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Spreading of sewage sludge to land - impacts on human health and the environment: community concerns

This workshop summary report is part of the research project undertaken by the James Hutton Institute on the impacts on human health and environment arising from the spreading of sewage sludge to land (CR/2016/23).

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Summary conclusions

The research team engaged with stakeholders who were by and large already opposed to the practice of sewage spreading to land which that they had come to view as detrimental to their wellbeing. Their opposition was grounded in their experience of the practice at this locality, namely, Avonbridge and Standburn.

It is possible to divide the concerns into 2 groups:

i) Concerns about possible adverse effects of the substance being spread

  • Odour – malodour is a prominent concern and may underpin wider community concerns.
  • Human health – participants generally believe that there are real risks to health both physical and psychological.
  • Aerosol toxicity – health concerns centre around breathing noxious substances.
  • Environmental damage – spreading is viewed as an environmental pollutant.
  • Animal health – several participants are convinced that spreading is injurious to other species particularly grazing livestock.

ii) Concerns about processes and practices (malpractices)

  • Transportation: various worries include too many lorries in a small area, associated odour, spillages and hostile confrontations with operators. Residents considered transport issues poorly policed and ineffectively regulated.
  • Application to land – Views were expressed that best practices regarding volumes and frequencies are being flouted.
  • General governance arrangements: inspection, testing and monitoring were said to be ineffective and too weak. 7 day a week inspection is called for. Self-regulation was criticised. It is too difficult to peruse grievances and agencies 'pass the buck', according to complainers.

Two further points of note were:

i) The research team believed that stakeholders are confounding the application of sewage sludge with other agricultural spreading (e.g. slurry). This was out of scope for the project but understandably of concern to a community where malodour was the overarching driver.

ii) Anecdotal evidence indicates that nationally this issue is confined to a small number of hotspots. Further work might better characterise the scale of the problem. Complaints received by Scottish Government may reveal other sites of interest and a national picture could be built.

Contact

Email: gary.gray@gov.scot

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