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Why would they say oh no to Ogogrow?

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009 | 6:00 am

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The sky is falling! The sky is falling! – Chicken Little

Ogogrow, which has become Kelowna’s poster product for going green, has effectively been banned by the school district. Even some people who work for the city, which produces Ogogrow, refuse to use the product.

The concern is that Ogogrow contains toxic heavy metals, even though Ogogrow is regularly tested for heavy metals and has never failed the federal guidelines. It always comes in far under the guidelines.

The city produces two products used for compost. Glenmore Grow contains largely wood waste. It’s made into compost at the landfill.

Ogogrow, made at a plant at Predator Ridge, has sewage in the same mix. That includes bio-solids—human waste—from the wastewater treatment plant.

The biosolids give Ogogrow a higher percentage of the desirable nutrients than Glenmore Grow. In short, it’s a better fertilizer than Glenmore Grow.

“The horticulturists prefer not to use Ogogrow,” said Al Cumbers, director of operations for the school district. “They choose to go in a different direction.”

The horticulturalists at the school district have two alternatives to Ogogrow. They will use Glenmore Grow, but given its low nutrient content, synthetic fertilizers are more likely to be employed for green grass and flowers. How we have reversed from organic supplements such as Ogogrow to fertilizers produced in a lab is a 180 degree journey I can’t understand.

The use of human waste as fertilizer has been going on for a long time.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reports that Dr. F. H. King, during a visit a century ago to China, Japan and Korea, found that the “fertilizer” used by their farmers to produce bountiful crops was human excrement. Contractors in Shanghai were paid to enter residences and public places each morning to remove the “night soil,” which was then transported to rural areas to nurture farmers’ fields.

In 1882, French novelist Victor Hugo deplored that country’s failure to utilize human excrement as manure.

“Paris pours 25 million francs a year into the sea,” he wrote. “She does so by day and by night, thoughtlessly and to no purpose. She does so through her entrails, that is to say, her sewers.”

There is no scientific consensus on all of the metals that are “heavy metals” but copper, lead, and zinc are always recognized. Others include arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, mercury, molybdenum, nickel and selenium. Heavy metals are found in most soils. Some of those metals, such as selenium and zinc, are important in a person’s diet. But other heavy metals can have a cumulative toxic affect on the body.

The one most people know about is lead because it was removed from gasoline. Lead can damage nerve connections and cause brain disorders, especially in children. Mercury can also be toxic, although it is still sometimes used in the manufacture of mascara.

The Ogogrow plant is run by Kelowna, with costs split two-thirds to Kelowna and one-third to Vernon. It’s also the source for Nature’s Gold, a product that is further refined by its Lake Country company and sold through the province. Nature’s Gold buys more than half of the Ogogrow crop. Okanagan residents use the other half.

Air is pumped through the Ogogrow pile and it heats up to 75 C degrees, (170 F) through decomposition. It’s cooked for two or three weeks, destroying any bacteria.

The plant opened in the fall of 2006 at a cost of $7.6 million. In 1997, the two cities sold 44,000 cubic yards of Ogogrow for $460,000.

“We don’t make money, but the alternative would cost way more,” said Gord Light, Glenmore landfill manager. “Land filling alone would cost about $1 million a year, and then there would be no chance of revenue.”

The by-products of the process are heat, moisture and carbon dioxide. Kelowna is thinking of ways that the heat might be used.

Kelowna parks manager Ian Wilson says Ogogrow is safe.

“We do the testing and it’s always within the (federal) guidelines,” said Wilson. “Heavy metals aren’t an issue.”

Wilson said the city uses Ogogrow but, especially at this time of year when there are landscaping contractors at work, those contractors often replace it with Glenmore Grow.

“Some people are predisposed to concerns about biosolids but Ogogrow is a good, safe product,” he said. “Some (contractors) use it, some won‘t.”

Wilson said the heavy metal problem is likely to occur in highly industrialized areas, parts of Ontario for instance.

“That’s not an issue here,” he said.

The Canadian government scientists do their own testing. They also review all of the legitimate scientific data from around the world. They have found Ogogrow to be a safe, effective and organic approach toward disposing of waste.

My question for the anti Ogogrow horticulturalists is: What special information do you have that has escaped Canada’s scientists? Do you have a secret source? Is it Chicken Little?

Chuck Poulsen can be reached at

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