The Groningen deputy did not expect this. When Tjeerd van Dekken (PvdA, Environment) saw the results of the research into fertilizer factories in the three northern provinces at the end of September, he was “shocked.”
In May, June and July, the three environmental services checked 33 of the 34 manure fermentation companies in Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe – the results were shared with the provincial councils of the provinces on Tuesday. Traces of amphetamine were found in 23 of them, and 27 had excessive levels of heavy metals, such as copper and zinc. The spores were in the so-called digestate, a mixture of animal and industrial remains into fertilizers. This is not allowed by law, because too high steel values (and drug residues) are dangerous for nature, animals and humans.
The processing companies mix manure with organic products – including corn waste, grass and husks. This mixture goes through the fermentation device – into new, sustainable products such as biogas and digestate, a type of manure that farmers spread over their land to help plants and crops grow better. Van Dekken fears that the drug and metal residues will end up via the digestate and be spread over the farmland.
The investigation has not established that the digestate has been spread, but is taking this into account with caution. There were a number of months between the samples being taken (in May, June and July this year) and the results of the research. During that period, manure processors could spread or sell the manure produced on their own land.
The Netherlands has approximately three hundred manure processing companies. They often use the new organic fertilizer for their own agricultural land and sell the rest.
The 23 companies where amphetamine residues were found were informed at the end of September that they are not allowed to sell the manure produced and must keep it. As soon as the manure silos are full, the digesters must be stopped. As a result, the fertilizer factories are missing out on a lot of income, they say.
It must first be investigated how the amphetamine residues ended up at the 23 companies, says Deputy Van Dekken. According to Van Dekken, there are all kinds of “wild theories” going around. For example, criminals mix the drug residues with “supplied manure or organic material” and thus deliver it to the manure processors. The manure processor does not have to be aware of this. Whether this theory is correct is being investigated, says Van Dekken.
Last week, the 33 companies were visited again by the environmental services and samples were taken for a second time.
For years, the government thought it had a solution for the Dutch manure surplus through manure fermentation companies, but that image keeps changing. Time and again, inspection services find that manure processors do not adhere to the rules. For example, the province of Gelderland concluded in 2014 that manure processors often violate the rules by, for example, illegally mixing waste from the paint industry or slaughterhouses.
Got it in 2016 NRC via the Freedom of Information Act, now known as the Woo, an internal report from the Public Prosecution Service was brought to light. Manure processors played a key role in tampering with waste and subsidies. For example, instead of corn waste or grass, processors mixed slaughterhouse waste, waste water or chemical waste with the manure. Toxic substances therefore ended up in the soil, groundwater and the food chain. The companies were also often unprofitable and were kept alive with government money.
An entrepreneur from Drenthe, where amphetamine residues and too high metal values have been found, says that when mixing the waste with manure, acids are released that produce amphetamine.
The man, who does not want his name in the newspaper due to the sensitivity of the issue, has in the past been fined 10,000 euros by the NVWA because he processed prohibited waste into digestate. According to the man, the party from which he received the waste had not been honest. “Back then you had cowboys who tried to split all kinds of rubbish into your stomach.”
The manure processing industry has now been cleaned up considerably, he says. He dares to make sure that none of the 23 companies do business with criminals. “We are not a drain of drug crime.”
At the end of November, the provinces of Friesland, Groningen and Drenthe will share the results of the second test round. This will show, according to the entrepreneur from Drenthe, that there is little going on and that the amphetamine residues have nothing to do with drug crime.
The environmental services have found that there is a lot of drug waste and zinc in the manure processors, says deputy Van Dekken. “I have a hard time knowing that after a second investigation we will say: ‘It wasn’t too bad.’”
According to Van Dekken, the question is whether the companies themselves can do something about the fact that amphetamine and excessive metal values have been found in their devices; perhaps they have been defrauded by the party that brought the waste to them. One thing is certain as far as he is concerned: “I believe this is a very serious issue.”