“In the United States, approximately 5.6 million dry tons of biosolids are produced annually and approximately 60 percent is land applied.”
That line from a comprehensive report by USDA scientists summarizes an alarming trend: America’s agricultural land is becoming an open-air landfill, a place to dispose of the many organic, inorganic and toxic by-products of the modern consumer age.
Following the movement of particular biosolid compounds through the environment and up the food chain is a challenge that increasing numbers of researchers are taking on. As the USDA team put it: “Many questions remain with respect to the amounts and fate of organic pollutants released into the environment through land applied biosolids.” (Lozano, Rice et al., Chemosphere)
In this study, the researchers focused on triclosan, an antibacterial agent that manufacturers add to soap, cleaning supplies, toothpaste and other items. The substance was detected in every field where biosolids had been used as fertilizer.
A review of the findings in Beyond Pesticides discussed the significance:
“Results show that triclosan in biosolids is only slowly degraded and persists at low levels in the environment for long periods of time.”
“Triclosan is one of the most detected chemicals in U.S. waterways; about 96 percent of triclosan from consumer products is disposed of in residential drains. This leads to large loads of the chemical in water entering wastewater treatment plants, which are incompletely removed during the wastewater treatment process. When treated wastewater is released to the environment, sunlight converts some of the triclosan (and related compounds) into various forms of dioxins.”
“Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor and has been shown to affect male and female reproductive hormones and is also shown to alter thyroid function. Due to its extensive use in consumer goods, triclosan and its metabolites are present in fish, umbilical cord blood and human milk.”
“A recent study showed that triclosan from sewage sludge can be taken up by soybean plants and translocated into the beans themselves, then consumed by people and animals. The Centers for Disease Control in an updated National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals noted that triclosan levels in people increased by over 41 percent between just the years 2004 and 2006.”
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