Don Vincent: Stopping the Nicola Valley from becoming B.C.’s toilet

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      It came as quite a shock to the First Nations of the Nicola Valley. Big-city sewer sludge had been dumped in their traditional, ancestral lands for over a decade. The news was a blow. It was also a catalyst. For the past eight months or so, the five bands from the valley, together with the community group calling itself Friends of the Nicola Valley, have worked hard to stop further importing of these so-called “biosolids” into the Nicola region. As Chief Aaron Sam and others have stressed many times, there was absolutely no consultation from either the sludge industry or the government about this practice.

      The five chiefs recently declared a moratorium on any dumping of sewer sludge within the Nicola Valley, because, as they stated in the document, “they have a legal and moral responsibility to exercise their own inherent jurisdiction to protect their lands, waters, plants and animals, as well as the health and well-being of their members”.

      After many attempts at real open dialogue with the province about stopping this dumping on their lands, the five chiefs finally resorted to occupying Christy Clark’s Kelowna office for several days. The results were unfortunately predictable—promises of talks and little action.

      To further underline their position as protectors of this valley, the bands organized a caravan to Victoria in order to deliver to the government pure water and earth from the five band areas. The group rode horses, ran, and walked its way to the steps of the B.C. legislature with their clear message: We are the stewards of our land and we will not let this water and this earth be poisoned.

      This was a message I had already heard at several meetings where elders of the area explained how deeply their people rely on the forests and rivers for their foods and medicines. Imagine within these forests, on this same earth where their ancestors have hunted and harvested for centuries and lived and died and were buried, here they have been spreading sewage—it is disrespectful and disgusting. The industry is only obliged to put up signs stating that nothing should be eaten from the forest for a stipulated number of months or years. As one elder pointed out to me with a wry smile, “I’m not exactly sure how many of the deer and other animals can read a sign posted that high up!” He, like many here, is very worried about how this goulash of toxins will enter the food chain. Many locals have remarked on the poor health of some of the animals recently, especially in the areas where they have found out dumping has been going on for years.

      So what’s all the fuss? Doesn’t the government say it is okay? Well, the government seems to have a pretty short memory. There is a reason why we built all those water treatment plants that produce the sludge. Years ago, people were getting sick from the toxic environment they lived in. We got really good at removing toxins from the water system and putting it aside. Then here we are today spreading that same by-product of the water purifying process back into our environment—the very stuff we tried so hard to get rid of!

      The people here in the valley have come to recognize that there are two main reasons we should not put our health, nor the health of the environment, in the government’s hands: because of recent scientific research, and because of the government’s track record.

      So what is recent science telling us about this land application of sewer sludge?

      The dangers fall into a number of categories, including: hormones, prion contamination, toxin contamination (heavy metals and toxic organic chemicals), and so-called emerging substances of concern (microbial, organic, and inorganic contaminants, pharmaceuticals and personal care products, amongst a number of ESOCs). They are all worrying and all demand far more study.

      It seems that a lot of people believe that we can trust the government and its laws and guidelines to safeguard our health and that of our children. However, government legislation is always playing a catch-up game—tobacco, thalidomide, asbestos...all government approved until science caught up—and now we are paying the price for these (and many more) government errors. What the people of the Nicola Valley are advocating is a precautionary principle towards acts that may endanger health and or the environment. What our provincial and federal governments have neglected to take into consideration is that they have agreed to act in environmental issues (like the one we are facing) with the precautionary principle in mind. The precautionary principle denotes a duty to prevent harm, when it is within their power to do so, even when all the evidence is not in. This principle has been codified in several international treaties to which Canada is a signatory.

      It is time to reconsider this dubious practice of land application of biosolids. There are alternatives (see recent clean incineration methods in Denmark and Germany that actually return energy to the grid) that may have an initial cost for the government to implement, but future medical costs and environmental clean-up costs will surely amount to much more in the long-term. It is important to note that the government is relying on legislation and science that is outdated. The process as it now stands is almost wholly self-regulated by the sludge industry itself. With the environment and our health at risk, this is just not sufficient.

      Farmers and ranchers in the Nicola Valley have been offered sewer sludge too. A few of them have used it for years, swayed by the offer of free fertilizer, and seduced by glossy pictures of green hay fields. “Biosolids” do after all contain things plants like—nitrogen and phosphorus being the main two. But anyone who has read a little deeper would not be swayed by pretty pictures showing how green and high the hay grows after an initial application. The problem with sewer sludge is obviously not the few beneficial nutrients—it is all the other toxins that come with the package. It is rather like going to get a shot for measles only to find out later that it was a dirty needle—surprise—you did safeguard against measles but you now have hepatitis, HIV, and cholera. Country after country are finding the risks too great to continue to allow land application of biosolids. We urge Canada to follow their precautionary lead.

      Many in the area would like to see the Nicola Valley promote itself as a fecal-free zone (except animal manures of course). We would like to convert the few “users” to see that marketing the valley as completely “biosolid free” would be a boon to farmers in this area. The First Nations’ moratorium is really a marketing gift. Where else in B.C. (or Canada?) can you be sure your food came from a sewage-free farm? Our unified group will keep pressuring the government to get on the right side of history and join the enlightened countries that believe in protecting their farmers, their soils, their citizens, and their environments.

      The First Nations and the Friends of the Nicola Valley have been keeping two blockades going along Highway 8 now for 100 days and nights. They are unified in their resolve that no more sewer sludge will enter this beautiful valley. Time and again I hear from both Natives and non-Natives how wonderful this experience has been in terms of bringing together these two cultures. Both sides I think have been pleasantly surprised by the depth of the love for the land that they all share in common. Those blockade fires at night have been a wonderful scene of drumming, songs, stories, prayers, and laughter—and many, many friendships have been made. Over the past months we have collected thousands of signatures for our petition calling for an end to this practice.

      The blockades are there both to protect and to educate. Most travellers from other areas of B.C. have no idea that the Nicola Valley is being used as a toilet for big-city sewage. Most are horrified. Many apologize in embarrassment. The next time you flush, give pause to the waters and lands you may be jeopardizing, and help us push this government to seek out more sustainable approaches to dealing with our waste.

      Don Vincent is a member of the Friends of the Nicola Valley and an instructor at Nicola Valley Institute of Technology. He lives in Merritt.

      Comments

      18 Comments

      Donald Vincent

      Jun 29, 2015 at 3:06pm

      Recent Science -
      "A case for caution re-visited" Harrison and McBride, Cornell, 2008/9. A compendium of some 65 studies http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/case.pdf These represent some of the finest soil scientists in the world - and they simply see too many issues/problems/worries with land application of biosolids.

      A recent in-depth German study (2013) clearly states that risks are too high for land application and urges an end to this practice as soon as possible. https://www.umweltbundesamt.de/sites/default/files/medien/378/publikatio...

      A new study (2012) from Scientists at the University of Aberdeen "studying sheep maintained on pastures fertilized with sewage sludge ... found a high incidence of abnormalities in the animals." As the article states, "It is our opinion that all spreading of sewage sludge, humanure and biosolids on agricultural land in the UK should be stopped until it is PROVED to be safe"
      http://www.wte-ltd.co.uk/sewage_sludge_biosolids.html

      "National Toxics Network of Australia" media release from May, 2015 recommends - "Stop the use of biosolids as fertiliser pending further investigation of pharmaceutical contaminants" see full article at -
      http://www.ntn.org.au/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/NTN-Media-release-Ph...

      A very good piece of objective journalism from The Guardian a few years ago, clearly maps out the issues with land application of "biosolids - "Switzerland - which used to land-apply 40% of its sludge - has banned the practice because of fears from farmers that it was harming their soil. The Netherlands has banned agricultural use of sludge, and national farmers' associations in France, Germany, Sweden, Luxembourg and Finland are against it, partly because of concerns about organic contaminants such as PCBs and brominated flame retardants (linked to liver and neuro developmental toxicity and hormone disruption), which some research has shown persist in sludge."
      Please read the whole article at -
      http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2008/aug/29/waste.recycling

      A disturbing study from 2011, "Survival of infectious prions in Class B biosolids."
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21391030

      "National Toxics Network of Australia" media release from May, 2015 recommends - "Stop the use of biosolids as fertiliser pending further investigation

      Len Wagner

      Jun 29, 2015 at 3:22pm

      Thank you Don...for this informative article....and Thank You to all those who have and continue to protect our valley from the stupidity of government and the greed of corporations...

      Jody Isaac, Instructor, Camosun College, Victoria BC

      Jun 29, 2015 at 4:21pm

      Thanks for the educational article regarding our ongoing battle to defend traditional territory. I joined the caravan when they arrived in Victoria to support family members & friends from the Valley, I took that that picture in Victoria, May 24th 2015, the one that says "photo courtesy of Don Vincent."

      Ilya Kulikov

      Jun 29, 2015 at 4:25pm

      Should be mentioned, about the protesters chasing around farmers in there vehicles, threats, intimidation and trespassing, and other antics the protesters have done. These protesters respresent a small percentage of Merritt, who offer no alternatives or solutions. Under educated people with a bit too much time on there hands.

      Donald Vincent

      Jun 29, 2015 at 4:33pm

      Jody Isaac, Instructor, Camosun College - Thank you for the photo. No disrespect was meant. It was posted on our Facebook site - Friends of the Nicola Valley - and I was unaware of the photographer. So many pictures are put on our site of our protests! Many thanks for your support. Don.

      Donald Vincent

      Jun 29, 2015 at 4:39pm

      Ilya Kulikov - our protests are always non-violent. Our group is made of Doctors, Professors, Lawyers, and a great many highly literate individuals who care deeply about what is happening to their land. (oh ... and they know when to use "there" and "their" unlike some) .

      Georgia Clement

      Jun 29, 2015 at 5:05pm

      So well articulated Mr. Vincent, you have nailed it, the public does not know the dirty little secret that gov't has allowed to go undetected for so many years. One only has to read the independent science to see how dangerous this cocktail of toxins really is. The fact that the waters of B.C. will eventually drain these toxins almost entirely back into the Lower Mainland, will soon make it everyones' dire situation. People of the Nicola Valley are not any different than other people, the thought of human sewage ( bio solids) going onto land that produces food for slaughter and plants for harvesting, makes anyone with a shred of knowledge very concerned from a public health perspective. In 2002 when the Provincial Gov't of the day allowed the Sludge industry ' experts' to consult to them as to how the legislation should be developed, it willingly opened the door to a Conflict of Interest. Gov't did not enter into any Consultation with First Nations in 2002 to get their CONSENT as to whether or not they were willing to allow human sewage sludge, and its deadly ingredients of toxins, to be dumped on their territorial lands. Change is about to come, it has to, our Society is out of control in the financial quest to ruin the environment that was intended to keep us alive and healthy.

      Mark Huber

      Jun 29, 2015 at 5:19pm

      Thank you Don for the detailed report on the poisoning of the beautiful Nicola Valley by the dumping of bio-solids .

      Len Wagner

      Jun 29, 2015 at 6:34pm

      Ilya Kulikov...your comment is nothing but propaganda...the people at the sludge dump are not farmers...and it is them who try to intimidate ,threaten etc...you are obviously in the employ of these people....the friends of the nicola valley represent a majority of the citizens of the valley as well as many more province wide....hope you are provided with good health insurance with your job...you are going to need it......as for no alternatives...anyone who can read...knows there are many....or is that...knows their are many....

      Erin Switzer

      Jun 29, 2015 at 8:55pm

      Thank you Don Vincent for an excellent and informative article. Thank you to all of the people who are coming together to protect the health of people and the environment.