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White River High FFA team tackles biosolids for state contest

The WRHS FFA issues team of Seth Hodgson, Kelsey Smith, Antoinette Scholes, Hannah Smith-Morgan, Jason Stach and Mikey Burley. -      Photo courtesy Amy Miller
The WRHS FFA issues team of Seth Hodgson, Kelsey Smith, Antoinette Scholes, Hannah Smith-Morgan, Jason Stach and Mikey Burley.
— image credit: Photo courtesy Amy Miller

Note: This is the text from a presentation delivered by White River High students at a recent meeting of the school board.

Agricultural Issues is an FFA Career Development Event that has students explore a local agricultural issue and put together a 10- to 15-minute nonbiased presentation. They compete at the local level and the top four teams get to compete at the state convention in May. However, at the state level they also have to have a portfolio which describes the issue and shows proof of them educating others. They are supposed to present at community meetings so they can inform others about the topic. Currently the team has presented at a school board meeting, a Farm Service-USDA meeting, chapter meeting, and is scheduled to present at a city council meeting and the Spring Fair.

Last year the White River team took second in state and has three returning members (Victoria, Kelsey and Jason). They added four new members to strenghten the team (Mikey, Antoinette, Hannah, and Seth). Their first competition is March 25.

Introduction: (Victoria)

This is Victoria Marsh reporting live with breaking news for the White River FFA Agricultural News Forum, giving you your daily ag news.

Welcome ladies and gentlemen. A serious issue has come to our attention. On Oct. 22, 2007, the Tacoma News Tribune released an article that stated a plan between a local school district and the owner of Honeybucket Inc. This plan said that the White River School District would be benefitting $50,000 to $60,000 for the use of their 3,000 acres above the small town of Carbonado, to dump raw human waste near their watershed. This plan was declined but because of its threat numerous questions and concerns were voiced in the Carbonado area, and on a larger scale across the nation where human waste is being dumped. So we investigated our local counties’ laws concerning the dumping of human waste. We found that both King County and Pierce County have similar laws that require the waste being spread in residential areas to be certified safe by the EPA, and in public areas the waste must be processed twice. Pierce County adopted these laws in 2007 whereas King County adopted them in 1970. Are these laws enough to protect you, your family and your community? Well, today we have a group of six FFA members who have become experts on this issue to give you the facts to let you decide if your laws are safe or if you need to contact your local law officials. Today we have with us: Seth Hodgson, Kelsey Smith, Antoinette Scholes, Hannah Smith-Morgan, Jason Stach and Mikey Burley. But, before we jump into our show today, I’d like to give you some background on the terminology we will be using throughout the show. Today we will talk about sewage, sludge and biosolids. Sewage is human waste straight from the sewer, sludge is a byproduct of water treatment plants and biosolids are treated sludge. Lets start off our show with a question for Kelsey.

Kelsey, why is the EPA even using human waste as a fertilizer in the first place?

(Kelsey)

There are actually only two other options of waste removal in the U.S.: incineration and landfills. Both of these produce very poor environmental effects and neither of these options help our economy in any way. During incineration, all the organic material is burned and all that remains are the metals and chemicals that are now at concentrated toxic levels. One ton of waste incinerated creates one ton of carbon dioxide. Incineration also creates ozone-depleting dioxins. Not to mention all the fly ash entering the atmosphere that contains poisonous metals such as lead and arsenic. A landfill is much the same as spreading the waste on the land, but the nutrients are highly concentrated and not used by any crops. The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, admits that even the best landfill liner will ultimately fail due to natural deterioration. This means that all those concentrated nutrients will leak through the liners and cause imbalances in our water systems.

Using human waste as a fertilizer, on the other hand, actually helps our economy and our farmers. You see, human waste contains nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc and copper, which are all vital to crop growth. Human waste also adds organic matter to the soil, which improves the soil structure by increasing the soil’s water-holding capacity. Finally, human waste is a time release nutrient meaning the crops use the nutrients as they need them, and they don’t wash away in the rain. All these factors contribute to high production rates, which equates to more profit for farmers. Farmers can save an average of $90 an acre using waste instead of conventional, chemical fertilizers. Human waste is an all-around good fertilizer and using it as a fertilizer is the best option we have for waste removal.

(Victoria)

Thank you Kelsey for that insight. The reason that this issue came to our attention was the threatened small town of Carbonado. Hannah recently had the privilege of interviewing one of its citizens.

(Hannah)

I recently spoke to a local police officer and Carbonado resident and he is very aware of the community’s feelings and he even expressed a few of his own concerns about the well-being of his town.

(Show Video)

He said that he was hearing many complaints in the area and also mentioned the controversial tax issue.

(Victoria)

He brings up some big concerns. Jason, do taxpayers need to be concerned with where their money is going?

(Jason)

Yes, Victoria, the United States EPA has taken over $19 million dollars of the taxpayers’ money and put it toward the Wildlife Environment Federation. And why would they invest this money? To promote waste, fund campaigns, and even discredit those who have fallen victim to the sludge. On top of this, did you know that Washington state’s agricultural commodities consist of 70 percent crops and 30 percent livestock? These commodities together raise about 2.4 percent of the U.S. economy. This money is in great danger if we spread waste on farmlands. People would refuse to eat these crops and why would they, knowing the dangers of it. There is also livestock as well. Through our research, according to the Capital Press, a farm using sludge had cows on it dying by the hundreds. Not only this, but they also took the milk from the cows and had it tested and found that it contained 120 times more thallium than the EPA approves in drinking water. And what is thallium you might ask? It is an element once used as rat poison. There is a lot of money at stake here because people think it is good for the crop market.

(Victoria)

Well, thank you. Obviously the taxpayers do have something to be concerned with. But Antoinette recently spoke to a local dairy farmer who has seen its benefits.

(Antoinette)

Why yes, Victoria, I did. I spoke with one of the largest dairy farmers in Pierce County. I talked to him about the benefits he has seen using biosolids on his grazing fields. He told us about the higher productivity he has seen in pastures and how it helps with a carbon footprint.

(Show Video) (Victoria)

He brings up all his profits he’s seen and Kelsey tells us of the $90 per acre farmers can save, but amidst all these benefits, Mikey, are there health risks?

(Mikey)

During recent studies, the EPA has concluded that now hundreds of millions of farmers worldwide are using the technique of spreading the human waste. Can those farmers be considered murderers since the process of spreading human waste is causing approximately 80 percent of the 2.2 million deaths a year from diarrhea and intestinal diseases? Apart from those intestinal diseases, the EPA has published that human waste causes malnutrition, mutation and worst of all, death. Pathogens, parasites such as bacteria or worms, expose the human body to such diseases as tuberculosis, various viral infections, E. Coli, fungal infections, and many other illnesses that can become fatal if not treated correctly.

When the KING 5 news team scrutinized this issue in 2000, the investigators tested the sediment near Lewis County where the sludge was spread. The sediment had levels of minerals like titanium, thallium, magnesium, aluminum and phosphorus in higher multiple quantities than 10 years ago in the same exact spot, titanium even reaching 200 times more. In high quantities, these minerals can be toxic.

With the growing concerns on this topic, especially in Carbonado, the families and school districts there are stressing over the fate of the little town. So tell me, is it really worth the 90 dollars per acre we save or would you rather have a healthy family you can come home to every night?

(Victoria)

Wow, well Seth do you have anything to say about that?

(Seth)

Victoria, I’d first like to applaud my opponent’s ability to construct a fact-based argument with so little evidence to use as support. There is not a single government documented case of a biosolids program having a detrimental effect on human health while meeting all state and federal regulations. Based on 25 years of research, the EPA has determined that processed biosolids are safe and even encourages their use in land application. The National Academy of Sciences has conducted studies confirming this, saying there is no scientific evidence that EPA regulations have failed to protect health. Before it can be used as fertilizer, sludge undergoes an extensive treatment process that is regulated by the EPA’s Title 40 Code of Federal Regulations Part 503 Biosolids rule.

Once sludge is removed from wastewater, it must be processed to meet pollutant, pathogen and vector attraction requirements. The first step in this process requires the biosolids to meet a ceiling concentration limit for several heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, and mercury. They are then given a stricter pollutant limit based on how the biosolids will be sold and regulated.

After this, either class A or class B pathogen reduction requirements are met, usually through processes like lime stabilization, composting, or heat treatment. Class A biosolids have had disease-causing organisms reduced to the point that they are undetectable. Class B biosolids have pathogens lowered to a safe but detectable level, and are given site restrictions based on crops, animal grazing, public contact, and so on.

The final step in the biosolids treatment process is vector attraction reduction, which prevents biosolids from attracting disease-carriers like rodents or insects. This is done through any one of ten options, including moisture reduction, microbial digestion, or sometimes just injecting the biosolids beneath the soil rather than being put on top of it. At this point, the biosolids are ready for land application.

Until there’s some actual scientific evidence to show that biosolids are a dangerous fertilizer, there’s no reason not to use them as one. Obviously, sewage can be a dangerous material, but saying that refined biosolids are equal to raw sewage is like saying that plastic bags are the same as the crude oil that they originated from. The process begins with waste, but it ends with a substance that has not proven to be anything but helpful as a fertilizer.

(Victoria)

Thank you Seth and thank you team. They’ve given you the facts. First, Kelsey told us about the three methods to dispose of human waste. The first two options release toxins. Incineration releases toxic ash into the air and landfills leak and cause concentrated amounts of nutrients to seep into the soil, whereas the third utilizes human waste fertilizing properties. Then, Jason warned taxpayers that $19 million of their money is going to fund campaigns and advertising for the waste. Mikey elaborated on the health risks waste can pose through the bacteria and pathogens that it carries. And finally Seth calmed our fears by explaining the intense process the waste goes through to eliminate all disease-carrying bacteria to an undetectable level. I hope they’ve given you enough facts so you can either feel safe in your community or compelled to contact your local law officials.

This is Victoria Marsh reporting live for the FFA Agricultural news forum, giving you the facts to let you decide.

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