There was a fair amount of press last month over the topic of "biosolids" being given away in San Francisco as compost for home gardeners. Several local news stations reported on it and the SF Chronicle covered it as well. What was all the fuss? The Organic Consumers Association, a national environmental group, claimed that the composted biosolids given away by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission "potentially contains thousands and thousands of contaminants." The group's leader, John Stauber, "claimed that tests conducted by his organization found dioxins, flame retardants and other chemicals in the compost, but he has declined to release comprehensive results." The SFPUC, of course, adamantly disputes the group's claims and frankly, I'm skeptical of anyone who says they have scientific proof of something but won't show it.
But the truth is, with the exception of our own home-grown compost, it's hard for us to know for sure what's in any of the compost we buy or otherwise acquire. Compost can be a bit of a leap of faith, when you come right down to it. But I did recently come across this easy home test for compost from Mother Earth News. Using just a couple of bean seedlings, you can test to see if your compost contains herbicide residues. Not a complete safety test, by any means, but it's a start.