Right to Harm
Don’t expect too much from Bill 81, if it will even be enforced. We already have similar legislation with the Ontario Water Resources Act and Environmental Protection Act that are intended to protect land, water and air resources from pollution. Both are not now enforced as far as farming operations are concerned, because inspectors from the ministries of health, environment, and agriculture are politically handcuffed by the “Right to Farm” policy.
More than a year after Walkerton, these inspectors still cannot inspect farms for manure run off without first having an invitation from the farm owner. Some farmers will not agree to an inspection because it could cost money to make corrections. It therefore follows that future “Walkertons” are inevitable unless the Ontario government provides financial assistance. The taxpayer’s money ($155-million) spent on Walkerton settlements would cover manure handling problems on most farms.
The Right to Farm policy needs updating for several reasons if it is to protect the majority of hardworking responsible farmers from the irresponsible actions of others. When manure run off is allowed and it pollutes streams it can spread human and animal diseases like E. Coli and foot and mouth disease. The latter almost devastated the UK’s agricultural economy. When manure can be hauled along public roads spillage from the spreader can be washed into streams, or when it dries on the road bacteria and viruses in it can become airborne and/or be carried by auto to remote areas of the farming community.
Granted, farm animals have defecated in streams for years without any apparent ill effects. However, they can now defecate mutated bacteria, like E. Coli and the foot and mouth virus, no thanks to the hormones and antibiotic-laced diets and the free hauling of human food such as coated cereals and snacks previously rejected by food industries.
Another reason to amend Right to Farm policy is to give responsible agricultural associations like the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) the flexibility to monitor irresponsible people and to deal with the inevitable emergence of factory farms that are claimed to be necessary to compete in global markets. The OFA might pattern itself after the College of Physicians and Surgeons and/or the Law Society who attempt to control its maverick members.
Recognizing that this will take some time, the provincial government should take a proactive stance and pay for the installation of UV water purification systems in all private wells. So when more factory farms come on stream, well owners don’t have to chlorinate their water or react to “boil water” warnings because chlorinating can produce carcinogens and boiling can concentrate heavy metals. This expenditure, also the equivalent of a Walkerton settlement, would cover the installation of about 300,000 UV systems and be a more prudent investment of taxpayer money as it would be an immediate prophylactic measure.
Although I’ve been a hobby farmer in Northumberland County for over 30 years and so far free from sludge-type illness, I am concerned about the establishment of factory farms here because the topography is very much like the UK’s Cumbria region where the foot and mouth crisis occurred.
Bill Tuer, Cobourg, Ontario
The recent cover story, “Sludge Fight,” detailed some of the critical issues involved in sewage sludge management in Ontario. However, it failed to mention the abundance of research that stands behind the U.S. federal and Ontario’s provincial sewage sludge management regulations. The National Research Council — the highest scientific body in the U.S. — found that “while no disposal or reuse option can guarantee complete safety, the use of these materials in the production of crops for human consumption, when practiced in accordance with existing [U.S.] federal guidelines and regulations, present negligible risk to the consumer, crop production, and to the environment.”
The article also failed to note that, when it comes to public health, no one is more exposed to sewage sludge than those who work with it: the staff of public utilities who manage wastewater and the resulting solids. Studies have shown them to be generally as healthy as the rest of the population. Finally, the article failed to mention the fact that most of the experience of decades of extensive land application of treated sewage sludge (also called biosolids) in all parts of North America has not demonstrated significant cause for concern.
However, as the article noted, sewage sludge management is not perfect: there may be unusual cases of concern that should be addressed through cooperative efforts of local officials, the public, public utilities, and biosolids managers. Today, biosolids recycling is widely understood to be the most environmentally friendly method for managing the solids that come from protecting our precious water resources. The City of Toronto is doing the right thing in transitioning away from incineration toward biosolids recycling. I encourage you and your readers to visit your local wastewater treatment facility and a biosolids recycling operation. Learn more about biosolids management by contacting the Ministry of Environment or the Toronto utility or web sites such as www.biosolids.org, www.nebiosolids. org, or www.nwbiosolids.org (linked to www.solidwastemag.com). Recycling biosolids improves soils and crops, recycling nutrients and organic matter from our organic wastes, helping establish sustainable systems. We appreciate interest in this small part of the field of environmental protection and encourage public support and constructive involvement in enhancing biosolids recycling programs.
Also, the Water Environment Association of Ontario’s report that Ms. Reilly mentioned is in fact available publicly and is online at their web site: www.weao.org (look for it on the right side of the front page).
Ned Beecher, Executive Director, New England Biosolids and Residuals Association, Tamworth, New Hampshire