31 October 1997

Landowners act over sludge

Bt Tony McDougal

CONCERN over the anticipated rising tide of sewage sludge on farmland has prompted landowners and the water industry to set up a legal framework to prevent costly court cases.

An EU Commission directive will ban the disposal of sewage at sea from 1999, and industry believes the amount of sludge disposed on British farmland will double to a million tonnes a year.

The Environment Agency believes that up to 66% of all sewage sludge produced by 2005 will be disposed of on land, with the remaining third incinerated.

But landowners are concerned that recent comments from scientists linking sewage sludge application with an increase in dangerous pathogens such as E coli O157, could make them liable to claims.

And with sewage sludge containing heavy metals, such as lead, zinc and cadmium, there are concerns that additional applications could contaminate land.

Alan Woods, Country Land-owners Association environment and water adviser, said the CLA was working with government to tighten regulations concerning land contamination and liabilities, but that the framework with the Water Services Association was an acceptable interim measure.

"We would like any landowner taking sewage sludge from either a water company or a sub-contractor to have a piece of paper detailing where the sewage came from, how it had been treated and whether the liabilities associated with it would be borne by the water authority."

The UK is anticipating tougher legislation from Brussels on heavy metals. Government has commissioned ADAS and the Water Research Council to look into the issue, said an EA official.