Sally Brown

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WARNING! Sewage sludge is toxic. Food should not be grown in "biosolids." Join the Food Rights Network.

Sally Brown is a columnist and editorial board member for BioCycle magazine. She is a Research Associate Professor at the University of Washington. [1] She is a strong advocate for growing food in sewage sludge [2]. She calls sewage sluge by its PR euphemism, biosolids.

Her promotional work has included feeding the public food grown in sewage sludge at a luncheon "held at Seattle's South Treatment Plant featuring food grown using Seattle's own (sewage sludge) compost product GroCo; Marketing biosolids products ... for the retail home gardener; [writing] papers on a variety of general interest topics about biosolids and land application," and more.[3]

Brown Calls Anti-Sludge Activists "Ecoterrorists" in BioCycle Magazine

Professor Brown's column in the March 2011 edition of BioCycle attacked as "ecoterrorists" the Organic Consumers Association and others who led the successful protest that on March 4, 2010 stopped the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission from giving away sewage sludge as “organic biosolids compost” for home and school gardens. Sally Brown wrote: “Here, six ecoterrorists have the City of San Francisco quaking in its boots, leading officials to stop a compost giveaway program that was making hundreds happy."Climate Change Connections: "Compost Security." Brown, Sally, BioCycle Magazine, March 2011.

Marketing Sewage Sludge to Backyard-Gardener Consumers

On her University of Washington home page, Brown says she has "been focusing on innovative uses for these materials in the hopes that identifying different uses and benefits for residuals will result in greater public acceptance."

Brown's page openly admits that she is working on greater acceptance by backyard gardeners of biosolids use. These PowerPoint slides[4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] illustrate Brown's marketing methods.

Brown's graduate student research assistant Kate Kurtz runs a website that promotes urban farming, but more specifically advocates Brown's work on sludge.

Advocating the Safety of Sewage Sludge to Grow Food

It is Sally Brown's position that "Biosolids are the most regulated and studied soil amendment out there. In decades of biosolids use, there have been no cases of illness or harm, only cases of increased yields. Not a claim that can be made by animal manures. Biosolids are locally produced and using biosolids locally is a sustainable way to improve soils and the environment"[11]

In a March 2011 interview with the Kansas State University's Research and Extension radio station program, Eye on Agriculture Today, Brown further defends her use of toxic sludge on agricultural lands and touts her work re-enriching soil with "biosolids compost" at Superfund sites throughout the United States. She notes that "people go to the store and buy Colgate toothpaste because it has triclosan in it", and then are "freaking out" about having triclosan, an antimicrobial compound and known endocrine disruptor, in their soil systems. "It's a difficult disconnect," her interview says.

You can watch the video of the interview here:

Sally Brown defends use of sewage sludge on food-growing lands in Kansas State University Eye on Agriculture Today interview.

Amending Soil with Toxic Sludge

Other projects in which she has used biosolids include "restoring soils[12] that have been disturbed by a wide range of activities including coal and gravel mining" on the Upper Arkansas River, and attempting to revegetate the West Page Swamp[13] which is contaminated with lead from the Bunker Hill mining site in the Coeur d'Alene River Basin in Idaho.

Professor emerita at the Rochester Institute of Technology and vice-chair of the New Hampshire Sierra Club chapter Caroline Snyder, PhD, revealed in a 2008 study[14] that, "A recent AP article[15] described a federally funded pilot project by the Kennedy Krieger Institute and the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, carried out on nine residential yards in low-income African-American Baltimore neighborhoods. The project consisted of mixing the yards’ lead-contaminated soil with Class A sewage sludge compost, high in iron and phosphate. Previous animal tests indicated that when this contaminated mixture was ingested, some of the lead was not absorbed. Now the researchers wanted to experiment “in a real neighborhood”3 where children lived and played."

Snyder continues to explain that the project put low-income families, especially children, at risk of lead poisoning and other illnesses caused by sludge contaminants: "During this entire operation, “the yards were not fenced or otherwise blocked off.” So for many weeks these newly tilled and seeded areas exposed children and pets to hazardous conditions. Dry and windy weather would blow contaminated dust off site. If, on the other hand, the sludge compost-treated sites were wetted down for dust prevention, pathogens in the sludge compost could re-grow and cause infections. In either case, children living in these houses were now exposed to high levels of lead-contaminated soil mixed with unknown levels of sludge contaminants. Exposure routes consisted not only through ingestion, but also through inhalation and through dermal contact. How many children living in these houses, while their yards were being treated with sludge compost, experienced asthma attacks? Skin rashes? Flu-like symptoms? Sinus infections? We will never know. The families were given no health questionnaires nor were there any follow-up studies of the children."

Snyder noted that while Brown was not involved in this particular study, Brown has promoted similar studies for amending lead-contaminated soil, such as the Bunker Hill site project.

Contact Information

University of Washington
203 Bloedel Hall
Box 352100
Seattle, Washington 98195-2100
Telephone: (206) 616-1299
FAX: (206) 685-3091

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