The small town of Elgin, near the New York border, has won a big court challenge.

A judge has ruled the town has the right to ban the use of sludge as a fertilizer.

A farmer had taken the town to court over a three-year-old bylaw that banned the importation and use of sewage sludge and deinking sludge on farmland.

The sludge is industrial waste but when treated it can be used as a fertilizer.

Elgin Town councillor David Drummond says the substance is a menace even when treated.

"It'll probably help plants grow, but there's also all kind of other noxious, poisonous substances in it," he told CTV's Derek Conlon.

"We feel (it's) a risk to public health and a risk to the environment."

Drumond adds that Elgin is prone to flooding which means the sludge could end up in troublesome places.

Farmer fought back

The owner of this farm, Ferme l'Evasion Inc., wanted to use sludge on his fields as an inexpensive fertilizer and he took the town to court.

Experts for each side were called but on Oct. 1 the judge decided to err on the side of caution and side with the town.

The owner of the farm limited his comments because he has yet to read the judgment.

He did say the sludge would be treated and that heavy metal concentrations would be no different than what's found in nature.

But Elgin councilor James Quinn says the data shows a different story.

"In our research, you can use de-inking sludge ... three times on a field and you max out the level of copper," says Quinn, who's also a farmer who follows organic guidelines.

"Copper is toxic to earthworms, it's toxic to the soil, it's toxic to people at higher levels."


Quinn says increasing numbers of food producers are avoiding fertilizer based on sludge.

He says the Quebec dairy industry doesn't want cows grazing on land treated with sludge and major food producers have said they won't buy from farms that fertilize with sludge.