28 November 1997

Untreated sludge ban backed

FARMING organisations will support any moves to ban the spreading of untreated sewage sludge on fields.

Both the NFU and CLA told the Commons environment select committee that public health problems associated with untreated sewage sludge meant they would support a ban.

Up to a quarter of all sewage sludge applied to land is untreated, but the volume is set to increase due to the EU Directive banning the disposal of waste at sea from Jan 1999.

Leading scientists, among them Hugh Pennington, director of medical microbiology at Aberdeen University, have warned that untreated sewage carries high levels of pathogens, such as E coli 0157 and cryptosporidium.

Government has commissioned a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence on spreading sewage sludge on farm land, focussing on microbiological hazards and heavy metal contamination, which is expected to be released next year. It follows last years Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution study, which recommended that the use of untreated sludge products should be discontinued.

Tony Pexton, NFU deputy president, said that although no farm assurance schemes had yet touched upon untreated sewage sludge, it was vital consumers were confident that farm products were safe and clean.

Alan Woods, CLA water adviser, said landowners wanted to see all sludge treated in some way before being spread on to land. "Water companies should be treating the sewage to such high levels that farmers should be paying for it.

"Sewage sludge, as well as being an excellent soil conditioner, should be a competitive alternative to artificial fertilisers."n