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dioxins and other hazardous wastes in fertilizers
The following was posted to the Health and Environment Resource Center
HEALTHE Digest - 5 Jul 1997 to 8 Jul 1997. The Seattle Times version
was carried in the state newspaper, Saturday's edition of The Advocate,
for Louisiana. --Susan Snow
Report: Toxics Used in Fertilizers
.c The Associated Press
SEATTLE (AP) - Toxic heavy metals, chemicals and radioactive wastes are
being recycled as fertilizer and spread over farmers' fields nationwide
- and there is no federal law requiring that they be listed as
ingredients, The Seattle Times reported.
The issue came to light in the central Washington town of Quincy,
population 4,000, when Mayor Patty Martin led an investigation by local
farmers concerned about poor yields and sickly cattle.
``It's really unbelievable what's happening, but it's true,'' Martin
told the newspaper, which published a series about the practice on
Thursday and Friday.
Until now, the state Department of Agriculture sampled fertilizers only
to see if they contained advertised levels of beneficial substances.
But the state is currently testing a cross-section of fertilizer
products to see if they threaten crops, livestock or people, the Seattle
Post-Intelligencer reported Friday.
``The key question is what toxics are, as it were, along for the ride in
fertilizers,'' said Tom Fitzsimmons, director of the state Department of
Use of industrial waste as a fertilizer ingredient is a growing national
phenomenon, The Times reported.
In Gore, Okla., a uranium-processing plant gets rid of low-level
radioactive waste by licensing it as a liquid fertilizer and spraying it
over 9,000 acres of grazing land.
At Camas, Wash., lead-laced waste from a pulp mill is hauled to farms
and spread over crops destined for livestock feed.
In Moxee City, Wash., dark powder from two Oregon steel mills is poured
from rail cars into silos at Bay Zinc Co. under a federal hazardous
waste storage permit. Then it is emptied from the silos for use as
fertilizer. The newspaper called the powder a toxic byproduct of
steel-making but did not identify it.
``When it goes into our silo, it's a hazardous waste,'' said Bay Zinc's
president, Dick Camp. ``When it comes out of the silo, it's no longer
regulated. The exact same material.''
Federal and state governments encourage the recycling, which saves money
for industry and conserves space in hazardous-waste landfills.
The substances found in recycled fertilizers include cadmium, lead,
arsenic, radioactive materials and dioxins, the Times reported. The
wastes come from incineration of medical and municipal wastes, and from
heavy industries including mining, smelting, cement kilns and wood
Mixed and handled correctly, some industrial wastes can help crops grow,
but beneficial materials such as nitrogen and magnesium often are
accompanied by dangerous heavy metals such as cadmium and lead, the
``Nowhere in the country has a law that says if certain levels of heavy
metals are exceeded, it can't be a fertilizer,'' said Ali Kashani, who
directs fertilizer regulation in Washington state.
Unlike many other industrialized nations, the United States does not
regulate fertilizers. That makes it virtually impossible to figure out
how much fertilizer contains recycled hazardous wastes. And laws in most
states, including Washington, are far from stringent.
Canada's limit for heavy metals such as lead and cadmium in fertilizer
is 10 to 90 times lower than the U.S. limit for metals in sewage sludge,
while the United States has no limit for metals in fertilizer, the
``This is a definite problem,'' said Richard Loeppert, a soil scientist
at Texas A&M University and author of several published papers on toxic
elements in fertilizers. ``The public needs to know.''