Ontario farmers annoyed by sludge storage odours

FLORENCE, Ont. — A controversy over municipal sewage sludge has been heating up near this rural community in southwestern Ontario.

Farmers Harry Lawson and Bev Bodkin and other area residents have complained about a foul odour originating from tonnes of pelletized material piled on a neighbouring farm field. 

They’re also concerned about the potential of groundwater contamination and dismiss the idea that using a plastic cover will solve the problem.

“A partially covered pile: that’s like putting a raincoat on a skunk,” Lawson said. “Southern Ontario has be-come a dumping ground for Toronto’s waste.”

David Buurma, a farmer and owner of Lasalle Agri Bio-Solids, said the waste originates from Toronto and admitted to the odour problem, especially when it rains.

Ontario’s environment ministry classifies the material as fertilizer. It has been dried and heat treated to eliminate pathogens.

Agriculture Canada scientist Ed Topp from the Southern Crop Protection and Food Research Centre in London said 120,000 dry tonnes of bio-solids are spread on Ontario farmland annually.


Topp agreed with Buurma’s assertion that the nutrients contained in the bio-solids pellets are stable until they come into contact with soil life.

Buurma said bio-solids pellets have not been popular on farms surrounding his storage site, perhaps because the area’s sandy soil has higher levels of phosphorus. 

However, it has been popular in other areas.

“Farmers typically want to put it down before corn. There are about 100 pounds of nitrogen and 100 lb. of phosphorus and 1,400 lb. of organic matter per metric tonne,” he said.

“All the good stuff you get with manure is in this.”

The 1,400 lb. of organic matter is equivalent to three year’s worth of wheat straw residue, he added.


Lawson and Bodkin said they have never approached the Lasalle Agri owner with their complaints.

They did call the environment ministry, and Lawson planned to approach the provincial agriculture ministry to say that the storage is not a “normal farm practice” under the province’s Farming and Food Production Act.

Buurma said his father, who owns the farm where the storage is located, also wants the material cleared out. He plans to secure another storage site in a more remote area before the end of summer.

“This is the time of year when it ships out. Once the wheat comes off, it will all move out,” Buurma said.

A distinct odour was noticed during a visit to the site on a sunny day, but it wasn’t overwhelming. There was also the taste of the material in the air, and the material appeared to be smouldering at one corner of the bunker, wisps of smoke rising. 


  • Sure, “All the good stuff you get with manure is in this,” along with everything else that is poured down drains and flushed down toilets. Unfortunately, this constitutes a dangerous brew of industrial toxics. Unbeknownst to most people, Industry can and does lawfully dump into public sewers untold volumes of the toxic byproducts of countless industrial processes. Similarly, households dump toxic materials like paint, pharmaceuticals and other toxic materials. Others, like funeral parlors, dump embalming fluids while hospitals discharge radionuclides. Businesses of all types dump synthetic cleaning fluids and those of us taking medication flush most of these through our bodies and on into sewers, etc. Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTP), however, were never designed to remove these materials. And unless part of a rare scientific study, none are not required to conduct wide spectrum testing of the chemical makeup of the sludge they produce (most are only required to test and control for certain pathogens).

    This means that with any given batch of sludge, we have basically no idea what it actually contains. The sludge industry would have us believe that this material is safe but absent any routine independent third party testing of each batch of sludge produced (testing that might validate their claims) this belief is essentially baseless. A perfect example of this is the sludge mentioned in the above article. Officials in Toronto have no idea what’s actually in the sludge that’s being dumped on rural farmland throughout the province. What we do know, is that based on the US EPA’s own testing and independent testing accomplished on behalf of not-for-profit organizations, sludge is contaminated with high levels of very dangerous chemicals and compounds. Therefore the same is most likely true with Toronto’s sludge. But, again, absent any routine wise spectrum testing anyone who says that Toronto’s sludge is safe is delusional.

    The practice of dumping toxic sludge on farmland (and increasingly on gardens, public spaces, school grounds, yards, etc.) represents one of the most pressing environmental and human health concerns of our time. Articles like the above that fail to even address the controversy that surrounds this practice only add to the problem.

  • Jim Poushinsky

    What Ed Topp is not telling you is that the biosolids pellets are composed of the dried sewage sludge removed from Toronto’s sewage waste water. Such dry sludge is typically 60% composed of pieces of bacteria from the anaerobic digestion process, and 40% composed of some 100,000 chemical wastes flushed into sewers or trucked to sewage treatment plants for disposal. This includes garbage landfill leachates, and can now include fracking wastes.

    Ed is using the scientific definition of organic when he calls this “organic matter”, meaning any chemical that includes carbon. This includes all the pollutants causing health problems and environmental pollution problems, including persistent organic pollutants (P.O.P.s), dioxins and furans, flame retardant PBDEs, estrogen mimickers, drug residues, and carcinogens. The vast majority of the compounds have never been tested and their effect on human and animal health and the environment is not known.

    Ed also failed to say that the Class A sludge is an ideal breeding ground for pathogens re-introduced into it through contact with feces from wildlife, birds, pets, and livestock, which can lead to explosive regrowth of bacteria and viruses in it. The more commonly applied Class B sludge is full of pathogens, including a permitted amount of up to 2 million e-coli per half cup. Farmers and rural neighbours have good reason to beware of sewage sludge “biosolids”.

  • Every entity in Toronto connected to a sewage treatment plant can pipe its hazardous industrial waste and other pollutants into the facility. Here most of the “bad” stuff is removed from the waste water and transferred to the the resulting sludge or biosolids. This material is very different from manure, because it contains vast amounts of industrial pollutants and man-made chemicals, most of which are not regulated. Examples are , hospital waste, solvents, dry cleaning fluid, land fill leachates, and antibiotic resistant pathogens, to name just a few.
    In the US hundreds of rural neighbors exposed to stored sludge piles suffered serious, often life threatening illnesses. In NH aquifers that formerly served as sources of drinking water are now permanently polluted after tons of sludge were used for reclamation. Pellets destabilize in cool and moist climates creating odor. This odor is not just a nuisance but indicates the material is putrefying, creating bioaerosols and endotoxins that cause respiratory illnesses.
    Scientist Ed Topp is correct: sludge pellets are stable until they come into contact with soil life. The logical conclusion to that statement is that biosolids in any form should not be put on soil, but managed in an environmentally safer method. For more information about the risks of using processed sewage sludge as fertilizer, visit http://www.biosolidsfacts.org

  • Jared

    You guys don’t have the slightest understanding in the oversight of the production of bio pellets. Besides the phosphorus that is high in this product is one of the fertilizers that we will run out of before we run out of crude oil. Besides do you want them to dump it into the river like Montreal wants to do. Unless factories are taking toxins and dumping them in the toilet the storm drains are not the same as sewage drains. Stop living off of fears.

    • John Fefchak

      Storm drains are not the Same as Sewage drains,
      But what happens in so many cases during really heavy and extended rain down pours,the storm systems overload and raw untreated sewage gets diverted into a waterway, (river, creek, etc.) This is a regular occurrence for the City of Winnipeg to use the Red River, and of course onward into Lake Winnipeg itself.

  • Digital

    Let me break down your comments:

    Q) “You guys don’t have the slightest understanding in the oversight of the production of bio pellets”

    A) Yes, we do. Those beautiful little bio-pellets contain a smidgen of nearly every single pharmaceutical, most of the heavy metals, nearly all of the endocrine disruptors, a whack of surviving pathogens (not all die in the creation of the pellet)and bits of what nearly every industry, small business and home pour or flush down the drain.

    Q) “Besides the phosphorus that is high in this product is one of the fertilizers that we will run out of before we run out of crude oil”

    A) Technically speaking, not likely. On the other hand, are you willing to poison as much of the cropland and water as humanly possible in the meantime as a tradeoff?

    Q) “Besides do you want them to dump it into the river like Montreal wants to do?”
    A) Nope. That is (and was) a very bad idea.

    Q) “Unless factories are taking toxins and dumping them in the toilet, the storm drains are not the same as sewage drains”

    A) No, but the majority of the problem is not coming from storm drains (though, that doesn’t help the issue). Rather, the main vectors of all this nastiness is coming from the population at large, the ‘general public’ as it were. We take meds’, then pee and poo. Only a little is actually metabolized in your body, most comes right back out – and off it goes, into a wastewater treatment facility. Visit your nearest WWTP and learn what actually goes on inside those smelly walls. Folks use nasty chemicals to clean themselves, their dishes, their homes, their shop-tools and toys. Into the WWTF it goes… Where do you think hospitals and retirement homes, high-rises and funeral homes, back-yard garages and offices dump / pour / flush their residuals?

    6) “Stop living off of fears”
    We don’t. We live in reality to an extent that you need to come to grips with. You, my unknown friend, need to wake up and smell the idiocy that surrounds you in our modern society. Life is crazy-short, and we should leave this place better than we found it. Life isn’t about money and convenience. Rather, at my age at least, it’s about the next generation of humans and animals.

    And we’re sure as hell not doing so well on the whole “better than we found it” thing to date.

    Here are two great research sites … on whats in biosolids and liquid effluents:

    – National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: http://www.niehs.nih.gov

    – PLOS: http://journals.plos.org/plosone

    Key in a few searches for the terms ‘biosolids’ or ‘sludge’ Read away…