Alice Waters protested for supporting using human waste as compost

Alice Waters, an icon of healthy food, will be protested April 1 for supporting a compost program found to be unhealthy.

By Brady Welch

In a story that continues to amuse and fascinate, it appears that the human biosolids compost shit show we wrote about last week has left town… and ended up in, of all places, Alice Waters’ own backyard garden. That’s right: the seasonal, local, and cage-free proprietor of Berkeley’s fabled Chez Panisse has emerged as a staunch and unlikely defender of fertilizing your garden with sewage sludge compost, which San Francisco officials have recently discontinued giving away because of environmental concerns.

It all started when the Organic Consumers Association found out that Francesca Vietor, executive director of Chez Panisse’s non-profit arm promoting safe and healthy food for kids, was the same Francesca Vietor who is vice president of the SFPUC Board of Commissioners, which had until very recently been pawning off toxic compost made from human waste contaminated with industrial chemicals and heavy metals.

The news was like finding Mom (Chez Panisse) in bed with a Hells Angel (the SFPUC).

But we understand organizational slip-ups happen, and we trusted Waters to do the right thing, issue an apology, and figure out what to do with Vietor. But it turns out that the Bay Area’s advocate for a slow food economy that is “good, clean, and fair,” has decided instead to stand in defense of a system that is, frankly speaking, fast, cheap, and out of control.

On March 23, OCA National Director Ronnie Cummins wrote a letter to Waters asking how this could be. The letter reads, in part:

"Considering that the sludge was given to several local schools for use on their educational gardens, your work with the Edible Schoolyard should especially elicit your concern. This is certainly in direct opposition to the standards that Chez Panisse Foundation and the Edible Schoolyard encourage and uphold. It seems to us a clear conflict of interest that Francesca Vietor should serve as both the Executive Director of the Chez Panisse Foundation and the Vice President of the PUC."

Waters wrote back March 30:

"I have been involved with the organic garden movement for 40 years. I believe in the transparency of public institutions and count on the government to offer the highest standards outlined by the Organic Consumers Association and other reliable advocates. I look forward to reviewing the science and working with the SFPUC to ensure the safety of composting methods."

Well, the science is already in, and as we reported, it isn’t pretty; and more, our public institutions aren’t that transparent either, especially when it comes to sewage sludge compost. So on April 1, the OCA plans to hold a protest at noon to commemorate Chez Panisse Café’s 30th anniversary and perhaps remind the East Bay bastion of sustainability why diners have patronized them for so long.


The US EPA and waste industry are promoting the landspreading of Class B sewage sludge containing infectious human and animal prions on grazing lands, hay fields, and dairy pastures. This puts livestock and wildlife at risk of infection. They ingest large quantities of dirt and top dressed sludge with their fodder.

Prion infected Class A sludge "biosolids" compost is spread in parks, playgrounds, home lawns, flower and vegetable gardens - putting humans, family pets, and children with their undeveloped immune systems and hand-to-mouth "eat dirt" behavior at risk. University of Wisconsin prion researchers, working with $100,000 EPA grant and a $5 million Dept. of Defense grant, have found that prions become 680 times more infectious in certain types of soil. Prions can survive for over 3 years in soils. And human prions are 100,000 times more difficult to inactivate than animal prions

Recently, researchers at UC Santa Cruz, and elsewhere, announced that Alzheimer's Disease (AD) is a prion disease. "Prion" = proteinaceous infectious particle which causes always fatal TSEs (Transmissible spongiform encephalopathies) in humans and animals including BSE (Mad Cow Disease), scrapie in sheep and goats, and Chronic Wasting Disease in deer, elk and moose. Human prion diseases are AD and CJD (Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease,) and other rarer maladies. Infectious prions have been found in human and animal muscle tissue including heart, saliva, blood, urine, feces and many other organs.

Alzheimer's rates are soaring as Babyboomers age - there are now over 5.3 million AD victims in US shedding infectious prions in their blood, urine and feces, into public sewers. This Alzheimer's epidemic has almost 500,000 new victims each year. No sewage treatment process inactivates prions - they are practically indestructible. The wastewater treatment process reconcentrates the infectious prions in the sewage sludge.

Quotes from Dr. Joel Pedersen, Univ. of Wisconsin, on his prion research:

Our results suggest that if prions were to enter municipal waste water treatment systems, most of the agent would partition to activated sludge solids, survive mesophilic anaerobic digestion, and be present in
treated biosolids. Land application of biosolids containing prions could represent a route for their unintentional introduction into the environment. Our results argue for excluding inputs of prions to municipal wastewater treatment."

"Prions could end up in wastewater treatment plants via slaughterhouse drains, hunted game cleaned in a sink, or humans with vCJD shedding prions in their urine or faeces, Pedersen says"
(Note - This UW research was conducted BEFORE UCSC scientists determined that Alzheimer's Disease is another prion disease which may be shedding infectious prions into public sewers and Class B and Class A sludge "biosolids.)

Helane Shields, Alton, NH 03809

Infectious prions in sludge "biosolids"

Posted by Helane Shields on Mar. 31, 2010 @ 4:32 pm

Compost is waste product.

Any gardener will tell you that pee and poop (for want of better terms) are excellent fertilizers. They are also free and readily available.

For years I peed on my compost pile in my garden which I then mulched into my vegetable plot.

It's been going on forever and causes zero health hazard.

But of course now the world has gone mad.

Alice is right and the only people opposing this are non-gardeners who don't know anything.

Posted by Tom Foolery on Mar. 31, 2010 @ 4:49 pm

You're sadly confused here. There is nothing wrong with human pee or poop. This article is very dishonest and misleading and apparently you fell for it. The issue is all the poisons that are in sewage sludge. It's not just poop and pee, it's cleaners, mercury, lead, gasoline, used oil, anything and everything that goes down the drain. Dentist illegally dump TONS and I mean literally tons of mercury down drains every year.

Posted by jon on Aug. 24, 2010 @ 2:00 pm

This has nothing to do with natural human wastes.

The 'wastes' that the SFPUC was 'composting' come from all over the Bay Area and are full of every industrial, chemical, and pharmaceutical effluent that gets into the Bay Area watershed. Hence a test of the sludge 'compost' that was given to a San Francisco school turned out to have high levels of Dioxin (the most toxic substance known to human kind), phthalates, arsenic, and selenium. All potentially quite deadly in such high doses; especially to any developing children touching that 'soil'.

I am outraged that Alice Waters did not take an immediate strong position opposing the use of this garbage as 'compost'. She certainly doesn't use it in her own gardens. No one would eat at her restaurant if she did.

Alice, you need to step up right now and correct this situation or threaten your entire long career of credibility.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Mar. 31, 2010 @ 7:44 pm

The hysteria surrounding biosolids utilization is based upon the US Agency responsible for regulating its utilization - specifically, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This is the same agency responsible for monitoring and overseeing infectious, hazardous, polluting and other dangerous compounds. EPA is charged with oversight because of the potential for pollutant and health threats associated with biosolids.

The good news is that biosolids are the most highly tested and inspected fertilizer available for home owner through industrial farm use.

Mined and manufactured chemical fertilizers, on the other hand are regulated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). So, what the difference? Well, the USDA is concerned with optimizing agricultural optimization while maintaining compliance with all existing laws.

Might chemical fertilizer contain industrial pollutants? Who knows? There is no requirement to test for it. Might certified organic fertilizers like blood meal, bone meal feather meal, etc. contain prions? Well let's not think about that.

The point is that the overwhelming majority of fertilizers - be they biosolids or chemically based are safe when used properly. If folks want to maintain their bias and prejudice against biosolids, that's fine but don't try to use an emotional and faulty argument to convince others not to accept the practice.

Posted by Guest David Hill on Apr. 01, 2010 @ 3:34 am

There is no connection between prions and Alzheimers. Whereas Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (sometimes known as mad cow) is caused by prions the destruction in the brain present in Creutzfeldt–Jakob is much different than that of Alzheimers. Alzheimers fills the brain with plaque - Creutzfeldt–Jakob riddles the brain with holes until it appears to look like a sponge. The presentation of the two diseases could not be more different. Shield's comparison is similar to one saying AIDS and cancer are both caused by the same thing because they both have some of the same symptoms.

Personally I am averse to using human waste as fertilizer. But it's worth nothing this has been done for millenia in Asia without the epidemic of either Creutzfeldt–Jakob or Alzheimers Shields predicts in her hysteria-filled response.

Posted by Lucretia the Trollop on Apr. 01, 2010 @ 12:11 pm

oh you are so wrong ! Helane Shields sure knows what she's talking
about ! this lady is very educated about toxic sludge. I think you should
listen to her . Guaranteed you will learn alot from her of all health problems
& side effects that comes with toxic sludge.
The only one that is a idot here is you. Or ignorant might i say!. I bet
you never had sludge hauled around your place. then you'll be beggin'
for her Helane's help.
Order some sludge that has all the dangerous toxins have it spread around your house than lets talk! Oh ya spread over your garden & eat the veg.
You'll be eating your words!


Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2010 @ 3:15 pm

This is a little like the Elliot Spitzer scandal, but even worse. At least what Spitzer did was totally unconnected to his job and only a big deal because of the prudishness and nosyness of this society (i.e., it's none of anyone's business what someone does regarding sex, except for that person and his/her spouse). It's awful when people who are supposed to be leaders on issues let everyone down like this. I can't imagine what Waters is thinking.

Posted by Jeff Hoffman on Apr. 03, 2010 @ 1:54 pm