Residents in Krestova are outraged and concerned an application of bio solids from the Zellstoff Celgar pulp mill in Castlegar to a neighbouring property will contaminate their ground water and threaten their health.
“I feel we’re just being used as a dump site,” said Nick Kootnikoff whose well is within the 30-meter legal limit of the dump site.
“If I knew what was in there, I’d feel more comfortable, but from what I’ve heard it has sewage sludge in it … I’m uncomfortable with sludge that has human waste in it.”
“We want it removed,” said Alan Anton, who lives a few houses down from the property.
“There is a community hall and day care centre downhill of this field. If our water got contaminated that is our only water source and we’re hooped for 25 years.”
Bio solids are created from pulp mill wood waste.
It's composed of mainly wood fibres, mixed with 40 per cent surplus bacteria, which aid in breaking down the wood fibres, and 10 per cent lime, grit, gravel and waste water, said Jim McLaren, a retired Celgar employee who now handles the distribution of bio solids on behalf of the company.
Celgar offers bio solids as a soil amendment much like a fertilizer.
The company delivers the product free to property owners after a lengthy application process with the Ministry of Environment under the Soil Amendment Code of Practice.
The ministry requires testing by Celgar of the land and the bio solids for moisture content, trace metals like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, mercury, molybdenum, nickel, selenium and zinc. They also test for pathogens.
According to the Ministry of Environment, there is no sewage sludge contained within the Celgar bio solids.
McLaren said the treated water from their sewage treatment plant is deposited on the bio solids, but that same waste water is so safe they also dump it in the Columbia River.
The trace metal values for bio solid applications in this region “have been well below that specified in the code of practice,” stated a ministry spokesperson in an email interview.
Krestova residents aren’t convinced.
Maureen Reilly, a director for the group Sludge Watch in Ontario, is helping Krestova residents get the research they need to build a case. She was part of the Walkerton inquiries in 2000.
Reilly warns that bio solids from pulp mills can be laced with pathogens, chemicals and disease causing bacteria.
“Beware of industrial mules bearing gifts,” said Reilly, who calls the free bio solids a “waste product dodge” by pulp companies.
She also says there is little nutrient value to the product.
“They say it adds nutrients but it doesn’t have a lot of nutrients. It is actually lowering the nutrient level in the soil. You are taking a richer soil and putting a less nutrient soil on top of it,” said Reilly.
She works with farmers and communities all over Ontario who have agreed to have bio solids put on their properties.
“I’m pretty familiar with what is in these wastes and have seen people who have become life-long ill from exposure to pulp mill sludge,” she said. “I think the mill needs to find better ways to deal with its waste.”
“Krestova residents are right to be concerned,” agrees Walter Popoff, Regional District Central Kootenay Area H director.
“Basically, the residents are concerned for their health. The tests that are done, in their opinion, are not sufficient enough to make them feel safe … If this was being done beside me, this would be my concerns also and I would want reassurance.”
Joyce Van Bynen, the Krestova property owner who had the bio solids applied to her acreage, is sold on the product, which has helped revive her horse pasture within a very short time.
The soil in Krestova is mainly sandy with little moisture retention and grows nothing but knapweed in the pastures. Within two months of spreading the bio solids and grass seed, Van Bynen has four inches of green lush grass for her horses to eat.
“There is nothing but good from this product – it’s been tested seven ways from Sunday and has been proven to enhance the soil,” said Van Bynen, who is also an employee of Celgar.
The application of the bio solids was made within 20 feet of her well and she drinks from the same aquifer as the rest of the community.
“You don’t get earth worms in contaminated soil,” she said, of what the bio solids looked like. “I am quite confident with what is in this material and that it is benign.”
This isn’t the first time Van Bynen’s property has seen a bio solids dump.
In 1996, after public consultation by Celgar, the property owner at that time had about half the amount of bio solids applied. The community of 150 people located about 20 kilometers from Nelson, appealed the decision, which was overturned because they didn’t appeal within 30 days of the application being made.
However, the government at that time assured them they would be notified of any future applications.
Fast forward 16 years and the community was not notified of the application made in late 2011 to have up to 200 tonnes of bio solids to be unloaded over about a two acre pasture on the same property.
They didn’t know the bio solids were coming until they saw the dump trucks loaded with the black, smelly compost-like material drive by their homes in early May, 2012, said Kootnikoff.
Alton said the bio solids had a pulp mill chemically smell for two weeks after the application was made.
Despite controversy, Celgar bio solids are a hot commodity, said McLaren.
He has 33 authorized applications in the Kootenay area this year and 27 outstanding. The two piles of solids the mill had to get rid of are already gone.
“We don’t think there is a biological risk to this material,” said McLaren.
But he doesn’t recommend growing food on it.
“I would not advocate it for gardens because gardens are by their nature emotional,” said McLaren, who wouldn’t answer whether he’d personally eat a potato grown in the material.
He said the dairy industry looked at the bio solids product but it was “emotionally not worth it to use” and that when selling their milk products they “didn’t want anybody to be worried”.
Celgar is motivated to get rid of the product – the mill produces the equivalent of three dump trucks with pup loads every day, seven days a week. They store it on their property where it composts.
“No amount (of bio solids) is safe as far as I’m concerned,” said Kootnikoff.
“Unless you can back it up with a money guarantee that nothing will happen from this stuff … If it is so safe, why doesn’t Celgar bag and sell it?”
Popoff will be meeting with Chris Stroich of the Ministry of Environment later this month to discuss the issue in more detail. Until then, Kootnikoff and his neighbours will continue to push for answers.
A Krestova farmer moves somewhat controversial bio solids from the Zellstoff Celgar pulp mill in Castlegar around his land. — photo courtesy of Alan Alton