LONDON, England -- Following food scares implicating E.coli bacteria, the government of the United Kingdom will introduce laws which will allow only advanced treated sewage sludge (ATSS) to be used in agricultural production beyond the year 2001.
The heavily refined ATSS virtually eliminates any pathogens that might have been present in the original sludge. The laws incorporate a safe sludge matrix which has been created over the past two years by Water UK in consultation with farming, food, and research organizations.
Originally, about half the water industry's annual output of dry sludge solids -- one million tons -- was used in agriculture. With sewage disposal at sea outlawed and landfill options limited, a threatened ban on farmers continuing to use such sludge as a cheap fertilizer posed problems for UK Water.
The policy changes taking place in the sludge-to-land process are likely to cost the organization 500 million pounds sterling to turn sewage to ATSS. But farm fertilizers are a competitive market and the new matrix -- which will be independently audited -- has been created to reassure farmers, the food industry, and the general public.
From December 1999 until the year 2001, untreated sludge will only be available to certain crops which will be further treated by heat processes before passing into the food chain. Since the beginning of 1999, treated sludge has been banned from use on the surface of grazing land but can still be injected below the surface. This will have a real impact on companies operating in areas where soil surface cover is thin because farmers will no longer be able to use sewage sludge.
Treated sludge can only be used on vegetable crops if there is a 12-month gap between fertilization and harvest. The time lapse for ground used for salad vegetables is 30 months.
Besides Water UK, other organizations responsible for conceiving the new matrix guidelines were the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's Agricultural Development and Advisory Service, the National Farmers' Union, the British Retail Consortium, and the Country Landowners' Association.
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