Here are two local items that are hotter than an aerobic biosolids compost treatment tank. (Thanks to Josh and Mr. Wallet Mouth for the tips!)
Yesterday at its second annual Eco-Fair, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission gave members of the public free bags of biosolids compost, touting the stuff as high-quality, nutrient-rich, and great for fruit and vegetable gardens.
It's safe to assume, though, that the folks at the nonprofit Center for Food Safety, based in D.C. but with an office in San Francisco, were not among those standing in line for their three free bags. As staff attorney Paige Tomaselli put it, "This is no gift. City residents could be at serious risk of poisoning" from using the compost in their gardens. The organization contends that the compost "is heavily contaminated with hazardous and toxic material" because it contains treated sewage sludge. It has petitioned the city to stop the compost giveaways. [Link.]
At issue seems to be whether the SFPUC tests its compost for nasty things like heavy metals, flame retardants, pharmaceuticals, and endocrine disruptors. The SFPUC says it does (and that levels of the concerning materials are low enough to pass muster in Europe); the Center for Food Safety says it doesn't.
Who's right? I asked that question in a comment on the Center for Food Safety's webpage, linked to above.
(The EPA, by the way, does not require publicly owned treatment works to conduct such tests. It did, however, this year release a survey detailing the chemicals it found in sludge from across the nation, which the Center for Food Safety points to in its reasoning about S.F.'s sludge. But I can't tell from the overview document whether our facility was one of the 74 tested.)
On a related note, as this article details, three and a half years ago, San Francisco was poised to become the first city in the nation to turn a common urban annoyance, dog poo, into something useful: natural gas.
Unfortunately, the pilot project never got adequate funding, and now Ithaca, N.Y., has (poop)-scooped us and San Francisco has its tail between its legs.