The Coastal Post - October, 1999

US Government Allows Recycling Hazardous Waste Into Fertilizer

By Sig-Britt Cox

Last summer I came across an article that was so unbelievable that I would have laughed if I didn't want to cry. It read, "Toxic waste used as fertilizer paper says-Officials worry practice imperils livestock,people."

I thought it was a joke and cut it out of the paper to show my friends. In a three part series, "Fear In The Fields," Seattle Times reporter Duff Wilson uncovered the growing national practice in which heavy industries are "recycling" their hazardous waste back into fertilizers. The newspaper reported that across the nation, industries are disposing of wastes by giving it free to fertilizer manufacturers or farmers, or even paying them to take it.

There is no federal requirement that toxics be listed as ingredients on fertiilizer labels. Any material that has fertilizer qualities can be labeled and used as fertilizer, even if it has dangerous levels of chemicals and heavy metals. Instead of storing these hazardous materials safely, some companies are saving the high costs of storing these hazardous wastes by unloading them onto unsuspecting farmers who are using these materials as fertilizer ingredients. This most likely posing a serious contamination problem to crops, livestock and people.

Although the long term effects are unknown, it seems we're playing Russian roulette with the food supply. These wastes are laden with heavy metals, chemicals and sometimes even radiactive material. Some of the known carcinogens being used in fertilizer and spread over farmland today are cadmium, lead, arsenic and dioxins.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a report this year which documents the wide-spread practice of "recycling" hazardous waste. Working off the governments Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) the Environmental Working Group tracked from a five year period (1990-1995) where all the toxic waste in the United States originated and where it ended up. They discovered a bustling business of toxic commerce between factories and fertilizer makers. A total of 454 companies identified as farms and fertilizer manufacturers received 271 million pounds of toxic waste over the period of 1990-1995. The total for carcinogens alone came to 13.9 million pounds. California is the largest recipient of toxic waste with over 37 million pounds received between in the same period.

Dick Camp, President of of Bay Zinc Fertilizer Company in Moxee Washington was quoted as saying, "When it goes into our silo, it's hazardous waste. When it comes out of the silo, it's no longer regulated. The exact same material. Don't ask me why."

There is no Federal law that toxic waste be listed as ingredients. In the United Sates fertilizer is regulated by state, not federal officials. Prior to the 1997 investigation by The Seattle Times, the use of toxic waste in fertilizer manufacturing received virtually no regulatory oversight at either the federal or state levels. Since then Washington State enacted restrictions which limit the practice but doesn't ban it altogether. There was an attempt by California state Senator Byron Sher to limit the "recycling" of hazardous waste which failed due to industry pressure.

As the largest agricultural state, Califorinia is the bread basket to the nation. It's horrifying to think that we could be allowing cancer-causing chemical into the food chain. As someone whose lost two friends to cancer and currently suffering with two other loved ones who have the disease, I'm mortified at the lack of response by our government. As a fairly recent convert to environmentalism, the more I know, the more I don't want to know. As I research and uncovered more and more information on this practice, it became clear how important it is to eat organically as much as possible.

The Seattle Times articles are available on their website: http//

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