Anti-sewage compost crusader to speak at City Hall 

A Wisconsin-based activist on a crusade to end San Francisco’s giveaways of free sewage-based compost plans to unleash a tirade of words and data Tuesday during a city utilities commission hearing.

Most United States municipalities use sewage sludge to fertilize and compost agricultural land. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission took the process further in 2007 and increased treatment of some of waste, which it gives to residents for use on their gardens.

Such material is rich in carbon and nutrients but it also contains industrial waste that washes into sewers.

National food safety organizations held high-profile City Hall protests this year about the giveaway program, which they say promotes a toxic sewage sludge-based compost industry.

In response, the SFPUC suspended further giveaways and spent $25,000 on an analysis that found the material contains some toxic materials that are also present in comparable levels in commercially available soil amendments.

The agency plans to hold a commission hearing to discuss the results of the analysis and to decide whether to resume or cancel the compost giveaways.

But Madison, Wis.-based food activist John Stauber doesn’t want to wait for the item to appear on a commission agenda. He has flown to San Francisco and says he plans to address the commission Tuesday about the compost giveaways during the 1:30 p.m. meeting’s public comment period.

Stauber said he will present results of an analysis that shows the material is toxic.

“I’m not here to suggest what should be done with it,” Stauber said. “What we should not be doing is calling it organic biosolids fertilizer and pretending that it’s safe and spreading it on farms and gardens.”

Stauber said municipalities have a legal and social responsibility to invest public funds finding better solutions to the problem of sewage waste.

SFPUC spokesman Tyrone Jue said the agency has never hidden the fact that it is handing out compost derived from sewage waste. The giveaways are held at sewage treatment plants.

“We’ve said all along that the reason we do these compost giveaways is to talk to the public about biosolids, because it’s this mysterious thing that nobody knows about,” Jue said. “It has helped that — for better or for worse.”

Commissioners also plan to discuss a proposed campaign that could be launched by agency staff to keep nonsewage waste out of sewers.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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