Two Toledo Area Property Owners Reverse Plans for Biosolids Amid Robust Community Opposition


At least two property owners who had been behind a plan to spread biosolids on their fields on the Layton Prairie near Toledo have made the decision to withdraw their lands from consideration for the project after opposition grew swiftly in the community.

The landowners, Dan Ritola and Greg Armstrong, made their decisions amid outcry from the community over Tribeca Transport LLC’s plans to spread class B biosolids on 210 acres in Layton Prairie. The company was in the application process with the Washington state Department of Ecology.

Biosolids are the product of a treatment process conducted on sewage that can be applied to the ground in an effort to add more nutrients to the soil as a type of fertilizer.

“Ecology issues a general permit for biosolids approximately every five years,” said Peter Lyon, southwest regional office section manager for Ecology’s solid waste management program. “Tribeca is already covered under that permit to apply biosolids in various locations in Cowlitz County and some counties in Eastern Washington. What they submitted an application to my office for is to add to that permit.”

Prior to the announcement by the landowners, Lyon said he and his staff were in the process of reviewing the application.

According to Ecology, Tribeca Transport initially found about three property owners to sign off on having the biosolids applied to their land.

Both Ritola and Armstrong made the decision to withdraw their land from consideration in the application due to the unrest the application has caused the public. 

“It’s causing too much trouble in the community,” Armstrong told The Chronicle.

In an open letter to the Toledo community, Ritola said his decision was in response to the issue “that has begun to divide our community.”

And the division in the community has been substantial.

For the second Sunday in a row, more than 100 Toledo area residents and interested individuals attended a “Toledo Citizens Against Biosludge” meeting, with the March 6 meeting being held at Toledo Newlife Assembly.

In the letter — which Ritola wrote before the second “citizen’s against” meeting — he insisted that the application of biosolids to the land “is a common farming practice that happens around us commonly without our knowing or concern.”

Ritola wrote that the practice is within the confines of the law, but “my feeling of our situation is different.”

“For reasons that are not clear to me, our situation has become derisive and has caused pain in the community. … What is important to me is to remove the cause of the concern,” he wrote. “Effective immediately, we will suspend any plans to apply biosolids on our lands.”

Ritola reiterated to The Chronicle that he doesn’t want his actions on the matter to cause further division in the community.

With Toledo residents still amassing to fight the idea of biosolids being applied in the area, biosolids land application opponent Richard Honour was the guest speaker at Toledo Newlife Assembly Sunday.

Honour spent much of his time speaking about the harm biosolids pose to humans, particularly addressing the role that microplastics found in the biosolids have in the degradation of human health. 

“Microplastics and nano-plastics … are like magnets for toxic chemicals,” Honour claimed. “Everything that goes down from domestic sewage, medical sewage, industrial sewage, stormwater runoff — it adheres to these microplastics and ends up in the soil.”

He said the plastics themselves disrupt soil structure and microbiology, which is critical for plant growth.

Ecology acknowledges there are microplastics in biosolids.

“Biosolids are the product of human activity, and pretty much anything that you or I consume, we put on our bodies, we run in our washing machines, or rinse down our shower drains can potentially be in biosolids,” Lyon told The Chronicle. “An example would be any time someone washes their fleece sweater or jacket, little tiny pieces of plastic get in with the wastewater and goes to the wastewater treatment plant or their septic, whatever the case may be. And at a certain point, those little pieces of plastic are so small — they’re microscopic — they can be in the biosolids.”

Yet Lyon said the concerns over microplastics in biosolids are so far unsubstantiated.

“I’m not aware that there’s any information to show there’s a danger from those microplastics … that comes from the biosolids,” he said. “It’s an emerging topic. It’s one that’s just come up in the last couple years. People are just starting to research this topic. … I’m not aware of a single instance where somebody can contribute biosolids to an illness specifically — any kind of evidence that shows that.”

Honour tells a different story.

He said he has done his own tests on biosolids from King County, and has had universities study samples as well.

He claims to have become ill due to his work studying the waste product, especially because of insects that live in the biosolids that bit him while he was collecting samples. These bites, he said, became infected in part because of all the toxic chemicals in the biosolids that were attracted by the microplastics.

“I will tell you that I’ve had over 100 skin cancers taken care of by (University of Washington) and Evergreen medical center, because I have to crawl and wade in this crap to take pictures and collect samples,” Honour said. “And those bites get infected and become cancers, including two melanomas that had to be surgically removed. So it’s not safe.”

Other concerns Honour has involve the presence of pathogens in class B biosolids, which he said could cause illness.

Lyon said class B biosolids are treated to the point that upwards of 99% of the pathogens are removed, and the remaining percent usually die in the soil in the first 30 days after application.

Ecology tests for indicator pathogens like e. coli and salmonella to determine if the rest of the pathogens have decreased as well.

Honour said during his presentation that such a process didn’t go far enough to ensure human wellness.

Honour used the meeting to tell Toledo residents of a personal business venture, Charbon Zero Corp.

The company suggests disposing of biosolids by use of a process called “fluidized bed combustion,” which incinerates solid waste and can create heat energy that can then create things such as hydrogen fuel.

Spurred on by Honour's speech, and still concerned over the potential application of biosolids on the region’s farmlands, “Toledo Citizens Against Biosludge” members appeared before the Toledo City Council Monday night to explain their concerns on the matter.

The council ultimately voted to enter into the process of writing a proclamation against the spread of biosolids.

As for Ritola, he said he hopes writing his letter has had the desired unifying effect on the Toledo community, especially following some of the outcry produced by the first “citizens against” meeting.

“Our letter cleared up many mistruths that came from the first group meeting,” Ritola told The Chronicle. “We are pleased with how this has ended for us.”