27 March 1998
Human sewage protest

TWO top scientists have called for a review of guidelines covering the disposal of human sewage on farmland.

In Fields of Filth, a BBC Scotland television programme broadcast on Wednesday night, Hugh Pennington, who chaired the Government inquiry into the E coli food poisoning epidemic in Scotland, said the time had come for guidelines to be reviewed.

Brian Austin, a professor at Herriot Watt Universitys microbiology department, said he was disturbed to learn that untreated sewage was being disposed of without prior treatment to kill harmful bacteria and viruses.

His department did tests on sewage sludge for the programme and found strains of E coli, including 0157, which killed 20 people in Scotland in the 1996 epidemic.

The programme suggested that contractors and farmers were unaware of the code of practice covering the injection of raw sewage on farmland.

Prof Pennington pointed out that the code called for no grazing by animals within 21 days of treatment, but said that E coli 0157 could survive in the soil for 100 days and there was a need to revise the code in the light of new knowledge about the pathogens.

Alasdair Paton, chief executive of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, admitted there was very little testing for pathogens in sewage, but claimed that the regulations and codes of practice ensured that pathogens did not get into the human chain.

Main sewage disposal contractor in Scotland, Malcolm Snowie, said his company had a treatment process to kill pathogens in raw sewage, but that it cost more.

As a result, he was losing water authority contracts to other contractors who were not treating against pathogens.

  • For this and other stories, see Farmers Weekly, 27 March-2 April, 1998

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