There’s an effort underway to get people to stop burning their trash. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports that experts have found that toxins from backyard burning can get into food:
There’s an effort underway to get people to stop burning their trash. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Lester Graham reports that experts have found that toxins from backyard burning
can get into food:
Often, garbage truck routes don’t include rural areas, so many people there just burn their trash.
But that can lead to toxins getting into food. John Giesy is with the National Food Safety and
Toxicology Center at Michigan State University.
“Well, when we burn waste in a barrel, the dioxins will be in the gas and in the particulates. And,
so, they go downwind, but those particulates ultimately fall out.”
And they end up on the grass that livestock eat. We end up taking in the dioxins in the meat and
milk products that we eat. Because backyard burning is the largest human-caused source of
dioxins, the Environmental Protection Agency is working with states and communities to try to
get people to get rid of their trash some other way.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
Sludge being spread over a field with a manure spreader. (Photo by D. Seliskar, Halophyte Biotechnology Center, Univ. of Delaware)
The more people inhabit the earth – the more sewage there is. Something has to be done with it. Before chemical fertilizers were invented, farmers used human manure to improve their crops. Some still do. About three million dry tons of treated sewage – called sludge – fertilize sod, pasture land and even food crops every year in the United States. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Amy Tardif looks at what the practice may be doing to the environment:
The more people inhabit the earth – the more sewage there is. Something has to be done with it.
Before chemical fertilizers were invented, farmers used human manure to improve their crops.
Some still do. About three million dry tons of treated sewage – called sludge – fertilize sod,
pasture land and even food crops every year in the United States. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Amy Tardif looks at what the practice may be doing to the environment:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says using treated human waste as fertilizer is the
most environmentally sound way to get rid of it. It used to get dumped in the oceans. The
pollution caused dead zones.
Now, using it on land is becoming controversial. As people move closer to rural areas, they
discover what’s happening. It smells. It might also cause damage. Tommy Drymon insists the
creek near his Florida home has changed because farmers near his house use sludge as fertilizer.
“This was the most beautiful place I’ve ever settled down to. And the creek just looks awful now.
It used to be clear and now it’s just black and mucky all the time.”
Drymon says not only has the color changed – there’s more icky residue on the shore. He rarely
sees otters, deer and other wildlife any more. He definitely stopped swimming in it. Drymon and
his neighbors think the human fertilizer nearby farmers use – known as sewage sludge – is to
Sludge is made at sewage treatment plants. The water people flush down their toilets gets pretty
clean with today’s methods. That means more of what’s leftover stays pretty dirty. It resembles a
thin pudding or a powder depending on how it’s treated. It can contain viruses, bacteria,
chemicals and cancer-causing heavy metals.
“Now this sewage sludge includes not just human waste, it includes Pine Sol if you clean your
toilet bowl with Pine Sol, or if you do oil painting and you flush the paints down the drain or if
you work in a chemistry lab….”
Eric Giroux is an attorney for Earthjustice. He’s handling a lawsuit for Tommy Drymon and his
neighbors. It claims sewage sludge dumped on farms there is wafting through the air making
them sick and running off into the creek.
There are federal, state and county rules meant to prevent runoff. There are buffer zones from
water bodies and rules to protect groundwater. But sludge is not always applied according to the
rules. And there are things missing from the rules – according to The Cornell Waste
Management Institute. They don’t deal with poisons such as flame retardants, the drugs we take
and toxic chemicals that harm fish and wildlife and inhibit plant growth.
But those who use sludge as fertilizer like it.
“It’s a product that has to have something done with it. And if it’s done properly there are no
Dennis Carlton has used the free product on his cow pastures for ten years. He says the calves
raised on those pastures end up weighing more than others. Sludge saves him sixty to 160 dollars
an acre on expensive chemicals.
“It’s cost effective and it does a better job than the commercial fertilizer because it last longer
because of the slow release qualities.”
Sludge contains lots of nitrogen – which is food for plants. It’s organic. Plants absorb it very
slowly. And that’s good.
Since 1997, University of Florida Soil scientist Martin Adjei has compared typical commercial
fertilizer – ammonium nitrate – with sludge. He says his studies show the good stuff in sludge gets
into the plants very nicely, and he says plants don’t seem to absorb the heavy metals.
“We measured lead, barium, cadmium, nickel in the plant. They were all point zero, zero two or
something parts per million in the plant.”
That’s lower than the EPA says it has to be. Adjei says only trace amounts of metals sunk into the
groundwater. He doesn’t know yet whether the metals drift into the soil. But he found too much
of the nutrient phosphorous builds up in the soil when fertilized with sludge year after year. He
admits there are many more tests to be done.
This year the EPA responded to complaints about sludge. It plans to test it for 50 chemicals – far
more than ever before. Geff Grubbs is the EPA’s Director of Science and Technology.
“We’re focusing on a couple of things, one is beginning to ramp up some of the research
investments to strengthen our understanding of some of the processes and nature of the
contaminants that could be present in sludge and what risk they might or might not pose. And we
do have a number of things that are in the works both near and longer term that might lead to
changes in the underlying regulations about what can be in biosolids before they are applied to
And, the EPA and a few industry groups have created a best practices program for willing
utilities. They pledge to control the odor and dust as well as manage the nutrients in their sludge.
The utilities are then audited by impartial, independent, third parties. There are only 48
municipalities participating nationwide.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Amy Tardif.
One of the largest egg farms in the nation is being ordered to shut down. The reason… a decade of complaints, including nine contempt citations for environmental violations. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Cohen reports:
One of the largest egg farms in the nation is being ordered to shut down. The reason… a
decade of complaints, including nine contempt citations for environmental violations.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Cohen reports:
The Buckeye Egg Farm churns out more than two and a half billion eggs a year… but
Ohio agricultural officials have ordered the factory farm to close. Neighbors of the farm
continue to complain about swarms of flies and bad smells… and environmentalists
continue to complain about manure being dumped into streams. In the words of Ohio’s
agriculture director….it’s “intolerable.”
Environmental activists such as Jack Shaner are glad about the shutdown order.
“We’re happy the state of Ohio has wised up to the fact that just like violent crime, when
it comes to environmental crime, some repeat violators just can’t be rehabilitated.”
Buckeye Egg warns of job losses injuring the economy…..and it promises an appeal of
the shutdown order. Company officials say a better approach is to sell the farm to new
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Bill Cohen.
In the animal kingdom, a sense of smell is a useful tool. We can tell whether our food is fresh, our clothes are clean… and we might even choose a mate by their scent. Soon, marketers may try to attract your nose to their products. But like too much noise, too many smells may be a turn-off. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Tom Dunkel doesn’t mind that he’ll miss out on this new kind of pollution:
In the animal kingdom, a sense of smell is a useful tool. We can tell whether our food is fresh, our clothes are clean… and we might even choose a mate by their scent. Soon, marketers may try to attract your nose to their products. But like too much noise, too many smells may be a turn-off. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Tom Dunkel doesn’t mind that he’ll miss out on this new kind of pollution.
The nose knows more than we think it does. Studies have shown humans secrete the same chemical scents called “pheromones” that trigger things like aggression and mating in the animal kingdom. What does that mean? Well, it means that by mixing the smells of lavender and pumpkin pie, researchers in Chicago were able to sexually arouse a test group of men… a test group of, apparently, very lonely, embarrassed men. Its private industry’s job is to try and cash in on scientific discoveries. Which explains why a patent has been issued for a little device that attaches to a TV, computer, or stereo. The sole purpose of this little gizmo is to generate odors that enhance what we see and hear on our TVs, computers, and stereos. Yes…. It’s the Dawn of Smell-o-Vision! And it’s only a matter of time until it produces a new, annoying form of environmental pollution.
Someday soon grocers will be spritzing supermarket aisles with chocolate-based fumes…. fumes that fill shoppers with a heroin-like craving for Coco Puffs. Airline industry scientists will discover that the combined smell of fruitcake and varnish make passengers actually want to stand in line for hours at ticket counters. We’ll be begging for flight delays. Some future presidential candidate will get catapulted into office by winning the scratch-n’-sniff-campaign-button vote.
Fortunately, I’m going to miss out on this brave, new, environmentally manipulated world. I’m going to miss out because I’m one of about 3 million Americans who have no sense of smell. People like you…. normal people…. enjoy a symphony of 10,000 different odors. My world of smell is a one-note song: ammonia. Eye-watering, sinus-scorching ammonia…the nasal equivalent of having ears that can only hear blood-curdling screams. As handicaps go, I admit I have a minor one. Ragged men don’t stand on street corners mumbling, “Hey, buddy, can you spare a dollar for a guy who’s never smelled fresh-baked bread?” But being born without a sense of smell has very practical, very anxiety producing implications. I have left chicken pot pies baking in the oven all night long…. cooked them no, incinerated them – until a neighbor stopped by to ask if my kitchen was on fire. Likewise, I can’t tell if I’ve worn a suit two times or 20 times. Imagine sitting in a business meeting, brimming over with earth-shattering, big ideas…but convinced nobody will listen to those Big Ideas because you smell like a high school gym locker.
I long ago accepted the fact that my nose can’t distinguish a rose from road kill. But after all these years – not being able to smell has suddenly developed a bright side: No company is going to manipulate my environment. I am totally immune to Smell-o-Vision. Better yet: No matter what those wacky, test-group scientists do, I will never, ever, get sexually aroused by a piece of pumpkin pie.
When was the last time you got a bouquet of flowers that had a
fragrant smell? While there’s no shortage of beautiful looking flowers
sale, many have little if any scent anymore. As the Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Tamar Charney reports it’s a problem one scientist has
gotten a whiff of:
When was the last time you got a bouquet of flowers that had a fragrant smell? While there’s no shortage of beautiful looking flowers for sale, many have little, if any, scent anymore. Ast he Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney reports, it’s a problem one scientist has gotten a whiff of:
Flowers have lost their smell as flower growers have bred them to be big and brightly colored. Eran Pichersky is a biologist at the University of Michigan. He studies the smell of flowers. Pichersky is focusing his genetics research on whether it’s possible to bioengineer a flower’s scent.
“We actually have some collaboration with biotech companies who are trying to use some of the genes and enzymes we’ve isolated to put them back into plants so that the plant makes more scent, or even new scent that they didn’t make before.”
But it’s not florists who are interested in this work, it’s farmers. Pichersky’s research means it might be possible to alter the smell of flowers in ways that entice bees to visit crops more often, or even attract other insects to do the pollination work. That increase in pollination could mean an increase in crop yields.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tamar Charney.