Ag-Caustic! Battling Toxic Compost Giveaways in San Francisco


At first, it seems extremely eco-friendly, the biannual Compost Giveaway Events every fall and spring in San Francisco hosted by the city’s Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC).

Residents are offered free compost to produce soil for community and school gardens and local backyards. It’s the green and organic thing to do.

The problem is the mulch isn’t made of food scraps and manure but a combination of toxic sewage sludge from waste water treatment, green waste, yard waste and wood chips.

What’s in sewage sludge? Stuff that’s foul and harmful to people and other living things.

The True Food Network, which is leading a petition drive against the latest giveaway argues sewage sludge is shown by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to contain heavy metals, pathogens, pharmaceuticals, PCB’s, flame retardants and endocrine disruptors. In addition, organic pollutants are present in sludge samples, such as polybrominated diphenal ethers (PMDEs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, DDT degradation products, chlordadanes, synthetic musk products, triclosan and tributytin.

“Residents may be led to believe that the city’s sludge compost is organic,” says the network. “The USDA’s National Organic Program’s (NOP) regulations, however, strictly forbid the use of sewage sludge as a fertilizer or soil amendment, no matter if it is composted or otherwise treated. This compost is by no means organic.”

The Center for Food Safety and the Resource Institute for Low Entropy Systems filed a petition with Gavin Newsom, San Francisco’s Mayor and Ed Harrington, General Manager of SFPUC, asking them to immediately and permanently suspend the sewage sludge compost giveaways for the fall. Residents are asked to join the letter writing campaign to protect the health of its gardeners.

Image: SfLatchkey

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.