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Halifax ponders its crap: biosolid debate heats up

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HRM council is reevaluating the practice of applying biosolids---N-Viro Corporation’s composted and treated sewage---to municipal property. The controversy started in mid-August when city crews stank up Dunbrack Street, driving locals to their councillor, Debbie Hum.

“We didn’t get a lot of information on the issue at council,” Hum says. She has concerns that the medical waste and chemicals in biosolids may not be fully accounted for in testing, and could cause harm. Last week she requested a staff report on the issue, including explanations of how Dunbrack was chosen, how the product is tested, why the public wasn’t better informed, other potential uses for biosolids---particularly using it as an alternative energy source---and potential risks.

Hum says the Dunbrack application was in-line with provincial rules, so staff believed the decision was “operational versus policy-oriented,” meaning public discussion wasn’t required. She adds that using HRM sewage locally “is in line with not shipping out our waste.”

Richard MacLellan, acting manager of the Sustainable Environment Management Office, will present the report to council September 28. “Staff will probably recommend parameters of use that would satisfy community, health and environmental needs,” MacLellan says. Dunbrack Street was the latest in a series of low-key test sites for biosolids. “We were trying to be the least controversial we could be, but obviously we weren’t successful.”

Councillor Steve Streatch, not known for agreeing with environmentalists, is also concerned. “I don’t think it should be so close to the urban centre,” Streatch says. “It’s not the safety; it’s the ick factor.” He adds that, now that farmers have been conditioned to use biosolids, their “source’ll dry up” if it is used instead to generate energy.

Lise Leblanc, N-Viro’s hired consultant, confirms that as much as two-thirds of HRM biosolids could be used as a lower-emissions energy source producing half the energy as an equivalent amount of coal. “So far we’ve done six tests and they’ve all gone really well,” she says. “But even if we used 100 percent for energy it would be a drop in the bucket for Nova Scotia Power.”

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