San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

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WARNING! Sewage sludge is toxic. Food should not be grown in "biosolids." Join the Food Rights Network.

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, according to the San Francisco Bay Guardian paper, "is arguably the city's most important commission.[1] It provides water to 1.6 million customers in three Bay Area counties and handles sewage treatment and municipal power for San Francisco." According to its website, SFPUC "is a department of the City and County of San Francisco that provides water, wastewater, and municipal power services to San Francisco. Under contractual agreement with 28 wholesale water agencies, the SFPUC also supplies water to 1.6 million additional customers within three Bay Area counties. The SFPUC system provides four distinct services: Regional Water, Local Water, Wastewater (collection, treatment and disposal), and Power." [2]

Members of the Commission [3] include: Francesca Vietor, President, Anson Moran, Vice President, Ann Moller Caen, Senator Art Torres, and Vince Courtney. The current General Manger of the SFPUC is Ed Harrington, a Certified Public Accountant and former assistant SFPUC manager. The PUC has a number of formal "Citizen Advisory Committees" including the SFPUC CAC Wastewater Subcommittee.

Photo by San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

2010 Tests of San Francisco Sewage Sludge Find PBDEs, Triclosan

On August 10, 2010, the Food Rights Network announced in a news release that "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. The independent tests were conducted for the Food Rights Networkby Dr. Robert C. Hale of the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences."

Anna Werner Investigates: Organic Compost or Toxic Sludge?

In an August 6, 2010, letter reporting on his findings to the Food Rights Network Robert Hale wrote: "A sewage sludge-derived compost from the Synagro CVC plant, distributed by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission in their "compost give away" program, was analyzed for synthetic pollutants. Several classes of emerging contaminants with endocrine disruptive properties were detected in appreciable concentrations, including polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants, nonylphenols (NPs) detergent breakdown products and the antibacterial agent triclosan." PDFs are attached here of the letter and the data: [4] [5] [6] [7]

Chez Sludge

The Food Rights Network released a major investigative report on July 9, 2010 titled: Chez Sludge: How the Sewage Sludge Industry Bedded Alice Waters. [8] It examines collusion between the Chez Panisse Foundation and the SFPUC based on an extensive open records investigation of the SFPUC internal files. (To view the internal documents see: SFPUC Sludge Controversy Timeline.)

Staff

Toxic Sewage Sludge Given Away as "Organic Biosolids Compost"

Beginning in 2007, SFPUC began sporadic giveaways of sewage sludge. The San Francisco sludge was processed by the Synagro company (along with sludge from 8 other counties) and given away as free "organic biosolids compost" to gardeners.

In 2009 a major controversy erupted in San Francisco when the Center for Food Safety and the Organic Consumers Association called on the SFPUC to end its give-away of toxic sewage sludge. In September 2009, both the Center for Food Safety and Resource Institute for Low Entropy Systems(RILES), a Boston-based organization that works to protect public health and the environment, petitioned the city to end its sludge compost giveaways.[10] They received an answer in late November 2009 from Natalie Sierra of SFPUC; instead of halting the progrma, SFPUC hoped to expand it tenfold.

A March 4, 2010, demonstration at City Hall by the OCA forced a temporary halt to the program. (See articles below)[11] [12][13][14] [15] The misleading labeled "organic compost," which the PUC has given away free to gardeners since 2007, is composed of toxic sewage sludge from San Francisco and eight other counties. Very little toxicity testing has been done, but what little has been done is alarming. Just the sludge from San Francisco alone has tested positive for 1,2-Dibromo-3-Chloropropane (a.k.a. DBCP), Isopropyltoluene (a.k.a. p-cymene or p-isopropyltoluene), Dioxins and Furans. [16]

When faced with protests and attention from national and international media, SFPUC announced it was suspending its sludge giveaway program and testing its sludge compost for contaminants. It also abandoned use of the word "organic," insisting the term referred to organic chemistry and not the USDA National Organic Program. However, it also refused to admit wrongdoing and instead focused on refining its sludge PR.[17] Its Vice President, Francesca Vietor, went on the offensive, providing her version of the facts to friends and allies and enlisting them to publicly and privately stand up for both her and sludge. In emails, SFPUC staff admits that it is very worried about another sludge giveaway program - a larger program that sends "Class B Biosolids" to Solano County to be spread on land where animal feed crops are grown. There has been some pressure in Solano County to limit or end sludge applications and SFPUC fears that any negative attention to sludge will lead Solano County to make it more difficult or costly for them to dispose of their sludge.

Disposal of Sewage Sludge

San Francisco produces 82,000 tons of sewage sludge annually. According to a public fact sheet, SFPUC disposed of its sludge as follows in 2008:[18]

  • 56% goes to the Hay Road Landfill in Vacaville, CA
  • 28% is applied to land as fertilizer in Solano County, CA
  • 14% is applied to land as fertilizer in Sonoma County, CA
  • 1% is applied to land as fertilizer in Merced County, CA
  • 1% went to the composting program to be given away to gardeners

A 2009 document from the Bay Area Clean Water Agencies (BACWA)[19] notes that a survey of landfills within 200 miles finds insufficient capacity to dispose of all of the Bay Area's sludge as "Alternate Daily Cover." Also, as of the document's publication in 2009, 21 of California's 58 counties restrict land application of Class B Biosolids. The document identifies as a strategy mounting PR efforts to convince the public of the safety of sewage sludge:

"Overarching each of the challenges just listed are the public's perceptions about biosolids. These perceptions impact to some degree all of the biosolids management options the Bay Area currently relies upon. Increasing the public's awareness of and knowledge about biosolids management issues in the Bay Area is one of the most important tasks confronting biosolids management. Without informed public discussion, the region is unlikely to implement optimal management policies. Policies aimed at placating negative public perceptions about biosolids are a more likely outcome."

The document cites the "California Integrated Waste Management Act" (AB 939) of 1989, a bill passed by the state government requiring that 50% of sewage sludge is diverted from landfills by the year 2000. Of the possible options for sludge disposal outside of landfills, it claims that "Class B land application was the most environmentally sound option for biosolids management." In other words, applying sewage sludge to land where crops designated for animal feed are grown as fertilizer is their preferred method of disposing of sludge. Another option they cite is producing commercial fertilizer and compost products using sewage sludge:

"Other options for sustainable reuse of biosolids involve transforming biosolids into one or more marketable commodities. Examples include bulk and packaged compost, pelletized fertilizer, and inputs into the production of cement, bricks and glass. Bay Area wastewater agencies already convert some biosolids into Class A compost and several agencies are upgrading their treatment facilities to increase production of Class A biosolids."

The document goes on to mention how the state of California could assist them in disposing of sludge using their preferred methods. They recommend the following:

  • Creation of private sector grants and tax credits "for the creation of new technologies supporting alternative applications of biosolids"
  • Financial incentives provided to the composting industry for increasing use of sewage sludge in compost products. Such incentives include low interest loans and tax credits. They also recommend increasing tipping fees at landfills and earmarking the money raised for the expansion of composting.
  • Eliminating barriers and creating incentives for wastewater facilities to "invest in B2E technologies." This refers to the use of sewage sludge for energy.

The use of sludge to create energy is a popular idea in the Bay Area, as it is the subject of the Bay Area Biosolids to Energy Project[20]

Articles and resources

External Resources

External Articles


Related SourceWatch articles


References

  1. Sarah Phelan, SFPUC shuffle: Powerful commission lies dormant until the mayor can find picks acceptable to the board, San Francisco Bay Guardian, August 6, 2008
  2. SFPUC Website accessed March, 2010
  3. SFPUC Members accessed January, 2011
  4. Hale Letter 8/6/10
  5. Hale Data NP
  6. Hale Data PAH
  7. Hale Data PBDE
  8. John Stauber, Chez Sludge: How the Sewage Sludge Industry Bedded Alice Waters, PRWatch.org, July 9, 2010
  9. Website Accessed July 5, 2010.
  10. Sludge Fest: Center for Food Safety vs. San Francisco. It’s a battle that may be coming soon to a city near you
  11. Heather Knight, Nonprofit calls PUC's compost toxic sludge, San Francisco Chronicle, September 27, 2009.
  12. Barry Estabrook, Free Compost--Or Toxic Sludge?, The Atlantic, December 1, 2009
  13. Anna Werner, Concern Over SF Compost Made from Sewage Sludge, CBS Channel 5, March 3, 2010
  14. Leora Broydo Vestel, http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/09/food-groups-clash-over-compost-sludge/ Food Groups Clash Over Compost Sludge, New York Times Green Inc. blog, April 9 2010.
  15. Chris Roberts, Farmers Call PUC's Shit, Will Dump it on City Hall Today, San Francisco Appeal, March 4, 2010.
  16. Jill Richardson, What San Francisco Found in Their Own Sludge, La Vida Locavore blog, April 8, 2010.
  17. Jill Richardson, "When Environmentalists Go Bad (And Tell Lies)," La Vida Locavore
  18. "Biosolids Fact Sheet," SFWater.org
  19. "Bay Area Biosolids Management"
  20. Bay Area Biosolids to Energy


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