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Spreading of sewage sludge to land - impacts on human health and environment (CR/2016/23): project summary

This is the project summary 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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3. Social aspects of health and well-being

A community engagement was conducted in Avonbridge Community Hall in the Falkirk area. At the request of the steering committee two members of Avonbridge and Standburn Community Council, who were known to be at the centre of complaints around the issue of spreading sewage sludge to land, were contacted. Their activism appears to have helped galvanise local opposition to the practice of sludge spreading and the workshop was mainly attended by local residents with concerns about the practice who had been recruited by the community councillors. The workshop participants were, to varying degrees, already opposed to the practice that they viewed as detrimental to their wellbeing.

Participants regarded the odour nuisance as a severe detriment to their wellbeing. Normal life, from the enjoyment of the outdoors to opening windows at home was said to be compromised by frequent strong and unpleasant odours. Many felt that their health was at risk from a level of odour that made them feel nauseous. It was noted that half the participants thought that there should be a ban on all application until further research can prove that the application of sewage sludge to land carries no risks.

Several participants were particularly agitated about aspects of the transportation of the material. Some had taken it upon themselves to log the frequency, number and times of vehicle movements which they considered to be detrimental to their wellbeing.

Regulatory bodies came in for sustained criticism at the workshop. They were held to be ineffectively carrying out testing and monitoring. There was general agreement that controls need to be improved to better monitor the contractors and enforce good practice.

One key observation that the project team made was that some of the participants aggregated the spreading of agricultural slurry and the spreading of sewage. The overarching matter of odour seemed to compound these two issues. It was difficult to disentangle which was which at the workshop where participants had little specific evidence to present although our experts considered anecdotes relating to wet application to be highly likely to relate to slurry rather than sewage given that sewage is generally converted into dry pellets prior to application to land. This conflation might be a serious obstacle to achieving public support for this practice given that odour appears to be the catalyst for opposition.

Contact

Email: gary.gray@gov.scot

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