27 February 1998
Untreated sludge ban in pipeline
MPs have recommended that spreading untreated sewage sludge on farmland should be banned from 2002.
Their advice was published in a Commons environment committee report on Tuesday.
The MPs concluded that “despite some reservations about controls on sewage sludge spreading on land”, the practice could continue. But they warned water companies not to treat soil as “a dumping ground for difficult-to-get-rid-of waste products”. And from 2002, all sewage waste that is to be recycled to land should be subjected to stabilisation and pasteurisation, they said.
At the moment, according to water company Severn Trent, more than 70% of the waste spread on farm land undergoes anaerobic digestion treatment to reduce pathogen levels.
The committee said that the potential environmental and health risks associated with recycled sewage, even when it was treated, were complicated and not yet fully understood.
So, it recommended that the Public Health Laboratory Service should be adequately and specifically resourced to enable it to pursue research into the health effects of sewage disposal on to land and into environmental waters.
Water companies were advised to stop promoting sewage sludge spreading as “universally appropriate recycling” and to join the Environment Agency and other specialist organisations to develop and promote area-by-area guidelines to ensure the safe application of sludge to land.
And the MPs backed the NFUs proposal that the environment agency should monitor sludge quality.
The report also called for a change in licensing procedures for human and animal medicines. “Regulators must not only satisfy themselves in future as to the safety of the products….but also have regard to any possible environmental effects they might have if disposed of to the sewers,” the report said.
NFU deputy president Tony Pexton said farmers needed assurances from water companies that any sludge spread on land did not interfere with their obligation to produce safe food.
For this and other stories, see Farmers Weekly, 27 February-5 March, 1998