THE POISONING OF AMERICA'S FARMLANDS:
FROM TOXIC WASTE TO FERTILIZER TO OUR FOOD SUPPLY
What would you say if you learned that toxic wastes were being used to make fertilizer for your garden and lawn, as well as our nation's farms and grazing lands? Unbelievable? Couldn't possibly be true? Yet it is. For decades, the generators of hazardous industrial wastes have been supplying fertilizer manufacturers with these poisons - many known to cause cancer, birth defects and childhood diseases - to be turned into common fertilizers that you can buy off the shelf and farmers use on crops that you eat.
Childhood neurological conditions affecting millions have shown sharp increases in the last decade. A National Academy of Sciences assessment indicates that approximately 50% of all children have been found to have significant birth defects, neurological conditions such as ADD, other pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), or chronic health problems related to neurological or immune dysfunction. Further studies have shown that the main causes of these and other disorders, such as autism and learning disabilities, are due to past toxic exposures. And virtually 100% of the children in the U.S. are known to have received toxic exposures to neurotoxic substances above the U.S. government health guidelines.
How can we allow this practice of recycling toxic waste onto our farmland? Because there's money to be made. Due to US laws governing the disposal of toxic waste, companies that generate the waste must pay to dispose of them in regulated landfills. But if they can sell it to fertilizer makers, they can get around the regulations while saving hundreds of dollars a ton. Hazardous wastes from heavy industries can be "recycled" into common fertilizer with absolutely no testing, as long as they include some (as little as 1 %) plant food nutrients such as zinc or iron. This fertilizer loophole saves industry millions of dollars annually by avoiding the cost of safer disposal. Topsoil has become the legal repository for wastes no longer allowed into air or water. And when plants and crops absorb it, you and your children are eating it.
Studies and Stats
- Recent studies show that between 1990 and 1995, 600 companies from 44 states sent 270 million pounds of toxic wastes to farms and fertilizer companies across the country.
- This waste included 69 different types of toxics, including 13.9 million pounds of known carcinogens.
- Included in these wastes are arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury and dioxin, the most dangerous chemical known to science.
- 46 states have no limits or regulations on toxic waste in fertilizers.
- One recent study discovered 22 heavy metals in all 29 fertilizers tested, and another showed that one fertilizer in particular, Ironite, could be toxic to children after an ingestion of less than half a teaspoon.
- Fully 2/3 of fertilizers are adding toxics to the topsoil.
- Toxic exposures are well-documented to cause hypothyroidism, pituitary hormone deficiencies, and adrenal hormone imbalances, all of which are known to be causes of conditions such as depression, ADD, learning disabilities and other developmental disorders.
What Environmental Protection?
There is no federal requirement that toxics be listed as ingredients on fertilizer labels. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn't want to regulate fertilizer, so it's left to the states. Only four states -
California, Washington, Oregon and Texas
- have legislated minor regulations on identifying some toxics in fertilizers.
has limits on three chemicals - cadmium, lead and arsenic - under Proposition 65. Most state regulators are heavily influenced by the fertilizer industry. In a very cozy relationship, The Fertilizer Institute (TFI), an industry lobbying group, regu larly sponsors events at meetings of the Association of American Plant Food Control Officials (AAPFCO), the state regulators. The AAPFCO then turns around and suggests states adopt fertilizer controls (or the lack thereof) proposed by TFI.
Rufus Chaney, a federal scientist and an industry consultant, explained why industry favors stateby-state regulation: "That way, fertilizer companies control the laws that are written about them. That's a problem. As long as we have that problem, the public interest isn't going to be served."
And the EPA and TFI refer to extremely narrow, and lax definitions of "toxic," waste" and "fertilizer," suggesting that toxic metals in fertilizer "generally" pose little risk to humans or the environment.
Really? The World Health Organization has stated that at least 80% of all cancer is attributable to environmental influences and that "Food chain transfer is the primary route of human exposure to environmental pollutants." We know these pollutants cause cancer and other diseases. We know they are especially dangerous to children, and as tragic childhood neurological and developmental maladies and cancers have increased in recent decades, even the EPA has acknowledged that the "probable cause" is "environmental toxins." We know that heavy metals remain in topsoil, and that they can be taken up by plant roots and bioaccumulate into the food chain. We know that government studies have shown that dioxins, which are extremely toxic and affect the endocrine/hormonal/reproductive systems at very low exposures, are very widespread in the environment and food chain in all areas of the country.
And we know that spreading poison, toxic waste and heavy metals on farmlands as "fertilizer" is perfectly legal, has been going on for decades, and no one knows how much or even exactly where.
The Expert’s Voices
When establishing rules regarding toxic waste and fertilizer in July, 2002, here's what the EPA wrote: "Today's rule ... establishes conditions under which such materials can be recycled to produce fertilizers without the materials or the fertilizers being regulated as hazardous waste. EPA sees no compelling reason to launch a broad new federal regulatory program to address fertilizer contaminants. We believe; with regard to fertilizers, much of this concern is apparently misplaced, and may have resulted from unsubstantiated speculations and exaggerated claims of risk that have appeared in the media and elsewhere."
That’s what the EPA has to say. Here’s what the experts say about toxic waste in fertilizer:
"Food chain transfer is the primary route of human exposure to environmental pollutants."
"There is no conclusive evidence that toxic wastes or high-cadmium phosphate in a particular product event through food to kill a particular person. But, the practice increases the risk: the more you lei; the snore probable, the more severe, the effects w ill be."
World Health Organization, 1995
"The transfer of cadmium, lead, arsenic, or other heavy metals from soils to crops presents a risk to crop productivity and quality. Consumption of metal contaminated edible parts of the crops is a risk to public health."
Dr. Shiou Kuo, et al,
Washington State University, 2002
"We know that contaminants from waste-derived fertilizers can get into the food chain. Guessing the highest `safe level' for these contaminants is risky business, and if we're wrong, it may not be possible to clean up contaminated farm fields."
"When I heard of people mixing this toxic waste in fertilizer, I was astounded. Even if it's legal, to me it's just morally and ethically bankrupt that you would take this toxic material and mix it into something that is beneficial and then sell that to unsuspecting people. To me it is just outrageous."
Dr. Bill Liebhart, retired chairman,
\Sustainable Agriculture Dept., UC Davis
"In the U.S., I hear them say, OK, how much can, we apply until we get to the maximum people can stand? They're congratulating people for recycling things without understanding what the problems are with'' the recycled material." In Canada, "We're a little beyond the point where we wait until' something is proved bad before we fix it. Sorry, but we won't' 'compromise our health."
Canada's top fertilizer regulator
"I'm crying for national legislation, or at least truth in labeling. Agriculture is being used as a dumping ground. They get away with it because there's no one watching, nobody's testing. It's the lure of the dollar."
Kirk Smallwood, VP,
"I was under the impression that, at least in this country, lead was no longer allowed to be an ingredient in fertilizer. Clearly, it seems to me that a process recycling waste into fertilizer that contains lead would be at odds to efforts to reduce lead in soil. There is no safe level."
Dr. Janet Phoenix, M.D.,
National Lead Information Center
"This was the solution to the waste-disposal problem. If they did not do this, their alternative would cost them about $2 million a year to take it to a special dump."
Frank Melfi, President,
L-Bar Industries (hazardous waste recycle)
"We feel the direction they're going [EPA] is not always in the interest of agriculture. EPA is in charge of getting rid of these materials. They do reuse and recycling. But we do agriculture; we're the stewards of the land."
Dr. Maryam Khosravifard, scientist,
CA Dept. of Food and Agriculture
"The heavy metals don't disappear They're not biodegradable. They just use this as an alternate way to get rid of hazardous waste, this whole recycling loophole that EPA has left in place these last 20 years. The last refuge of the hazardous-waste scoundrel is to call it a fertilizer or soil amendment and dump it on farmland."
Dr. Edward Kleppinger,
former EPA, hazardous waste consultant
"When it goes into out 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. That's the wisdom of the EPA."
Richard Camp, Jr., CEO,
Bay Zinc Company (fertilizer manufacturer)
"It's inappropriate to put it out there without sayin it's [toxics] in there. Let it be part of the monitored program, instead of saying `We do it and we don't have to tell you,' which is that way it's been done for all of our lifetime."
"Fertilizer companies control the laws that are written about them. That's a problem. As long as we have that problem, the public interest isn't going to he served."
USDA scientist and fertilizer industry consultant
Stop It Now
It's time for our farms and gardens to cease being used as dumping grounds for toxic waste. It's time to ban the recycling of hazardous waste for use in manufacturing fertilizers. It's time to apply the Precautionary Principle, which declares that activities that could threaten our health or environment should be proven safe before they're allowed. Simply stated, this means better safe than sorry. We need full disclosure on labels, safe limits on toxics used, and testing to ensure conformity.
When the American Medical Association tells us that cancer rates are approaching 50%, and when the National Academy of Sciences tells us that 50% of our children have neurological disorders and immune dysfunctions, it is way past time to stop this practice of poisoning our farmlands and our children.
A Sampling of Toxins Found in Some Fertilizers:
- Lead: Extremely toxic to the fetal and infant brain.
- Mercury: Causes brain, kidney, lung and fetus damage. Affects learning and developmental abilities.
- Cadmium: Causes birth defects and kidney damage. Probable cancer-causing agent.
- Dioxin: The most toxic chemical known to science.
Voice of the Environment is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization formed in
Montana in 1991.
We believe all Americans have a constitutional right to a toxic free environment.
The mission of Voice of the Environment is to educate the public regarding the need to achieve a balance between materialism, human rights and the environment.