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Secret report exposes 'toxic cocktail' found in sewage spread on farmland - Greenpeace

Government-commissioned report finds fertiliser contaminated with pollutants that could “pose a risk to human health”

The UK government’s environment watchdog has failed to take action on a still-unpublished report, submitted to it over two years ago, which warns of a cocktail of contaminants found at potentially harmful levels in sewage sludge used as fertiliser on farmland.

The report, which was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Greenpeace UK’s investigative journalism unit, Unearthed, details the results of an investigation into the “landspreading” industry - the use of sewage sludge, mainly human waste, as fertiliser on farmland - carried out on behalf of the Environment Agency.

As part of the investigation, sewage sludge and soil samples were tested at more than 54 farms and eight sludge treatment sites across the UK. Results found evidence of widespread contamination from plastics and microplastics that could ultimately leave the soil “unsuitable for agriculture”, as well as pollutants such as dioxins, furans, benzo(a)pyrene, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at levels that could “pose a risk to human health” in a number of the samples. The tests also found salmonella and “high concentrations of e-coli” - both bacteria can cause serious or even fatal infections.

This report can only now be made public after it was obtained by Unearthed under freedom of information laws. Unearthed has shared the document with the Telegraph newspaper and the BBC’s File on 4, which will air a documentary on the sludge spreading industry tonight (4/2).

Read the full story here.

Read The Telegraph's report here.


Telegraph coverage of sewage sludge being used as fertiliser - defra response on the Defra in the media blog

The Environment Agency is currently working on a sludge strategy which is due to be published later this year, looking to find solutions to sludge pollution and how toxins can be removed from our natural environment.

Our sludge strategy will also assess how the EA can continue to find waste recovery activities that work as an alternative to manufactured fertilisers whilst counteracting the damaging pollutants that have been introduced.


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