23 August 1996

Protesters kick

up a stink over sludge disposal

By Liz Mason

AN EAST Anglian campaign group is demanding a government inquiry into sewage sludge disposal on farms.

The group, Water Watch in Anglia, claims undigested sludge is a human and animal health hazard containing potentially harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites.

Mick Brown, a Water Watch member, said he was alerted to the dangers after he heard Anglian Water planned to dispose of 4m gallons of undigested sludge on its demonstration farm in north Lincs.

Water Watch then asked microbiologist Prof Richard Lacey of Leeds University to investigate. His report raised concern over the practice and claimed "the infectious agents released on the fields constituted an unnecessary health hazard".

The group is now calling for a public inquiry and its concerns are being investigated by local MP Sir Peter Tapsall (Con, East Lindsey).

A spokesman for Anglian Water claimed undigested sludge disposal on farms posed no health risk. "This is a tried and tested method used throughout Europe and North America and it complies with all the regulations including those from MAFF, the Department of the Environment and the EU."

But the groups concerns are backed by a recent report by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution which called for the use of untreated sewage sludge on agricultural land to be phased out on precautionary grounds.

"In our view further measures ought to be taken to reduce the pathogen content of sewage sludge used on agricultural land," the report said.

It noted that several other countries "adopt a more cautious approach to sludge treatment and use". And it recommended that all sewage sludge applied to farmland should be treated by at least one of the methods listed in a UK code of practice. These include pasteurisation, anaerobic digestion and lime stabilisation.

Government was also advised to review the scientific basis for the specified periods set between use of sludge and planting or harvesting of crops and or livestock grazing.

NFU pollution consultant, Michael Payne said the NFU planned to examine the reports recommendations at a meeting of the parliamentary, land use and environment committee next month.

"The committee will decide what view the NFU should take on these Royal Commission recommendations and we will respond to government accordingly," said Mr Payne.

He added that the reports recommendations were purely precautionary.n

Undigested sewage sludge use is being promoted by Anglian Water.