Actress, restaurateur oppose environmental science

Another media outlet has presented admiring coverage of the campaign by Halifax restaurateur Lil MacPherson and Halifax actress Ellen Page to oppose something one might expect environmentally conscious citizens to campaign for: the productive recycling of composted human waste as a worthy alternative to dumping it, semi-treated, in the ocean.

A Contrarian reader describes today’s Herald story as:

One-sided journalism at its worst. Lil MacPherson is not an environmental scientist. Ellen Page is not an environmental scientist. Nowhere in the entire story is there any effort to present the case in favour of biosolids. Even the headline “Rising in defence of province’s soil” suggests that MacPherson and Page are on the right side and that the soil is under attack. Could the headline not also read “Actress, restaurateur oppose environmental science”?

Uh, yes it could.

Reporter Laura Fraser, who began her career in Sydney, is a friend, a reliable reporter, and one of the Herald’s precious few bright young lights, but, as explained in more detail  here and here, I’m inclined to agree with this reader’s harsh assessment of this story.

Page and MacPherson employ a familiar oppositionist tactic: fire a shotgun load of fear-laden possibilities (disease, hormones, pesticides, heavy metals, “everything every sick, diseased person flushes down the toilet”) and demand that proponents of composting and recycling prove a negative: that nothing bad will ever happen.

The Herald quoted unnamed critics of composting and recycling as saying there has been “no extensive testing to establish whether there are long-term effects from eating food grown in the reclaimed waste,” but failed to contact a single actual scientist to find out what testing does show about the safety of the output of composting facilities like HRM’s.

Careful composting and recycling solve a terrible problem: our century old habit of dumping untreated waste into deteriorating waterways. They enhance sustainability. Tests have repeatedly demonstrated their ability to eliminate potentially harmful components, or reduce them to levels below conservatively designed safety standards.

No process or product can meet the Pace-MacPherson test of absolute safety forever. But there is an enormous body of science behind regulated soil safety standards, and we can use that science to make sensible judgements in the real world. Like all environmental science, this is a process of managing risks to sensible levels. HRM has done that.