Maine biosolids brought to New Brunswick
This little-known practice is causing concern among some farmers and conservationists.
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Biosolids have several advantages. They are rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and organic matter.
As a preventative measure, Maine has banned the application of municipal sewage sludge to its farmland because the material contains PFAS, perennial contaminants. However, American landfills are overflowing and managers no longer know what to do with them. Biosolids are therefore transported to New Brunswick.
We recently signed a new contract with a New Brunswick outlet. Casella's director of communications, Jeff Weld, has confirmed that biosolids from Maine are now being sent to neighboring New Brunswick.
According to Mr. Weld, there is no connection with the recent decision by the Government of Quebec to impose a moratorium on the use of biosolids from the United States. The ban in Quebec has nothing to do with this issue, in my understanding, assures the spokesperson.
Casella specializes in the collection, transfer and disposal of solid waste. It is one of the most important in this field in the American Northeast. Based in Vermont, it provides residential, commercial and industrial services in seven states.
Our site and customer agreements contain confidentiality clauses that prohibit us from disclosing other details, continues the spokesperson.
A lawyer by training, Sabaa Khan specializes in international environmental law.
The director of the David Suzuki Foundation, Sabaa Khan, believes that an investigation would be necessary to clarify this partnership. [The sludge] can be spread on agricultural land. Otherwise, there is incineration or burial, she explains.
Last December, it was precisely following an investigation by Radio-Canada that it was discovered that American biosolids were being imported into Quebec.
The Quebec Minister of the Environment knew nothing about it. The sludge from Maine passed through the RMI company in New Hampshire, in the United States, before being delivered to Bury, in the Eastern Townships. These materials were used to produce compost which was sold in bulk for landscaping.
All activities are in full compliance with regulations, assures Jeff Weld.
Neither Quebec nor New Brunswick regulate PFAS in biosolids, says the David Suzuki Foundation. Quebec has, however, promised to tighten the framework.
At the border, these products are therefore not considered hazardous materials and are not subject to special attention. It's a bit of a blind spot, sums up Sabaa Khan, who specializes in international environmental law and everything related to the chemicals and waste industry.
They don't want to live with the consequences of these chemicals, but I don't want to live with these consequences in New Brunswick either! says Green Party MP Megan Mitton, pointing out that the province already has its own questions about PFAS. No need, according to her, to introduce new ones.
This criticism of the environment invites the Conservative minister to tighten regulations or even to imitate Quebec by decreeing a moratorium. The state of Maine has good reason to be concerned about soils, water and the health of residents. I worry about New Brunswickers, said Ms. Mitton.
In Fredericton, it was impossible to speak to Environment Minister Gary Crossman. His office reports that a New Brunswick company has the province's approval under the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations to import biosolids.
Envirem [Organics] is a major player in organic waste management in the province, it says. According to its 2022 annual report, this company imports 13,400 tonnes of biosolids from Maine and Nova Scotia.
The company's president and CEO, Bob Kiely, confirms that the increase in volume should be short-term. He estimates that his company will manage a total volume equivalent to that of other years.
Envirem Organics specializes in lawn, garden and landscaping composts. It does not apply to agricultural land. We are a composting company, says the director.
He adds that he has instituted more stringent contamination thresholds [for PFAS] than any other regulatory authority. These thresholds would have been added to the contract with Casella to take into account contaminants of emerging interest.
Farmers who use biosolids are mainly agricultural producers who own large acres, who do not have access to animal manure nearby or who do not produce enough of it.
In a letter of which Radio-Canada obtained a copy, it is mentioned that Casella plans to export up to 3,600 tons of biosolids outside of Maine each month. That's the equivalent of more than 130 trucks. This volume seems excessive, however, responds Envirem Organics.
The province nevertheless allows it to import a maximum of 100,000 tonnes of biosolids per year. Casella requires its customers that the concentration of PFAS does not exceed a total of 125 ppb for the sum of six contaminants.
PFAS include more than 4700 substances. Prior to its new regulations, Maine had set thresholds for two of these substances, PFOA and PFOS, with limits set at 2.5 ppb and 5.2 ppb, respectively.
In Saint-Quentin, in northwestern New Brunswick, Joël Lamarche grows cereals. He is also President of the Agricultural Alliance of New Brunswick (AANB). I'm not surprised, because they were already doing it in Quebec, but let's say that's not what we want to have here, he comments.
This producer intends to mobilize the elected officials concerned to prevent the import of biosolids. He also intends to send a message of vigilance to the members of his association.
To his knowledge, the producers of his association do not use sludge to fertilize their fields.
In Quebec, the Ministry of the Environment considers that spreading, when properly supervised, is a practice that has agronomic and ecological advantages since it avoids the emission of gas greenhouse gases produced by landfilling or incineration.
In Quebec, biosolids are offered free of charge to producers, which makes it an interesting option for fertilizing fields in period of inflation.