Sewage sludge (biosolids) sold with garden soil by Gro-Well and Organic Gardening test gardener Leslie Doyle

A couple of months ago I had no idea what biosolids are.  We've been buying mulch by the yard at a local nursery and by the bag and I've never seen “biosolids” listed anywhere.  But of course I can't say that I looked for it.
Then Rhonda posted at the Las Vegas Yahoo group that bio solids are sewage sludge after she discovered that “Tomato Lady” Leslie Doyle's special “ORGANIC” soil mix contains SEWAGE SLUDGE.

From SourceWatch, an EXCELLENT resource:

Sewage sludge is the growing and continuous mountain of hazardous waste produced daily by wastewater treatment plants. The sewage sludge industry has created a PR euphemism it uses in place of the words 'sewage sludge': biosolids. There is now a SourceWatch Portal on Toxic Sludge


Sludge makeover

The proposal to create a “Name Change Task Force” originated with Peter Machno, manager of Seattle's sludge program, after protesters mobilized against his plan to spread sludge on local tree farms. “If I knocked on your door and said I've got this beneficial product called sludge, what are you going to say?” he asked. At Machno's suggestion, the Federation newsletter published a request for alternative names. Members sent in over 250 suggestions, including “all growth,” “purenutri,” “biolife,” “bioslurp,” “black gold,” “geoslime,” “sca-doo,” “the end product,” “humanure,” “hu-doo,” “organic residuals,” “bioresidue,” “urban biomass,” “powergro,” “organite,” “recyclite,” “nutri-cake” and “R.O.S.E.,” short for “recycling of solids environmentally.” In June of 1991, the Name Change Task Force finally settled on “biosolids,” which it defined as the “nutrient-rich, organic byproduct of the nation's wastewater treatment process.”
The new name drew sarcastic comment from the Doublespeak Quarterly Review, edited by Rutgers University professor William Lutz. “Does it still stink?” Lutz asked. He predicted that the name “probably won't move into general usage. It's obviously coming from an engineering mentality. It does have one great virtue, though. You think of 'biosolids' and your mind goes blank.”

In Germany, “bio” means organic.  Speaking of Germany, 95% of sewage sludge has had to be INCINERATED since 2005.  Nobody in their right mind would put toxic sludge on their veggies.
As usual, US safety standards essentially don't exist and anything that saves cities and governments a few dollars is promoted regardless of health hazards.
The government decided to promote the use of the toxic sludge as fertilizer.

Sewage sludge is tested for only 9 metals.  They IGNORE all other toxins and have the nerve to SELL the sludge!
The city of San Francisco gave the sewage sludge to its residents as “compost” free of charge.  From the San Francisco Bay Guardian:

Shit show

By Brady Welch
GREEN CITY Food safety groups complain that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has until recently been dumping its crap in the backyards and gardens of any residents who unwittingly asked for it.
The city calls this crap “biosolids compost,” and for Mayor Gavin Newsom and the SFPUC, it seemed like a green dream come true. But it turns out that putting processed human excrement into people's vegetable gardens might not be the elegant — if somewhat gross — reuse strategy it once seemed to be.
The vexing sewage sludge left over after treatment and separation of the city's wastewater was being treated, combined with woodchips and paper waste, and labeled compost so it could, according to the SFPUC's Web site, “provide essential plant nutrients, improve soil structure, enhance moisture retention, and reduce soil erosion.” Not bad for the ultimate human waste product.
The problem, say groups including the Center for Food Safety and Organic Consumers Association, is that the SFPUC's compost contains a host of other toxins and hazardous materials not necessarily originating with what the city's granola-munching denizens flush down the toilet. In fact, a January 2009 Environmental Protection Agency study of sewage sludge from 74 treatment plants found, in nearly every sample, “28 metals, four polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, two semi-volatiles, 11 flame retardants, 72 pharmaceuticals, and 25 steroids and hormones.” Yikes.
… [emphasis added]

Of course the city stopped the program.  Unfortunately that can't be said for Leslie Doyle, the infamous Las Vegas “Tomato Lady”.
Her Tomato Lady soil is mixed by Gro-Well. In response to Rhonda's very polite request for a change to the Tomato Lady soil, Leslie not only refused to eliminate sewage sludge from her mix, but she claimed that it was perfectly SAFE!!!
On July 6, 2010, Leslie posted at the Las Vegas group:

The Omni Mix in the Tomato Lady Soil I use is organic – the lab tests state this. I'm staying with the Tomato Lady soil I asked them to make for me – it's good stuff. It is organic – I get lots of phone calls from people thanking me for helping Gro-Well to create this blend. …

Leslie, will they call to thank you when they get cancer like your husband?

… Sal [at Gro-Well] has been a wonderful asset to all of us and a well respected and valuable long-time member of the community. He helps all of us. Many may take offense at attempts to disparage him or Gro-Well.

I don't know Sal at Gro-Well, but anybody who sells sewage sludge without disclosure is NOT an asset to anyone other than people like Leslie who profit from this deception.
I will send the URL to this post to Gro-Well with my request for comments.
Gro-Well should REFUND every penny they took for the Tomato Lady soil.  And for people who bought the Tomato Lady soil by the yard, they should REPLACE the soil with truly organic products.   Filling garden beds is a LOT of work and outfits like Gro-Well need to learn that they can NOT get away with deceiving organic gardeners.  After all, it's our HEALTH and our LIVES on the line.
Summaries of this article should be posted at Las Vegas websites until ALL suppliers stop selling sewage sludge or at the very least, DISCLOSE in LARGE print that their products contain sewage sludge.  Quite likely, they would soon STOP selling sewage sludge because few people would buy it.
Leslie Doyle is a test gardener for Organic Gardening (apparently a magazine).
From their website Over the Fence:

Leslie Doyle

Zone 8 (Southwest)
Las Vegas, NV
Leslie’s garden is in what most people consider a very inhospitable climate – Las Vegas, Nevada in the Mojave Desert. But, in spite of the heat and dry climate, she grows every vegetable she and her friends want to eat – even huge and delicious tomatoes – pounds and pounds of them. Her organic garden is in the yard of her half-acre residential lot. The garden and test beds are filled with garden soil made for her locally, to her specs, by Gro-Well, and named Tomato Lady Soil, and she blends her own fertilizer in an old compost tumbler. … [emphasis added]

Growing in sewage sludge is NOT organic gardening.
Leslie falsely claims to be gardening organically while she is in fact using sewage sludge.  I couldn't find a way to contact the Over the Fence website management.  So if you subscribe to Organic Gardening, it's time to cancel your subscription and to let them know that you don't appreciate their misrepresentations.
Of course many farmers love sewage sludge because it IS very fertile.  But they aren't so happy when their cows die after eating hay grown in these toxins:

Sludge Spread on Fields Is Fodder for Lawsuits

Web Note: The use of toxic sewage sludge as fertilizer on farmlands is strictly prohibited under organic standards.
The farmers outside Augusta, Ga., say the hay had a musty chemical odor and was dark and mottled. But they fed it to the cows. Then the cows started to waste away, growing so thin that their ribs could be counted through their skin, the dairy farmers say. The cows died by the hundreds. “We just couldn't save them,” said Andy McElmurray, whose family has been farming here since 1946. “They wouldn't respond to antibodies. They wouldn't respond to IV fluids. They wouldn't respond to anything. They just ended up dying.” …
…. Chris Bryan, 31, a road construction worker from Dublin, Ga., said that tainted hay used in building roads made him and other workers ill.Mr. Bryan said nausea, chills, shaking and liver damage forced him to go on disability leave for four months. And Atwater, Calif., was cited in 1996 by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board for excessive sludge applications after 13 cows on two farms died of nitrate poisoning. Some environmental and citizens groups are culling what they call anecdotal evidence of problems linked to sludge. The Cornell Waste Management Institute has compiled more than 250 sludge-exposure complaints in more than 25 communities, ranging from dust inhalation to water runoff contamination. The list includes four lawsuits; two cases involve deaths. … [emphases added]

Lots of news about sewage sludge is at SourceWatch:

2010 Tests of San Francisco Sewage Sludge Find PBDEs, Triclosan

… In an August 6, 2010, letter reporting on his findings to the Food Rights Network Robert Hale wrote: “A sewage sludge-derived compost from the Synagro CVC plant, distributed by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission in their “compost give away” program, was analyzed for synthetic pollutants. Several classes of emerging contaminants with endocrine disruptive properties were detected in appreciable concentrations, including polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants, nonylphenols (NPs) detergent breakdown products and the antibacterial agent triclosan.”

Here's the 8/10/10  CBS News VIDEO about the San Francisco sludge.
In contrast, the 2006  University of Arizona campaign for use of toxins on Arizona soil.
Industry and government paid scientists routinely disregard safety concerns to please the organizations who fund their research.

This reminds me of Radiation in everyday life: toothpaste, cosmetics, … PLEASE read this article about the “scientifically proven” benefits of radioactive material in consumer goods.
I still can't believe that we had planned on a special trip to Las Vegas to purchase Leslie's sewage sludge Tomato Soil.  We're not worried about getting diseases from bacteria.  Properly processed, “humanure” is perfectly fine to use as fertilizer and if I had known in 2006 what I know now,  I might not have spent $5,000 on a septic system.
We are, however, worried about industrial and agricultural waste and the many metals, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, hormones and industrial toxins in sewage sludge.
I have been looking for an affordable source of guaranteed sludge free and chemical free compost for months and recently contacted A1 Organics about selling to our local AZ nursery.
It seems like it's more work to BUY good compost than to MAKE it.
We haven't had much luck with conventional composting and today I'll get started on our first Hugelkultur.
It took me a long time to write this post because I really hate to have to expose Leslie Doyle as a fraudster.
I was very much looking forward to meeting her, buying her Tomato Lady soil and tomato plants and seeds.  I was hoping she'd come to her senses and that mentioning her in this post would not be necessary.
We all love to rant about Monsanto, but we ignore that “Monsanto” does NOTHING. It's just a corporation's name.  People like Leslie make the decisions to kill millions of people and to possibly destroy our entire eco-system.  Over 200,000 Indian farmers committed suicide after growing BT Cotton and subsequently suffering devastating financial problems.  Never forget that PEOPLE make the corporate decisions.
I don't know whether Leslie is incredibly stupid or greedy, or maybe both?
Her husband has cancer and presumably he eats her fruit and veggies, grown in sewage sludge.
Leslie, what the hell is wrong with you?

10 Replies to “Sewage sludge (biosolids) sold with garden soil by Gro-Well and Organic Gardening test gardener Leslie Doyle”

  1. Thank you for sharing the truth.. Keep up the good work, and try not to let people bring you donw. There is only one judge and HE knows who’s good or bad..
    P.S. I have a good home made compost, our birds produce everythng we need/use here… no pre-made junk in my garden!
    Sheila ~!:}

  2. Sheila, you’re lucky to not need purchased compost.
    I can’t wait to see what Gro-Well has to say. I’ve spent some time reading just about everything at their website and didn’t see ANY mention of biosolids or sewage sludge.
    I did see a lot about “natural” and “organic” and I get the feeling that Gro-Well is like Monsanto or any other company interested only in profits and with no regard for our well-being.
    Will update with their comments, requested by email to

  3. i have experience working with growell and some with leslie. I cant say for sure that she intended on deceiving her customers, but i may be giving her naivety the benefit of the doubt. Anyone who touts their own method of “organic growing” as the only way it can be done in our climate is either that naive or that greedy. And after having seen her speak, as well as her recent posts, im sure she’s that greedy. Ive known that growell used biosolids; ive worked with them at a nursery and made certain that i wore gloves while handling. The nursery never claimed to grow organically and disclosed their mix when asked. Contrary to the tomato lady’s fervent claims, good food can be grown here without toxins. Only when someone decides that the growing of that food is too much work do they cut corners and find a faster alternative. And that is the premise of tomato lady soil, the work of beautiful ‘black gold’ is evidently done for you. There are many ways to grow here, but taking our environment for granted is definitely not what the word organic was intended for. Permaculture works with the environment its given, but then again it requires very little outside input, and that doesn’t exactly sell. Leslie is a saleswoman, not a caring gardener evidently. And that sure is a shame, she has a mighty loyal following. I truly respect the work rhonda does and the manner in which she diffused this issue with leslie. Here’s to seeing a following grow around the pure honesty and transparency ive seen grow from most in this forum.

  4. Hi T,
    Much appreciate your candid comments. I’ve been on the web for 15 years and anyone doing research on Leslie should be finding this post.
    I’m looking forward to more productive and pleasant subjects now!
    I just signed up to your Southern Nevada permaculture meet up group at and did some reading there.
    I see you’re active in community gardens — still trying to find out what makes Boulder City so different from Kingman. Not that I could participate a lot, we are 60 miles from Kingman, but I tried to promote the idea of a community garden at my blog at the Kingman Daily Miner and got NO support (aside from Anna). There’s also a summary of our current projects.
    You wrote:
    “Permaculture works with the environment its given, but then again it requires very little outside input, and that doesn’t exactly sell.”
    Actually, aside from LOTS of labor, it requires PLANTS! And seeds, cuttings and unless you have many years to WAIT, soil amendments, worms, all kinds of stuff.
    We spent over $170 just on food seeds at Baker Creek this year. We’ve been lucky we could trade with Anna, but she is still planting too.
    I have yet to find ANY established permacultured place anywhere in our area or near LV. Lots of activity in Southern AZ, but not here.
    I’d love to find more people to trade with because we sure can’t afford to BUY hundreds of trees. And it would be nice to see what other permaculturists have done with their properties and to be able to learn from their mistakes.
    I’m glad you posted!

  5. Great post. I knew biosolids were dangerous, but i didn’t realize just how many disgusting things remain in it after it’s been processed. Who wants to grow their vegetables in a bed full of used medicine, steroids, and other toxic waste? Disgusting.

  6. A great book on this subject was written a long time ago I remember reading it ten years ago, I got it at the Goodwill of all places. It’s called “Toxic Sludge is Good For You”. Apparently the name was a joke but the book’s authors was contacted by a public relations company (who he later found out was contracted by the EPA) and they wanted him to change the title of the book to something about the tobacco companies because they were working to change the public image of sewage waste by changing the name to “biosolids”. That led them to investigate further and they found it was really dangerous and had killed people in the towns it was used because it contained all manner of poisons, radioactive, viral, bacterial, fungal, heavy metals, you name it, it was there. Then of course they just tried to suppress the information about it and continue using it without telling anyone by appealing to people’s natural thought process that our organic human waste can and should be reincorporated into the soil. Check out the book I highly recommend it and others by the same authors

  7. Thanks for the links!
    I’ve been so busy with work (got to earn a living) and projects, haven’t had time to follow up.
    The Gro-Well response to my request for comments was to retain attorneys:
    Gro-Well legal threats over toxic sewage sludge
    I set some time aside this weekend to create a new blog just for Gro-Well and their sewage sludge.
    Hopefully the publicity will FORCE Gro-Well and Leslie Doyle and ALL OTHERS in the business of selling soil and compost to DISCLOSE that they are selling sewage sludge — at their websites and with every sale.

  8. While you may be correct about the toxicity of sludge (why then, I wonder, do plants love it so) I think it was a low blow to basically accuse Leslie of causing her husband’s cancer. Shame on you. Also, Leslie has no economic interest in Tomato Lady Soil–so you can rule out her being greedy.
    Back in 1972-77 I was a horticulture major at Colorado State University. I used sludge from the Ft Collins, CO waste treatment plant as a soil amendment and grew the best home gardens I’ve ever grown. To my certain knowledge, no one who feasted on those veggies has been diagnosed with or died from cancer.
    I do, however, agree with you that any business that sells soil or compost should disclose it if contains sludge, just like I think food producers should be required to disclose if their products contain GMO’s. Otherwise how can anyone make an informed choice?

    1. Just want to clarify that I’m not accusing Leslie of causing her husband’s cancer, but I DO accuse her of misrepresenting her products (including the tomato lady soil which was sold for PROFIT at the time) and she is definitely not gardening organically.
      I have no problem with you and everybody else growing in sewage sludge (as long as I don’t get your run-off) because the plants “love it” and I agree with you that it needs to be disclosed so that I can avoid it.
      That you, a horticulture major, don’t understand the importance of toxins in food is astounding. The cows feeding on sewage sludge pasture got sick and even died. And you’re going to EAT that stuff?

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