The next sewage scandal

In the wake of sewage dumps into rivers and coastal waters is sewage sludge – sold as ‘biosolids’ fertiliser – going to be next water company scandal?

An environmental campaign group is applying for a Judicial Review of the Environment Agency (EA) following accusations that the government has reneged on its pledge to regulate microplastics and chemicals in the millions of tonnes of sewage sludge spread over farmland each year.

A report commissioned by the EA in 2017 found English crops contaminated with dangerous organic contaminants including dioxins, furans and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons at “levels that may present a risk to human health” together with physical contaminants including plastics that could result in “soils becoming unsuitable for agriculture”.

The action group Fighting Dirty says the EA in 2020  published a strategy for ‘Safe and Sustainable Sludge Use’ stating that regulations would be introduced by mid-2023, bringing testing and regulation of sludge into the Environmental Permitting Regime (EPR).

This would require treated sewage sludge sold to farmers to be tested for microplastics and chemicals before being applied to agricultural land as fertiliser. However, the 2023 deadline was removed from an updated version of the strategy published in August, with no alternative timescale introduced.

Campaigner Georgia Elliot-Smith, one of the action group leaders, says: “Farmers are unknowingly being sold potentially highly toxic material to spread on their land, poisoning our soil, watercourses and food, and we have no hope of a date when this situation will be resolved. It is unacceptable to be left in limbo like this.”


The current regulation governing the use of sewage sludge in agriculture dates from 1989. We have learnt a lot about pollutants in the past 30 years. A review is long overdue. Why has the Environment Agency indefinitely postponed the introduction of new rules?

We wrote about this subject in our November 2023 newsletter. You can read it here: Poo Time Again

One of the pernicious types of chemical found in sewage is called PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ – read more here: Another Water Scandal

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