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Factory Farming - Executive Summary

Every year, polluting industries send millions of pounds of waste materials to fertilizer companies, presumably for use as raw materials in fertilizer production. Even though these wastes are often laden with toxic metal and chemical impurities, fertilizer manufacturers use steel mill smokestack ash and air pollution scrubber brine, and other industrial by-products as the raw materials for a substantial portion of the nation's fertilizers.

In theory, fertilizers applied to farm fields are subject to the same toxic chemical contamination standards as those applied to waste headed for toxic chemical dump sites. In practice, however, there is almost no monitoring of fertilizer or soil contamination levels, and contamination levels may be much higher than allowed by these loosely enforced standards. Highly contaminated fertilizer can render cropland sterile, harm the health of farmers and their families, and even threaten the food supply.

Findings: The Environmental Working Group used data from the Toxics Release Inventory to track the flow of hazardous wastes from industries to fertilizer companies and businesses that appeared to be farms. (Some of the fertilizer companies also produce other organic and inorganic chemicals, and the term farm includes ranches, grasslands, and other agricultural businesses -- see sidebar. Due to resource limitations we were not able to contact every business that was identified as a farm or a fertilizer company in the TRI).

Top states: EWG identified more than 600 companies in 44 different states that sent more than 270 million pounds of toxic waste to farms and fertilizer companies between 1990 and 1995. More of this waste came from Nebraska than any other state, followed by California and Oregon. Over 450 fertilizer companies and facilities that appeared to be farms in 38 different states received wastes between 1990 and 1995. Companies in California received the most toxic waste, 37.6 million pounds, followed by Nebraska and New Jersey.

Companies: Toxic waste shippers. The steel industry provided nearly 30% of all the waste sent to farms and fertilizer companies from 1990 through 1995, accounting for nearly 80 million pounds of waste shipped. Nucor Steel of Norfolk, Nebraska sent the most waste of any company with 26.2 million pounds, followed by Atlantic Steel Industries, Inc. of Cartersville, Georgia with more than 17.5 million pounds and Allco Chemical Corporation of Galena, Kansas, with more than 12.7 million pounds. Fertilizer company recipients. Phibro-Tech of Santa Fe Springs, California received the most waste, more than 35.4 million pounds, followed by Old Bridge Chemical Company of Old Bridge, New Jersey, with nearly 30 million pounds and Frit Industries of Ozark, Alabama, with more than 27.4 million pounds.

Farms. Between 1990 to 1995, industrial polluters sent more than 22.5 million pounds of wastes directly to 381 facilities that appeared to be farms (see sidebar). This includes 21 million pounds of potentially beneficial--yet not necessarily pure--chemicals, as well as more than 1 million pounds of toxic waste, mostly toxic heavy metals, with no potential agricultural application. This toxic waste includes more than 174,000 pounds of chromium and chromium compounds and over 33,000 pounds of lead and lead compounds. Unfortunately, the TRI does not include any additional information on these "farms," so it is impossible to say what these farms did with this waste or whether food or livestock are grown on these lands.

Chemicals. The chemicals most commonly transferred to fertilizer companies and businesses that appear to be farms were zinc (90 million pounds), copper (48.8 million pounds), and sulfuric acid (34.6 million pounds).

In addition to these chemicals, the companies we studied sent more than 6.3 million pounds of lead and lead compounds, 230,000 pounds cadmium, and 16,000 pounds of mercury. The company that sent the greatest amount of these heavy metals to fertilizer companies and farms was Nucor Steel in Nebraska. The fertilizer manufacturer receiving the greatest amount of these compounds was Frit Industries in Norfolk, Nebraska which received nearly 2.2 million pounds of heavy metals between 1990 and 1995.

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