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Monitoring Waste Water on Agricultural Land

In the Guardian last year, George Monbiot highlighted how many chemicals being spread as sewage sludge on agricultural land are untested or can’t be assessed. About a third of the 350,000 registered synthetic chemicals are impossible to assess, as their composition is either “confidential” or “ambiguously described”. For most of the rest, deployment comes first, testing later. Experts say the human health risks are phenomenal. “In some cases, this contamination would prohibit building houses on the land. But you can grow crops and raise animals on it for human consumption!”

In England, he supports the crowdfunding of a judicial review of the UK Government’s failure to monitor and regulate the spreading of sewage sludge on agricultural land. So, we thought we would find out what is happening in Scotland.

An FoI request to SEPA confirms that the position is similar in Scotland. They say, “Legal limits for rates of application of metals to land are in the ‘Sludge Table’ in these regulations, but there are no legal maximum limits for concentrations of metals in sludge.” Specifically, we asked about Organic pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). SEPA confirms that these “are not included in monitoring regimes for sewage sludge, and there are no legal limits for any organic pollutants in sewage sludge in Scotland.”

As for monitoring, “SEPA does not hold any reports on either the monitoring of chemicals in wastewater treatment sludge carried out by Scottish Water or private contractors, the monitoring of sludge spread on land by farmers, or the monitoring of fertilisers produced in Scotland.”

This demonstrates that the position in Scotland is that chemicals in sludge are, at best, lightly regulated and not appropriately monitored, with unknown consequences for public health.