Antibiotics in Compost

The International Compost Sanitation Forum and Message Board: General Composting Issues: Antibiotics in Compost
Author: Local_living_venture (Local_living_venture)
Saturday, June 15, 2013 - 5:43 pm
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Very interesting information, Rufus. If you know anything about chemo drugs in humanure, please respond. I just posted the full scenario to the forum, but his post was the closest to the topic I found when researching the Compost Sanitation Forum site.

Author: Joe Jenkins (Joe)
Friday, June 27, 2008 - 12:09 pm
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I pulled this comment off the US Compost Council list serve on 6/27/08 because people are always asking about antibiotic residues that may be in compost from medications that people use. Rufus Chaney is well-known in the compost science field. His comments on this issue are as follows:

"I believe some perspective is needed following some of the comments that have come from the original question about destruction of antibiotics during composting.

It is clear that many antibiotics are readily biodegraded during either anaerobic digestion or composting of manure and biosolids. But not all are so rapidly biodegraded. Just as with herbicides and pesticides; some are easily biodegraded and others not. The unexpected residue of the herbicide clopyralid discovered several years ago required changes in registration so that it would not be used for home weed control and then contaminate home composts or yard-debris composts that are increasingly important to North American cities.

Mr. McGowan reminded us of some of this, but then over-stated the reality of pathogen destruction by composting. Yes, there may be some antibiotic resistant microbes in livestock and human wastes, but these are human pathogens that are readily killed by the temperatures required for effective composting. Of course, not all composting is conducted to comply with the 503 requirements, but increasingly that has become the management goal for the composting industry which needs to show they have killed animal and plant pathogens by the combination of temperature and time.

I wanted to remind us all again that toxic chemicals are present in all the plants we eat. Bruce Ames (of Ames test fame) has evaluated toxicity and mutagenicity of chemicals in foods and found that 99.98% of all pesticides that are present in foods are the natural pesticides made in plants to prevent microbial infection or reduce insect feeding on the plant in nature. Residues of synthetic pesticides are miniscule in comparison. I note this information because some who communicate here seem to think that only industrial chemicals are dangerous. These
natural chemicals include some which are complex enough that biodegradation is slower than for more metabolic compounds in plants.

And others have made a big deal about possible residues of antibiotics from personal care products in biosolids and biosolids composts. They seem to forget that the highest exposure of humans to these chemicals is to the materials in the products as they use them in their homes. And the selection of antibiotic resistant microbes is much greater in the home where such materials are used than due to the low concentrations present in biosolids or manure. Similarly for other chemicals in personal care products.

Just hoping to help us find a balanced perspective on these issues that fairly considers the value of composting and of compost products.


Rufus Chaney
Beltsville, MD

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