271 Million Pounds Of Toxic
Waste Used As Farm Fertilizer!

WASHINGTON ( -- More than 271 million pounds of toxic waste was shipped to farms and fertilizer makers from 1990 to 1995 and could have been spread on farm fields nationwide, an environmental group said Thursday.
Although there is no proven health or environmental risk to the practice, a soil scientist said it raises numerous questions about the long-term impact of substances such as methanol, lead, cadmium, arsenic and dioxin.
"It does not make sense to spread toxic materials at whatever level out on the land that is producing our food and fiber," said William Leibhardt of the University of California, Davis.
The Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based organization that frequently studies farm issues ranging from pesticides to air pollution, reached its fertilizer toxic waste total by examining federal data reported by companies that produce the waste. The study followed a groundbreaking series last year on the issue by the Seattle Times.
The group found that 600 companies in 44 states shipped 69 kinds of toxic waste to farms or fertilizer companies over a six-year period beginning in 1990.
The steel industry accounted for about 30 percent, led by Nucor Steel of Norfolk, Va., at 26.2 million pounds. Other leading sources were electronics manufacturers and the chemical industry.
Fertilizer companies in California, Nebraska, New Jersey, Washington and Georgia received more than 143 million pounds over the six years, more than half the national total.
The toxic waste is usually shipped along with some other substance that fertilizer makers covet such as zinc, which is an important corn nutrient. Yet there are no federal regulations on the other substances, nor are there any labeling requirements on fertilizer for them -- only for the beneficial ingredients.
"You've got all these toxic riders coming along and nobody has a sense of how much, what form they're in, whether they move up the food chain," Leibhardt said. "We know very little about this."
Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, said there are three legal loopholes that allow the toxins to flow into fertilizer. One allows steel companies to sell their smokestack ash with no tests, while another permits use as fertilizer if the material is considered safe for landfills.
Finally, companies can transfer waste directly to farms if it can be safety rendered harmless on land.
Cook said those loopholes need tightening and government should require all raw fertilizer materials be tested for toxic content. In addition, he said fertilizer labels should include such substances and farms that use them should be monitored.
"People have a right to know this kind of thing," he said.
Earlier this month, Washington state became the first to impose maximum levels for many toxic substances in fertilizer and that bags eventually contain a label saying it meets those standards. Cook, however, called that law too weak and showed the industry's clout.
"We hope that other states will not follow Washington's example," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Fertilizer Institute, which represents manufacturers, declined immediate comment on the report.
The institute's board, however, has approved a resolution acknowledging that some of these substances are "minor constituents" in fertilizer and calling for any regulations to be "scientific, health-risk based" and uniform nationally.
"We recognize that regulation is inevitable," the institute's Kathy Mathers said.

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