An Alameda Garden: Can Your Compost Pass the Test?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Can Your Compost Pass the Test?

There was a fair amount of press last month over the topic of "biosolids" being given away in San Francisco as compost for home gardeners. Several local news stations reported on it and the SF Chronicle covered it as well. What was all the fuss? The Organic Consumers Association, a national environmental group, claimed that the composted biosolids given away by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission "potentially contains thousands and thousands of contaminants." The group's leader, John Stauber, "claimed that tests conducted by his organization found dioxins, flame retardants and other chemicals in the compost, but he has declined to release comprehensive results." The SFPUC, of course, adamantly disputes the group's claims and frankly, I'm skeptical of anyone who says they have scientific proof of something but won't show it.

But the truth is, with the exception of our own home-grown compost, it's hard for us to know for sure what's in any of the compost we buy or otherwise acquire. Compost can be a bit of a leap of faith, when you come right down to it. But I did recently come across this easy home test for compost from Mother Earth News. Using just a couple of bean seedlings, you can test to see if your compost contains herbicide residues. Not a complete safety test, by any means, but it's a start.

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  1. You make a very valid point about the compost. I've often wondered what winds up going into community compost heaps and whether or not the final product will do more harm than good. Love the idea of testing the compost to see if it spells life or death.

  2. Great site, I think we can all learn something from your idea.this is fantastic looking blog..and I love the way you write!

  3. Check out this URL [] and read Jill Richardson's article: San Francisco's own very limited testing has found dioxins in its sludge, and much more.

    The responsibility for comprehensive testing lies with the public agencies dumping toxic sewage sludge on farms and gardens, not with small non-profit groups.

    This is a no-brainer, gardeners. The hazardous metals, chemicals, drugs, viruses, bacteria, mold that go down the sewer end up in the toxic sewage sludge. The EPA has been behind the greenwash scam that calls these mountains of toxic sewage sludge "organic biosolids compost" and "biosolids" fertilizer. This stuff is too dangerous to dump in the ocean, incinerate or dump in landfills, so the EPA and the sewage sludge industry decided to label it 'fertilizer' and dump it on our agricultural lands.

    Wake up and smell the sludge, folks.

    John Stauber, Advisor, Organic Consumers Association. Author of the book Toxic Sludge Is Good for You!


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