Recently, the Island County Board of Commissioners made a decision that I think more people need to know about regarding the distribution of biosolids — class B human waste — on Whidbey Island.
There are both environmental and health issues at stake.
To be brief, there are serious concerns about the safety of spreading incompletely processed human waste on open fields, especially in residential areas, which pretty much describes all of Whidbey Island as we have no large, isolated tracts of farmland.
What was first thought, 30 years ago, to be a win-win solution for disposing of semi-processed sewage by providing free fertilizer to farmers, has turned out to be a poorly monitored quick fix that failed to consider long-term consequences.
The science behind the theory appears to be moving against the use of Class B biosolids except, possibly, in carefully selected areas under carefully monitored conditions.
Whidbey Island does not qualify.
The EPA’s inspector general released a report in November 2018 indicating the national biosolids program does not have the data or risk assessment tools to say if biosolids are safe, and does not test for numerous known pollutants, including PFAS that show up in most biosolids samples.
One thing we do know is that Class B biosolids from human waste contain 4 percent to 5 percent pathogens and other contaminants that can and will enter our air and our water and seriously pollute them. Antibiotics from human use will destroy the very microbes and organisms in the soil that are meant to degrade and cleanse the waste to render it safe and useful.
Left to dry in the sun on top of pastureland, as the county proposes to do, means wind-blown particles will spread these pathogens to nearby homes, gardens, pastures, orchards, farms, forests, etc. Many of us will end up eating and breathing contaminants.
There is the water issue.
We already know water is a serious issue on the island. Not only is there limited quantity, but quality is also a problem. Pollution from the Navy has brought home how serious it is when chemicals seep into the ground.
Heavy metals in Class B biosolids can easily enter our water supply and pollute our drinking water. A test of the sludge lagoon from which the county will transport these biosolids registered a phosphorous count of 13,142 PPM.
In commercial fertilizers, anything above 100 PPM is considered excessive, but there is no testing or monitoring requirement for phosphorous under the biosolids program. Phosphorus is particularly dangerous as it does not break down and stays in the soil and water for, from a human perspective, forever.
The site currently under consideration runs into both Penn Cove and the ocean. Is the red tide problem in Penn Cove related to run-off pollution?
Our county officials are good and decent people working hard to do what’s best for our safety and quality of life but this is one decision that needs rethinking.
There is no shame in backtracking when the path you are on is leading in the wrong direction.