Oh no! I've been bio-sludged...

Oh dang it! I'm back in Puerto Rico living at a friends apartment until I can find my own permanent home. And of course I'm getting some pots, soil, and starts together to grow some food on the patio.

So I buy some bags of ORGANIC SOIL from the local garden shop. I carefully read the entire package which declares it is Organic Soil, made a blend of soil and organic compost, for use on flowers, vegetables, etc.

Amoung other things, the bag says it replaces chemical fertilizers and is 100% organic product that is environmentally friendly and safe.

But I saw that it was manufactured in Arecibo, which I knew had a big solid waste processing center. And I started getting nervous. Uh, that is kind of close, don't you think? So I called the company up, Caribbean Compost Inc. and yes, they confirmed that the Majestic Garden Soil mix contains compost from the bio-solids processing center. So the soil mix I purchased contains biosludge.

In their defense, they are not doing anything illegal - the EPA, Environmental Protection Agency - has determined biosludge is an acceptable form of fertilizer. And there are many bagged "organic" soils that contain biosludge - some label and some don't. Scotts Miracle Grow organic soil states on the label that it contains biosolids.

Biosludge is exactly what you are thinking it is... the composted waste from everything that the people in San Juan flush down the toilets: feces, drugs, household cleaners, hospital and industrial wastes, old chemicals, and whatever people dump in the privacy of their homes. Composting is a magical process, but there is lots it can't do and tests of biosludge show it often contains high amounts of heavy metals and other undesirables. Does the stuff I purchased contain it? I don't know for sure, but dang it, I don't want to take chances.

Sigh... I'm not sure what to do. But I definitely don't trust anything grown in that soil. I wonder if I should grow out the kale and have it tested for heavy metals?


  • Charlie
    Charlie Posts: 18 ✭✭✭

    @Marjory Wildcraft Just watched Ghostbusters in its entirety this past weekend and it reminded me of how Bill Murray was "Slimed" by one of the ghosts! Probably better to be "slimed" than "biosludged!"

    Ghostbusters is a classic, but a classic for the past! Oh boy... No offense to anyone! :)

  • Marjory Wildcraft
    Marjory Wildcraft Posts: 1,617 admin

    Oh here is a lab that does tests. It's Mike Adams creation. I've used them for other checks.

    Hmm, thinking about sending in some samples from the bags I purchased.

  • Hassena
    Hassena Posts: 345 ✭✭✭

    Hey Marjory,

    I've heard worms are great for digesting biosolids. Is it possible to know thier composting processing?

    Milorganite is made in milwaukee from sewer sludge. Not sure if they use worms too.

    There have been studies. I'll see if I can find the article...

  • sudborough
    sudborough Posts: 36 ✭✭✭

    I have also heard that mushrooms can decontainemate soil?? But have nothing to back it up :(? So sorry you are dealing with this issue :(!

  • Slippy
    Slippy Posts: 117 ✭✭✭

    Add worms?

  • Michelle D
    Michelle D Posts: 1,465 ✭✭✭✭✭

    Any suggestions on brands of potting soil that are known to not have bio-sludge?

  • judsoncarroll4
    judsoncarroll4 Posts: 5,498 admin

    Yeah, best to avoid that stuff. I don't think it is a coincidence that my grandfather's ALS began when sludge based fertilizer began to be used on the farm.

  • Marjory Wildcraft
    Marjory Wildcraft Posts: 1,617 admin

    Hi @Hassena yes Milorganite is one of those products that are made from, bio sludge. I'm not sure about worms... possibly Fungi? there must be a way. The main concern is the variety of unknowns and the diversity of potential contaminents. Heavy metals... can worms help with that? I don't think so, but I don't know for sure.

    Note that the EPA -environmental protection agency (yikes, really?) says this stuff is safe. I really really doubt that it is safe. I'm going to call the company and request some of their analysis they regularly run on the batches they 'cook'. I'm curious to see what they test for, and even more curious to see what they don't test for.

    I want to assert again, that I believe the composting of the sewage sludge is a far better option than the previous methods of dumping raw sewage into the ocean, or incinerating it. But dang... it's a problem.

  • Marjory Wildcraft
    Marjory Wildcraft Posts: 1,617 admin

    Hi @Michelle D yes, you have to be very careful. Those bags I purchased I read every word on the label - which had 4" letters proclaiming ORGANIC SOIL and great for vegetable gardens, organic compost, etc. etc. No mention of biosolids, no mention of where the organic compost had come from. It wasn't until I called the company and asked them specifically - I did that because I noticed they were in a town I knew had a bio sludge center.

    The other way I knew it wasn't good stuff was the smell. It didn't smell like human feces - they definitely do a good job at composting and heating and all the things to ensure there are no pathogens... but still it didn't smell like good earth. It smells, like, hmmm,,, there is a chemical overtone, a processed smell to it... It just didn't smell like good earth should smell.

    I've read the label on Scotts organic soil blends (I was hoping for a product in a big box store to recommend to beginning gardnersO and they state that bio solids are an ingrediant.

  • Hassena
    Hassena Posts: 345 ✭✭✭

    Good day @Marjory Wildcraft,

    Waste is a huge issue, like you mention dumping and burning are likely not the best options. Turning it into compost might be a good solution. If done properly and tested.

    The article above does mention a reduction in heavy metals and pathogens when the sludge is vermicomposted.

    I can't locate the article I recalled reading long ago

    There seems to be more research on this as a soil amendment.

    The best methods compost with thermophilic and then use worms to create vermicast.

    It's probably best to use only a percentage of it for potted planted. It's be curious to know what else they mix. They are calling it soil, but is it really? It is it really all composted biosolids?

    Hopefully they've done thier testing.

    Thanks for the link to the consumer testing. Wow they even test hair!

  • marcy_northlightsfarm
    marcy_northlightsfarm Posts: 103 ✭✭✭

    On no, I don't think this is fair to call it organic soil. I'm sure organic standards don't allow bio-sludge

  • Marjory Wildcraft
    Marjory Wildcraft Posts: 1,617 admin

    @marcy_northlightsfarm I don't think its right either.

    UPDATE: I called Caribbean Composting and asked them for the reports they need to do on batches of bio sludge. I wanted to see what they test for, or don't. They told me that didn't have any reports on hand but they do file them with the Departamento de Recursos naturales Y Ambiente - Natural Resources Dept for the Govt. of PR> I've looked up their number and called a few times, but I'm think this week - Thanksgiving - I'm not going to get through.

    Hah! at least I'm getting to work on my Spanish. 😎

  • I was blissfully unaware of this. So frustrating that even when you try to do good they slip the crap in there, ha! I am really interested in the outcome on this @Marjory Wildcraft . I guess ultimately we can only do our best and leave the rest.

  • marcy_northlightsfarm
    marcy_northlightsfarm Posts: 103 ✭✭✭

    A person I'm very close to works for the MMSD which is in the business of making Milorganite, a fertilizer made using bio sludge . What I learned is that they've worked very hard to get heavy metals down to very low levels, however there are many manufacturers that release a multitude of waste products, chemicals and the like into the sewage system as well. So heavy metal would be the least of ones worries when there is no way of knowing which chemicals and how much of them might be in the bio sludge.


  • Melissa Swartz
    Melissa Swartz Posts: 270 ✭✭✭

    @Marjory Wildcraft Thanks for posting this. While it's frustrating that the labeling can be so misleading, it's nice to know that we need to be aware of this and dig deeper.

  • Cornelius
    Cornelius Posts: 872 ✭✭✭✭

    Somebody gifted me some fertilizer that I think was made from biosolid so I still haven't used it. I thought it wasn't allowed to be called organic?

  • spanthegulf
    spanthegulf Posts: 81 ✭✭✭

    Wow... this is incredibly scary! I'm with the rest here, @Marjory Wildcraft -- thank you for posting this and for any follow up info you can get! Is it possible that some of our "resident experts" (such as perhaps David the Good or others) might be able to weigh in on this? I know DTG has done a lot to educate us about the hazard of persistent herbicides in much hay and barn manure. This seems to me to reek (pardon the pun) of similar hazards to our physical health and our soil health.