ecoglobe [yinyang] news (9 October 1999)

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Heavy Metals in Wellington's Compost

    Wellington, Oct 6 - Wellington gardeners could be spreading compost containing relatively high levels of mercury, cadmium and dieldrin if Wellington Regional Council approves a proposal before it today. The proposal is upsetting environmentalists, who say the contaminants could make the compost dangerous.

    Living Earth Joint Venture is making compost at the Southern Landfill using green waste and dewatered sewage sludge from the city's sewerage scheme. It plans to sell the compost throughout the region to home gardeners and commercial users. It's New Zealand's first large-scale commercial sewage waste recycling plant.

    Living Earth wants council permission to increase levels of mercury, cadmium and dieldrin in its compost. The council is holding a hearing on the application today. Living Earth wants up to 4mg/kg of cadmium in its compost (the present limit is 3mg/kg), 2mg/kg of mercury (now 1mg/kg) and 0.05mg/kg of dieldrin (now 0.02mg/kg). Existing contaminant levels for the compost are the same as health guidelines for levels allowed in soil after each sewage sludge application.

    In its application, Living Earth said the sewage dewatering plant was producing 50 percent less sludge and higher contaminant levels than expected. Scientists commissioned by the company said increasing the levels would have no negative environmental or health effects because it would take so long for the contaminants to accumulate in the soil.

    However, the council has received six objections to the proposal, mainly expressing concern about health effects if mercury, cadmium and dieldrin entered the food chain through plants grown in the compost. Council resource adviser Tamsin Mitchell has recommended against increasing the cadmium level. The levels of mercury and dieldrin could go up but not as much as Living Earth wanted, she said. It would be impossible for the council to monitor all sites where the compost was used to ensure the limits weren't exceeded, she said. NZPA WEP jrm gt

[Information received from listserve Sun Oct 10 1999]

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ecoglobe [yinyang] news (9 October 1999)

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