Warkworth anti-biosolids activists not on side of science: researcher

By Patrick Meagher

Biosolids, a euphemism for human waste, continues to cause outrage in Warkworth. A small group of citizens at this village southeast of Peterborough are complaining of illness and they link that to farmland. Wendy Deavitt, who moved to her retirement home in the country six years ago, has complained of diarrhrea, respiratory distress, watering eyes, micro plasma pneumonia and headaches. She told Northumberland Today that she tested for high levels of heavy metals and the odour during biosolid application "was enough to make you vomit."

So far, however, the science doesnít side with Deavitt.

"Thereís always concern (about biosolids)," said University of Guelph researcher Chris Kinsely, of the east of Ottawa francophone agricultural college, Alfred campus. "Thereís anecdotal cases where people are sick."

Itís easy for those who get sick to look around, see biosolids applied to a nearby field, and make an erroneous link, he said. "If there was massive risk weíd see it in farm families. We donít. So, there is a risk but how small?"

The U.S. based independent research group National Academy of Sciences reported in Biosolids Applied to Land in 2002 that of all studies done, there was no link to human health, Kinsley said. He also noted that Cornell University reports only two cases in Canada where the news media has reported a biosolids link with human health. One case is in Nova Scotia. The other is at Warkworth, where Deavitt and others are crying foul. In both cases no link has been confirmed by science, Kinsley said.

The National Academy of Sciences study also concluded that more studies need to be done. Said Kinsley: "There should be nationwide studies of high risk groups such as farm families where biosolids have been applied."

As it stands, biosolids now are treated before applied to land. In small municipalities, oxygen is blown through biosolids to encourage bacteria to degrade pathogen indicators, particularly e.coli. In larger municipalities, an aerobic process turns human waste into methane to convert to electricity.

The city of Ottawa partially lifted its ban on the use of biosolids but arguably not because city officals think itís safe. Spreading biosolids on fields is a lot less costly than sending biosolids to landfills or drying and incinerating it, Kinsley said.

The Ontario Ministry of Environment has approved the application of biosolids for more than 30 years and has no documented health or environmental impacts.