DAILY NEWS Dec 17, 2012 7:37 PM - 5 comments

'Sludge' activist Maureen Reilly dead at 58

Tirelessly campaigned for higher treatment standards and better oversight of the disposal of municipal biosolids

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By: SWR Staff
December 17, 2012 2012-12-17

It’s with great sadness that we report the untimely passing of Maureen Reilly who died suddenly in Toronto on Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at age 58 years.

Reilly was known to readers as a “sludge activist” who tirelessly campaigned for higher treatment standards and better oversight of the disposal of municipal biosolids on farm lands, sometimes called “beneficial use.” Some of Reilly’s investigations into lax practices found their way into the pages of this magazine, either directly from her own commentary or via ideas suggested to editorial staff.

Her LinkedIn page states:

“For the past decade Maureen Reilly has been working together with a variety of environmental, public health, and advocacy organizations on food, soil, water, and air contamination issues.

“She is the administrator of SludgeWatch [a position she held for 13 years -- ed.], a list serv and advocacy service for people and communities struggling with issues related to contamination from wastewater, sludge, and other industrial residuals.

“Maureen had standing on the Walkerton Inquiry on sludge related matters. She taught a course called “Sewers through the Centuries" at University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies.

“Maureen is actively committed to protecting food lands, food production, and food and water safety. She is investigating effective pollution prevention strategies, and clean technologies for water and soil protection.

Reilly’s LinkedIn page also references two documentaries:

Crapshoot: The Gamble with our Wastes

National Film Board of Canada


Sludge Diet (52 Minutes)


According to an obituary put out by the family on Facebook, Maureen Anne Reilly was the daughter of Herta Reilly (deceased) and Terence Reilly (Mary). She will also be dearly missed by her brothers David (Kathy) and Peter (Sharyn), her nephews and nieces and many relatives and friends.

Reilly was born on Manitoulin Island on April 26. She grew up in Don Mills and received her Bachelor Degree at University of Toronto. Among her many accomplishments, she was a champion of women’s rights, the poor and the protection of the environment. She was recognized for her contributions by the Ontario government. Her research and work was international in scope and valued by many. In her local community, she was known for her friendly manner, compassion, wisdom and humor.

A celebration of Maureen’s life will take place from 1-4 pm on Saturday December 22, 2012 at the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), 60 Lowther Avenue, Toronto, Ontario. (Parking lot w/s of Bedford Rd., north of Lowther.) Light refreshments to follow.

See Editor Guy Crittenden’s blog for further commentary, and to read a recent profile of Maureen Reilly by Ellen Moorehouse that appeared in the Toronto Star, March 2, 2012.


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Reader Comments

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Wendy Smith

Not only has the world lost a beautiful and spirited Eco warrior but her home was in an area that needs strong advocates and leaders like Maureen. This woman took on some very old-school people and these are the same ones that are afraid of wind, EFW, bury their waste and still haven't figured out the green bin program. When a municipality is 'stuck' in feasibility studies and not collecting organic, household waste to produce beautiful Compost, you know that they need help. Ms. Reilly was a quiet hero who just wanted to Do The Right Thing and live a true life and I think of the fight she had to put energy into rather than totally enjoy her nest. She will remain in our hearts and minds and we should honour her by speaking up, opening our eyes and hearts to our environment and Doing Our Best. We are the caretakers and citizens of nature. It's up to each of us.

Posted January 6, 2013 06:49 PM

Liz Rice

Growing up on organic food I always appreciated the taste and that it was safe/chemical-free. Learning about conventional and factory farming inspired me to become an environmental speaker on topics such as food. I met Maureen at a Canadian Organic Growers Conference. Heard her and environmental lawyers speak about water and soil contamination; all the things that are legal, or not monitored/legally enforced. I learned a lot that day about sewage sludge being used as crop fertilizer; incorporated it into my 'Benefits of Eating Organic' presentation.

Maureen was an awesome resource; a wealth of knowledge and what dedication! Please support your activist friends. The work is emotionally and physically draining. I realize that not everyone is cut out for this kind of work, but you can always financially support their work or be there as emotional support.

Posted December 18, 2012 03:18 PM


Once we were three; now we are two. We called ourselves The Sludge Sisters. Deb and I always referred to Maureen as the Queen of Sludge. We were content to be mere princesses.

How did I meet Maureen? Ten years ago I got the classic plain envelope in the mail. It had many photo copied e-mail messages and a few other documents. No return address or cover letter. I put it on the shelf and ignored it for a couple of months. One day I decided I’d try to figure out who it was from and why I’d received it. The only name that wasn’t blocked out was Maureen Reilly. I contacted her and she phoned me. She said she wondered when I’d be contacting her. She hadn’t sent the envelope, but she knew it was being sent to me.

The gun club near me was going to receive paper sludge to build firing range berms. Maureen filled me in on the details and soon a long process began.

My other sludge sister, Deb Vice, already had a Sound-Sorb berm near her farm. The three of us exchanged information and encouragement. We were kindred spirits trying to protect our watersheds and farmland from pollution. Meeting Maureen and Deb was the only good that came out of the sad story of Sound-Sorb berms. Together, we laughed and ranted. We celebrated small victories and mourned our failures to protect our watersheds. At midnight we’d be sending each other messages of encouragement, surprised to know that each of us was still awake and trying our best to make a positive difference.

Maureen had an amazing laugh, wit and determination to bring sanity to the insane world of sewage and paper sludge disposal. I remember the moment when I suddenly understood that it was all about diversion of waste from landfill. I realized then that we couldn’t protect our rural areas, because the bureaucrats in Toronto just saw rural Ontario as a dumping ground for waste.

I was in awe of Maureen’s longevity as a sludge activist. She told me one day that most environmentalists don’t even last two years before they burn out. She worked with Sludge Watch from 1998 until her death. I don’t believe anyone else could have done the job Maureen did for victims of sludge and for Sludge Watch.

On December 5, I was posting something on Facebook about the spreading of sewage sludge on farmland and I wanted to be sure I was correct. A quick e-mail to Maureen gave me the confidence to post the information. Few people have the depth of knowledge that Maureen had. The environmental movement has lost an amazing advocate for a safer, healthier environment.

My other ‘sludge sister’ is Deb Vice. The day before Maureen took her life, I received an e-mail from her suggesting we nominate Maureen for a Local Hero Award for Earth Day. We planned to submit the nomination in the new year. I wish we had told Maureen of our plan to honor her.

I don’t feel I knew Maureen well. We only met twice in person, but we shared so many e-mail messages and phone calls that I felt her presence in my life throughout the past ten years. I miss her and hope she is smiling – perhaps laughing – as she reads the many memories people are sharing.

Posted December 18, 2012 11:20 AM

David McRobert

I knew Maureen for nearly 16 years. I am devastated to hear of her loss. She was a brave and determined woman who made Ontario a better and safer place to live.

I think it was in 1996 when I first heard from Maureen. In late 1994 I had been appointed as In-house Counsel at the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO). I don't know who gave her my name (possibly someone at the MOE, CELA or Ecojustice) but she started calling and e-mailing me and other ECO staff about sludge issues. She wanted our support and money, if possible. I advised her that we didn't provide grants and explained how the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) worked. I think I also advised that she really needed to hire an environmental lawyer to protect her interests in land and property and try to use the wide array of tools provided by the common law property rights and administrative law.

This didn't persuade her. She pushed and pestered ECO staff to become more fully engaged with sludge and water pollution issues. To her credit, she succeeded. Sludge and sewage did become important issues for the ECO and have been featured in many ECO annual reports since the late 1990s. This combined effort by activists such as Maureen and the ECO helped to push the MOE to take strong regulatory action on these issues, although there is much more that needs to be done.

Over the years I must have exchanged hundreds of e-mails with Maureen and spoken to her on the phone at least 120 times. Invariably she was trying to solve a complex legal or policy puzzle and seeking to pick my brain. I always learned from our sometimes heated discussions and tried to provide her as much information as I could, since at the ECO I was not able to provide her with legal advice. (I only could advise the ECO and his staff on the law.)

Her legacy can be found everywhere on the internet. She used the deep knowledge she gained about law and policy to produce regular newsletters, blogs, and articles. She appeared in films and videos, taught at universities and worked with groups. She passionately advocated for law and policy changes. She assisted other people all over the world.

Thousands of her friends and colleagues will never forget her.

Posted December 18, 2012 09:24 AM

Jim Howlett

The world has lost a great champion,who was filled with passion, wit, and love. Maureen's soul was geared with a will for the good of others. Who would carry her torch half as far or high?

Posted December 17, 2012 11:52 PM

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