As investigative reporters John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton made clear in their 1995 book Toxic Sludge Is Good for You, industrial-scale farmers have long sprayed minimally processed sewer waste on fields, then told everyone how great the "biosolids" are.
However, testing has shown toxic contamination in such materials, putting our nation's soil and water, not to mention anyone who eats food, at risk. Now, in a surprising new take, farmers and homeowners around the Washington, D.C. metro area have started to use a fertilizer derived from sewage sludge as a deer repellant, according to the Washington Post. People are picking up 50-pound bags of processed pellets from the Water Pollution Control Facility in Leesburg, Virginia.
The sewage product is marketed as Tuscarora Landscaper's Choice (or TLC), and wasn't intended as a repellent. However, a number of people have sworn that it seems to be repelling the deer that have exploded in numbers across the region in recent years, and which regularly threaten plantings. It may be because of the fertilizer's musty, human-derived smell, or possibly its high ammonia content.
The fertilizer is refined to a higher degree than industrial-grade farm sewage, earning a classification of Class A Exceptional Quality, as opposed to Class B biosolids. Therefore, it is said to be less toxic. However, how wise is it to be spreading human waste across our yards, gardens and farm fields? With increasing mobility, rising population, antibiotic resistance and other issues, do we really want to be broadcasting our waste around? Even low toxicity doesn't necessarily mean no toxicity, so the threat of contamination remains.
Plus, the fertilizer will introduce more nutrient-rich organic material onto the landscape, much of which will runoff into waterways that are already overloaded with nutrients. The mighty Chesapeake Bay, for instance, has long been plagued by algal blooms that result from fertilizer runoff.
Ironically, a number of people have questioned the ability of the sludge fertilizer to even repel deer in the first place. Some experts are skeptical, while others point out that the observed effects may only be temporary. More traditional methods of repelling deer include using coyote urine or concoctions of red-hot pepper and sulfur, not to mention fencing.
Clearly, as human and deer populations continue to grow in many areas, we need to find solutions to peacefully live with our natural neighbors. But is sewage sludge the answer?
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