by SUSAN MANN
Given the chance, Grey County farmer Karl Chittka says he’d probably use a liquid fertilizer fomenting controversy in nearby Dundalk.
“I’m pretty sure that it will be better than the land application of biosolids has been and that hasn’t been all that bad either,” he says of the fertilizer Lystek International Inc. is proposing to manufacture from municipal biosolids.
Chittka has used biosolids on his 300-acre farm in Southgate Township before. Five years ago, after an application, he found an increase in dew worms. He anticipates the Lystek product “will enhance the soil conditions of the land” and he’d rather use it than chemical fertilizer.
But Dundalk area residents oppose the company’s proposal to set up its Southgate Organic Material Recovery Centre in Southgate Township’s Eco-Industrial Park southwest of the village. The company plans to convert municipal biosolids – trucked in from as far as 120 kilometres away– into a fertilizer product. Lystek expects to be up and running this summer or fall.
Residents groups as well as individual members of the public are appealing the company’s building permit, obtained Feb. 2, under Section 25 of the provincial Building Code Act. Glen Drummond, past president of the Southgate Public Interest Research Group, says they have concerns about the validity of the zoning bylaw, truck traffic going through Dundalk and the appropriateness of locating the facility on a floodplain.
Spokespeople from Ontario Federation of Agriculture and the National Farmers Union Ontario Branch say they aren’t familiar with the product. The NFU doesn’t support spreading untreated sewage sludge and wants to see third-party testing of treated sludge to ensure all heavy metals, toxic residues and pharmaceuticals are removed says Ann Slater, NFU’s Ontario coordinator. Don McCabe, Ontario Federation of Agriculture vice president notes there are regulations governing the application of the product and farmers will need to ensure it works for them.
The Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario doesn’t have a policy on the spreading of sewage sludge, says general manager John Clement.
Chittka says the biggest problem with biosolids is the odour and the amount of pathogens. Since the liquid Lystek product will be injected into the ground rather than being spread and incorporated the way biosolids are there will be reduced odour.
Kevin Litwiller, Lystek director of business development, says pathogens are destroyed during a patented process that essentially pasteurizes the material using heat, alkali and a process called “high shear mixing.” The end product is also enriched to meet the fertilizer needs of farmers.
Maureen Reilly, an environmentalist and director of Sludge Watch, a moderated list serv that compiles information about issues connected to biosolids, says she is concerned about the toxic chemicals, pharmaceuticals and heavy metals in the material. “Why would we build new facilities to facilitate putting this where we grow our food?”
She claims there’s nothing about the treatment of the biosolids that addresses the heavy metals, such as mercury, cadmium and lead. “The Lystek material has the same heavy metals as the untreated (sewage) sludge.”
Litwiller says the Environment Ministry is responsible for regulating heavy metal levels in biosolids at the municipal wastewater treatment plant. The biosolids Lystek receives from municipalities has to “meet or exceed the Environment Ministry’s guidelines as it relates to acceptable levels of metals or we cannot accept it nor process it.”
Reilly also questions why the material would be spread in the vicinity of Dundalk when government farmland inventories show there is already too much phosphorous in Grey and Dufferin counties.
Lystek is pursing registration of its commercial fertilizer product with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Fertilizers and supplements sold or imported into Canada are regulated under the federal Fertilizers Act. The company already has a CFIA registration for a commercial fertilizer made from municipal biosolids at the Guelph wastewater treatment plant. Although the product in Southgate will be manufactured using the same process used at the Guelph facility, the company has to obtain separate registration, Litwiller says.
Without the CFIA registration, Lystek’s finished product would be regulated under the agriculture ministry rules for non-agriculture source material, he explains.
Litwiller says both provincial and federal government agencies oversee Lystek’s entire process and industry and the company will meet or exceed all the guidelines stipulated by those agencies.
They already have two area farmers who say they’re interested in buying the fertilizer and that would “pretty much speak for our entire capacity for our first year of operations,” he adds. As well, the company has a contract with the City of Toronto for biosolids and “we have some other discussions ongoing.”
The company has applied for Environment Ministry approval to take in 150,000 cubic metres of biosolids annually at peak capacity. Litwiller anticipates it will take three years of operation to reach peak capacity.
The plant would also accept septage from licensed haulers.
Lindsay Davidson, Environment Ministry spokesman, says by email the ministry hasn’t made a decision yet and will consider any public comments on the application until a decision is made.
The application can be viewed at the ministry’s Owen Sound district office. BF