francisco who took the free sludge compost.

Jill Richardson
March 4, 2010