- WASHINGTON (www.nando.net) -- 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
- 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,
- 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
- "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.