What SF calls compost, activists call 'toxic sludge'


It was quite a spectacle at San Francisco City Hall Thursday. People dressed in hazmat suits, goggles and gloves dumped piles of compost on the steps.

The city's Public Utilities Commission has given away the compost for the past three years to anyone who wants to fertilize their garden. They call it biosolid compost.

"It's the stuff your flushing down your toilet," San Francisco PUC spokesperson Tyrone Jue said. "It's brought to our treatment plant, treated there, then to a compost facility where it's treated for another 30 days at 130 degrees Fahrenheit."

But the Organic Consumers Association says it is dangerous sewage sludge.

"Which comes from industry, hospitals, storm water runoff and residential homes; it belongs in a hazardous waste dump," OCA spokesperson Ronnie Cummins said.

Their message scared Joyce Lee, who has been using the free fertilizer in her backyard garden.

"If I had known where it came from, I would not have used it," she said.

According to the EPA the compost made from the sludge, which contains pollutants of concern, such as lead and arsenic, is actually cleaner than the compost from city's green waste.

"There's ample evidence and expertise that suggests it's very healthy and safe," Mayor Gavin Newsom said.

Jackie Williams, gardener at the Alice Griffith Community Garden says the compost "grows things beautifully."

Critics say gardeners have been misled because the PUC labeled the fertilizer as organic. The city says it has stopped that practice. The city has also stopped giving away the compost, but says it has nothing to do with the allegations made by the OCA.

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