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Toxic Wastes as Fertilizer
Threaten U.S. Farms, Food Supply

Dioxin, Lead, Mercury Spread on Crops as States Scramble to Protect Public Health

How clever.  Toxic wastes added to fertilizers which wind up on farmers' fields.  Now, as part of the Clean Water Action Plan and the so-called "Non-point Source Pollution", farmers who unknowingly dumped heavy metals into their soil will be fined and regulated out of business because runoff from their fields are polluting the water ways.  Water IS the name of their game. 

For a full report on this see "Factory Farming" at the Environmental Working Group web site: http://www.ewg.org/pub/home/reports/factoryfarming/default.html

March 26, 1998

Washington, D.C. -- Under the guise of 'recycling,' millions of pounds of toxic waste are shipped each year from polluting industries to fertilizer manufacturers and farmers, who used toxic waste laden with dioxin, lead, mercury and other hazardous chemicals as raw material for fertilizers applied to U.S. farmland.

According to an analysis of federal and state data released today by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), between 1990 and 1995 more than 450 fertilizer companies or farms in 38 states received shipments of toxic waste totaling more than 270 million pounds. EWG's report, Factory Farming: Toxic Waste and Fertilizer in the United States, lists, for each state, the polluting industries that shipped the most such waste and the fertilizer companies that received the most. Companies in California received the most waste, followed by Nebraska, New Jersey, Washington, and Georgia.

"Not only does the EPA allow these chemicals to be used in the fertilizers that go on our crops, in most states farmers and consumers don't even have the right to know what's being used," said study author, Richard Wiles.

Because of loopholes in the federal toxics laws -- most notably, the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) -- EWG found that it is impossible to account for all uses of the toxic waste shipped to fertilizer companies. "This is a regulatory system designed by Mr. Magoo," said Ken Cook, president of the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Working Group. Some facilities that received the waste only make fertilizer, but others produce a variety of inorganic chemicals.

However, in a series of investigative articles, The Seattle Times has documented the nationwide use of cadmium, lead, arsenic, dioxins, radionuclides and other hazardous waste in fertilizer. Tests by the State of Washington found that some fertilizers contained very high levels of dioxin -- 100 times higher, in fact than the level allowed for treated Superfund sites in the state.

In response to The Seattle Times investigation, states are scrambling to plug regulatory loopholes. Washington, California, Idaho, New Jersey, North Dakota, Maryland, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas have laws or regulations in the works to limit toxic waste in fertilizer. Most of the proposals would still not provide consumers with as much information or put the burden on fertilizer companies to prove that their products are safe.

"Anyone who uses fertilizer has the right to know what is in it, and whether it was made from toxic waste," added Ken Cook, "But beyond this basic public right to know, state and federal health officials must protect farms, farm families and our food supply from toxic chemical contamination."

Factory Farming: Toxic Waste and Fertilizer in the United States, 1990-1995 is available on the Internet at Environmental Working Group, a project of the Tides Center, is a nonprofit research organization with offices in Washington, DC and San Francisco. 

[end of article]

Toxic Effects of Contaminants found in Hazardous Waste Derived Fertilizers

  • LEAD is extremely toxic to the fetal and infant brain.  Levels of lead that are non-toxic to adults, can cause permanent learning impairment, lower IQ, and behavioral disorders when exposure occurs in the womb or in early childhood.  Lead is also a probable cause of birth defects in humans and may decrease fertility in both men and women.  Higher levels may cause aching and weakness in the arms and legs, loss of concentration and memory, and may cause anemia.  Lead exposure also increases the risk of high blood pressure.

  • CADMIUM - There is some evidence that cadmium causes prostate and kidney cancer in humans and it has been shown to cause lung and testes cancer in animals.  It also is a suspected cause of birth defects in humans and may affect the female reproductive cycle.  Repeated low exposures can cause kidney stones and permanent kidney damage which can go undetected until it is severe.  Long term exposure can cause anemia, and loss of the sense of smell.

  • CHROMIUM - Some forms of chromium are extremely toxic to the human body, especially when inhaled.  Some forms of chromium are known human carcinogens and have been shown to cause kidney and liver damage.  Short term exposures have been known to cause ulcers of the skin and perforation of the nasal septum.

  • NICKEL refining is associated with an increase in lung, nasal and throat cancers in humans.  Nickel also causes lung cancer in animals.  Nickel may damage the developing fetus.  Single high or repeated lower exposures may damage lungs, scar lung tissues, and cause damage to the heart, liver, or kidney.  Nickel and nickel compounds are acutely toxic to aquatic life and are extremely persistent in water.

  • DIOXIN has been called the most toxic chemical known to science; is a known human carcinogen, and is suspected of disrupting the endocrine and reproductive systems in humans.  Dioxin "bio-accumulates" in humans and livestock, building up year after year.


Sources for toxicological information are the New Jersey Department of Health, Right to Know Program, Hazardous Substances Fact Sheets, EPA's ACQUIRE Database, EPA's 1994 Toxics Release Inventory Public Data Release, and Casarett and Doull's Toxicology: The Basic Science of Poisons, third Edition.  C.D. Klaassen, M.O. Amdur, J. Doull, Eds Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, and USEPA.  Health Assessment Document for 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) and Related Compounds, EPA/600/BP-92/001. 

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