Solid Waste & Recycling


Letters (December 01, 2001)

Right to HarmWe are writing in response to Guy Crittenden's editorial in the October/ November 2001 issue. His editorials in this and other publications, on the issue of biosolids reuse, continue to c...

Right to Harm

We are writing in response to Guy Crittenden’s editorial in the October/ November 2001 issue. His editorials in this and other publications, on the issue of biosolids reuse, continue to contain many inaccurate, unfounded and inflammatory statements.

The City of Toronto, which he mentions frequently in his editorials, can assure you that most of the statements he is making about our biosolids program are in fact false. For example in the editorial in question, “… in the City of Toronto’s case metals content is averaged annually. Particular batches containing high contaminant levels often end up on farm fields.” The City of Toronto tests for heavy metals every two weeks, and has years of data that support the quality and consistence of our biosolids. We are very confident in the quality of every truckload that leaves our facility. In fact, since the inception of the Toronto Biosolids Program, we have not had even a single metal in a single test exceed the MOE requirements. In addition, the averaging period imposed by the MOE is not unique to the City of Toronto, as he implies, but applies to all municipalities in Ontario that reuse biosolids.

He makes reference to ” the sludge being loaded with dioxin.” What evidence does he rely on to make this statement? There have been several studies done by Environment Canada on trace organics in land applied sludges. The conclusions of these studies do not support his statement.

We wish to clarify the confusion over a supposed reduction of standards by the MOE to allow a 50 foot setback from water wells, while his article claims the legal requirement is 300 feet. The guidelines specifically state that the setback from drilled wells more than 15m deep is 15 meters (50 feet). This standard is contained in the exact same table that contains the 300-foot provision for “all other wells”.

We encourage Mr. Crittenden to become more familiar with the real science and benefits of biosolids recycling. There is a vast amount of credible scientific literature available that clearly demonstrates the safety and benefits of biosolids, based on extensive research conducted around the world, over the last 100 years.

We would encourage him to obtain the facts on the issue and not to rely on hearsay.

R.M. Pickett, P. Eng.


Water Pollution Control

City of Toronto

[Dear Mr. Pickett:

Thanks for your letter. Given space constraints, my best response is the “Sludge Fight” article in this edition. However, a few points.

I accept that I can’t show there are huge “spikes” in Toronto sludge metal levels, but I maintain that the current system just doesn’t let us know enough about what may actually end up on fields. If tests are performed on liquid sewage, do we know the levels in the final dewatered material? An OMAFRA site study found elevated levels of some metals on some fields. Cities don’t even have to use accredited labs, so can we trust the data? In the case of dioxin, for instance, you refer to studies done by Environment Canada. I believe a greater burden of proof should reside with each municipality. Do you have data from a period of time (and an accredited lab) on the dioxin levels in shipments of dewatered Toronto sludge that end up on fields? If so, send it over and I will gladly publish it.

You write that the Guidelines allow sludge to be spread 50 feet from water wells in some circumstances. True. But Regulation 347 says 300 feet for all such wells. Indeed, site certificates for Toronto sludge state that where there’s a contradiction, the more stringent criteria (300 feet) applies. Which rules do your contractors follow?

I respectfully suggest that the science behind the current sludge rules is highly dubious. The public deserves more precaution, higher quality testing, truly independent oversight and less room to “fudge.” The current system for sewage sludging reminds me of the hazardous waste industry back in the 1970s; in the long run, no amount of PR was able to paper over that industry’s real-world flaws. You can call my information “hearsay” if you like; I think the suffering of families like the Lipsetts, Eagles, Kostiuks and Smiths is disturbing evidence that there may indeed be a serious problem. — ed.]

Right to Harm cont’d

There was a public meeting sewage sludge in Warkworth on November 22 organized by the Warkworth Service Club. The sludge spreader Azurix negotiated the format of the meeting. There were no critical voices on the panel and no questions allowed from the floor. It was not a Town Hall meeting so much as an infomercial. And it was a whitewash. The public is concerned about heavy metals. The City of Toronto rep, Kiyoshi Oka, told the crowd that the OMAFRA field survey of heavy metals in sludge spread fields found no elevation of heavy metals. Not true — 3 of the 11 metals tested were found to be significantly elevated in this study.

The public wanted to know about diseases. They were told that the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States had done many studies that proved that there was no problem. The truth is that the U.S. EPA has acknowledged that there have been no adequate studies of pathogen risks from the land application of sewage sludge and have asked the National Academy of Science to undertake a risk assessment study. Not one of the Azurix sponsored academics on the panel told the public about the pathogen study that is currently under way.

The public is concerned about how close the sludge is spread to wells and surface water. OMAFRA handed out a brochure that illustrates that sludge is kept 100 metres from rivers and streams. In Northumberland it is allowed 15 meters to a stream. At the meeting there was a page of 20 questions that the speakers were to address. Most of the questions went unanswered.

A town hall meeting is supposed to be a lively public discussion, asking the tough questions and getting direct answers. It is about public accountability and winning public trust. That is not what happened here. The purpose of the meeting was not to provide accurate information, it was not to answer the questions the public have about sludge spreading. It was about muzzling public concern, silencingcritics, and protecting a waste disposal practice from public scrutiny.

Maureen Reilly


Kirkfield Ontario

Consumer Alert

Thank you for the article in the August/September 2001 issue regarding the Overwaitea Food Group’s Changes Recycling Centres in British Columbia. It was balanced and informative.

I would like to make readers aware of a substantial expansion to the Changes program. In mid-October, Overwaitea expanded its voluntary stewardship program to include all products manufactured under corporate brands packaged in recyclable packaging (about 80 per cent of the total mix). Now, not only does Overwaitea accept its responsibility in the role of the collection of recyclable materials, it is now accepting the full lifecycle responsibility for the products produced and sold under its corporate brands.

Consumers can return this packaging to Changes, where they are rewarded with “Save On Foods” loyalty points. I believe this is a first for a grocery retailer in Canada, if not the world. When I first developed the program some years ago I knew it would involve a major shift in attitude for a retailer/brand owner to accept this type of program and I am proud to see Overwaitea launch this program. Details of the program are on the Save On Foods web site (linked to

Dennis Kinsey

Former Director of Consumer Support,r>

Overwaitea Food Group

Vancouver, B.C.,br>

The Sphinx’s Riddle

Although Guy Crittenden’s editorial in the August/September 2001 edition was probably meant to be lighthearted, I think that as editor of a national publication, he is being very irresponsible in suggesting that the present globa
l warming trend has
similarities to historic calamities.

Stories and theories about continental shifts, global flip-flops, and calamitous impacts make interesting reading, but there is one thorny fact: none of these things is happening right now!

What is happening now is the explosive growth in the human population, with its attendant urbanization and industrialization, and the resulting huge increase in the burning of fossil fuels.

I am a technical person, not someone who hugs trees with religious fervor, who requires convincing data to link effect to cause. I am, however, very concerned about the rising temperature of the world. The very large average increases over the last couple of decades are frightening. Already, the effect on our food sources is being documented. Historic record appears to show that Earth has experienced temperature swings before, but the present change is unprecedented in its rate.

I don’t think the solution will be in burning coal, gas, or gasoline more efficiently. Nuclear power would keep CO2 out of the atmosphere, but introduces other problems. The bottom line is that human numbers must be reduced. But of course politicians don’t have the guts to address that issue!

Charlie Jennissen


Sherwood Park, Alberta

[Thanks for your letter. And yes, there was a light-hearted dimension to my editorial. That being said, a couple of points:

I plan to read further about the theory of earth-crust displacement. I don’t know if it actually occurs, but it’s an intriguing idea that we mustn’t dismiss out of hand.

I suggest that you read Graham Hancock’s book and visit his Internet site. It’s a wonderful thought-provoking book. I think Hancock is onto something and, if all he does is force conventional archeologists to further defend and prove their model of the past, that is worthwhile. But Mr. Hancock may yet force us to consider that a sophisticated civilization predates what we consider the most ancient developed societies. This may become the next topical area for investigation for the next generation. Mr. Hancock’s follow-up book Heaven’s Mirror further argues his case.

I strongly disagree with your statements about global warming. I have researched this topic extensively — for a number of articles — with a very open mind. I don’t tout myself to be “an expert” but I do find, as a thoughtful person, that there’s good reason to be skeptical of the theory. But I’m not nearly as articulate on the matter (not being a climatologist) as Dr. Fred Singer. I suggest you visit his Internet site (see for a link). I found his arguments very convincing. You can read his material or some of his short books and make up your own mind.

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