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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - March 5, 1974, Lethbridge, Alberta Tuesday, March 5, 1974 THE LETHBRIDGE HERALD Metal in sewage worries scientists By BRUCE MYLES, Christian Science Monitor Sewage sludge as fertilizer may be too much of a good thing. Spreading this waste on land can indeed boost food production. But just as this disposal strategy seems ready to take off, some scientists are warning it may poison crops or those who eat them. It contains heavy metals from industrial wastes that might accumulate in soil to a dangerous degree. Chicago's metropolitan sanitation district has run the most publicized demonstration of this strategy so far by treating acres of formerly unproductive land with liquid sewage sludge spray. That lands yields corn, wheat, and oats for commercial sale. Now the district is thinking of trying the sludge on a cow pasture. Is this productive use of waste '_'the soundest practice environmental- as the district's as- sistant chief engineer Hugh McMillan contends? Or is plant physiologist Rufus Chaney right he says the Chicago plan "poses an unnecessary risk to the environment which we should not allow to Intolerable Dr. Chaney claims that, if some other crops were grown in the Chicago experiment, metal concentrations in them "would be intolerable." For example, he says, the Food and Drug Administration refused to approve sale of soybeans from the district's land. Dr. Chanev, a researcher at the BeJtsville, Md., agricultural research centre, explains "the average sludge in the U.S. shouldn't go on the land because there is a potential hazard not assessed." Dr. Chaney is not saying there is an established danger that would forever rule out this use of sludge. He merely urges caution until the possible hazard is better understood. Dale Baker, soil chemist at Pennsylvania State University, made this same point at a meeting of soil chemists in Las Vegas last month. "Sewage sludge should not be used as he said, "until an effective monitoring system is developed to keep track of the amounts of heavy metals added to soils and taken up by plants." Dr. Baker has been studying heavy metals in the food chain for three years. He points out that traces of some heavy metals are needed in soil for healthy crop growth. Dr. Baker recommends nine pounds per acre per year of zinc, for example. But common sludge increases the amount hi the soil to about 200 pounds per acre. The Chicago experi- menters answer criticism of their project by noting that they do have effec- tive monitoring "We are very concerned about heavy metal build up in the says Mr. McMillan. "But to date we have experienced no significant increase in heavy metals hi grains on normal cropland (although some plant tissues have shown increases in zinc Thus, he says, heavy metal dangers have not yet shown up in extensive research by his district and by the University of Illinois agronomy department. "Whatever the effect of the he argues, "the result will not- be instantaneous. They are all long-term effects which NEXT EDITION OF "THE CHINOOK' Will appear in The Lethbridge Herald TUESDAY. MARCH 19th Advertisers are reminded that the dead- line for advertisements is Wednesday, February 27 at p.m. The Uthbrldge Herald can be monitored on a day to day basis. We have, done this for seven years." Given effective monitoring, Mr. McMillan thinks that setting limits on heavy metal content of sludge before knowing the effects of specific levels of metal concentration would "be a hardship." He points out that European nations make wide use of sludge fertilizer. In France, crops so fertilized include grains, cereals, roots, and salad vegetables. Drs. Baker and Chaney MEAT INSPECTION An Agriculture Canada meat inspector checks all meat before it moves into interprovincial or inter- national trade. Inspection of meat bought and sold within the province in which it is slaughtered is the responsibility of the province. take a stricter view. Dr. Baker, also citing European experience, says limits should be set on the metals just as soon as more conclusive research can be done. Dr. Chaney, in writing recommendations for the U.S. department of agriculture, is considering a cadmium limit of 10 parts per million. Chicago's sludge, he says, "ordinarily" has 340 ppm. Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Agency is drawing up a policy statement and standards of its own to serve "as a precautionary measure." EPA recently was ready to issue a policy statement supporting use of sludge as fertilizer. But its hazardous material control office held this up. according to a scientist close to the EPA study. Clearly, there is an urgent need to assess the dangers properly, to write standards for heavy metal concentrations, and to set up an effective monitoring system. Vague fears about possible poisoning should not be allowed to delay what could be the "most beneficial use of sewage yet devised. FREE ESTIMATES KISS PEELING PAINT PROBLEMS GOODBYE with... ALUMINUM SIDING DUNCAN ALUMINUM CO. 1906 LAKESIDE ROAD PHONE 327-0421 Who said there is a shortage? Buy during our Sale and Save! 18th February March the QUALITY story of FORD AG-EXPO March 5th 9th Tractors Equipment SOUTHLAND FORD 311 -33rd STREET NORTH, LETHBRIDGE Tractors Equipment ;