Looks like sludge spreading is here to stay in rural Falkirk

Sewage sludge being spread in fields in the Braes area
Sewage sludge being spread in fields in the Braes area
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Sewage is something people in a civilised society don’t like to think about and is left for other people to deal with without a further thought.

That is until it starts to affect our day-to-day lives and then complaints are made to authorities about smells in our communities.

The old Jawcraig brickworks near Slamannan produces the sludge for local fields bringing jobs and benefits to the area, say owners James McCaig Farms. Picture: Michael Gillen (141845D)

The old Jawcraig brickworks near Slamannan produces the sludge for local fields bringing jobs and benefits to the area, say owners James McCaig Farms. Picture: Michael Gillen (141845D)

It’s a tough job but someone has to deal with it and it was a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ when our sewage was piped out to sea. That stopped in 1998 and governments had to find new ways of disposing of it.

It’s a societal problem, the waste that goes down our toilets has to go somewhere. It can’t be left on the streets like in mediaeval times, thrown out of a window with a cry of ‘gardez l’eau’ or buried in a landfill.

Scottish Water has the unenviable task of disposal and while landfill isn’t an option, putting it in the ground as fertiliser for the crops we eat is one. So ultimately what comes out of the ground goes back in after being recycled by our bodies.

According to Scottish Water figures, 122,364 tonnes of sludge, known as biosolids – not slurry, which is animal waste – was recycled last year. It can be used as fuel pellets in power stations, a fertiliser or soil improver and is categorised as ‘non-hazardous’ under European and environmental law.

Over the last couple of decades the process of sludge spreading on farmland has been seen as the most sustainable way to manage it, while at the same time “beneficially returning nutrients and organic matter to the soil”.

A Scottish Water spokesman said:“It is widely recognised that one of the most environmentally sustainable means of managing wastewater sludge is to ensure it is appropriately treated for recycling to land as a soil improver. Through mineralisation a skin forms over the sludge which minimises odour. However, there will be odour from the sludge for a short time when it is spread on land.”

The storage and application of sewage sludge operations are monitored and regulated by SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency), while nuisance and complaints are dealt with by the local authority.

Complaints are often made by residents in the Braes who say the smell is unbearable when sludge is spread.

Maddiston, Shieldhill & California, Reddingmuir-
head & Wallacestone and Avonbridge community councils are working together to express public concern over health and smells and are calling for the practice to be banned.

A SEPA spokesman said: “SEPA has been investigating the odour issues and the majority of the odours do seem to be originating from spreading operations, however, action has been taken against stockpiles that SEPA has found to be odorous and/or breaching the relevant objectives contained within the regulations. In the Slamannan area, exemptions have been removed from the SEPA register for sludge storage stockpiles at Greenhill, Southfield and Broom/Lippe Farm.”

Due to national concerns, Scotland’s Minister for Environment and Climate Change Paul Wheelhouse is due to commission a review on the use of sewage sludge on land to ensure it meets public expectations. He said: “This review will be led by SEPA in conjunction with my officials and a wider range of stakeholders, including Scottish Water, local authorities, waste management contractors, the public and landowning interests.”

BENEFICIAL TO ENVIRONMENT

Braes residents have complained about the smell of sludge for years, but now an effort is being made to ensure spreading operations are carried out correctly or banned completely.

John Wotherspoon of Maddiston Community Council said: “The story of the processing and storing of human waste in the Falkirk district will not go away.

“The process is banned in other EU countries and a number of people, especially in this area, would want this to happen. We have concerns that regulations are not being carried out properly.”

Local company Anglo Scottish Bio Solids, a subsidiary of James McCaig Farms based at Wester Jawcraig near Slamannan, produces sludge at the former Jawcraigs brickworks site and has a mobile licence to do it at the old Craigend works near Standburn which is not in operation.

The firm’s Andrew McCaig said: “Biosolids are an inevitable by-product of our society. It is our opinion, which is supported by The Scottish Government, that the recycling of biosolids remains the best practical environmental use of this natural resource.

“Biosolids are used in a manner which appreciates the requirements of the end uses and many negative effects have been identified and assessed as being acceptably low prior to its use.

“The recycling of organic manures and wastes to land has the potential to play a vital part in retaining and restoring organic matter levels in soil. Additions of organic matter to soil will improve soil structural stability, biological activity, water and nutrient holding capacity, such as resistance to drought, and reduction of localised flooding, reduced leaching of nutrients, and improved workability in soil.

“Our operations create jobs locally and we always endeavour to work to the strictest regulations and tackle any concerns that are raised by the public.”

SLUDGE SPREADING ‘NOT A DANGER TO HEALTH’

Health concerns: Scottish Water say sludges are treated to remove pathogen risks

There has been no instance in the UK of a link to disease through food or water contamination (source: www.water.org.uk)

There are two different forms of sludge treatment - conventional and enhanced

Conventionally treated sewage can be applied to the surface of grassland or to forage crops such as maize. At least 99 per cent of pathogens have also been destroyed

Enhanced treatment – all pathogens virtually eliminated. Three weeks must elapse before grazing animals or harvesting forage crops; 10 months before harvesting fruit and vegetable crops that have been grown in direct contact with the soil and are normally eaten raw