May 3, 2001

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For Immediate Release:
Thursday May 3, 2001
Jeremiah Baumann,
Matt Shaffer,


Lab Testing Shows Toxic Metals Unlabeled in Fertilizers

Americans are unknowingly purchasing fertilizers made from industrial toxic waste, turning farms and gardens into dumping grounds for the waste, according to Waste Lands: The Threat of Toxic Fertilizer, a new report released today by U.S. PIRG and the State Public Interest Research Groups.

In tests commissioned by the California PIRG Charitable Trust, each of twenty-nine fertilizers were tested for and found to contain twenty-two toxic metals. Test results for twenty fertilizers showed that they exceed levels of concern for disposal in landfills.

"It's unacceptable for fertilizer manufacturers to use farms and gardens as a dumping ground for toxic waste," said Jeremiah Baumann, environmental health advocate for U.S.PIRG. "When industrial facilities generate toxic waste, pass it off to fertilizer manufacturers, and call it recycling, they're playing a dangerous game with our environment and our health."

Fertilizer products become contaminated when manufacturers buy toxic waste from industrial facilities to obtain low-cost plant nutrients, such as zinc or iron. Such industrial wastes are often highly contaminated with persistent toxic chemicals, including heavy metals and dioxins.

Fertilizers were purchased in twelve states and tested by Frontier Geosciences, a U.S. EPA-accredited independent laboratory based in Seattle, and found to contain arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, and chromium, among other toxic metals and the toxic chemical dioxin. Many of these contaminants are known to cause cancer, reproductive and developmental toxicity or other serious health effects. Lead, mercury, cadmium, and dioxin are not only highly toxic but also known to accumulate in organisms, including in humans. Arsenic has been in the public spotlight as a result of the Bush administration's decision to reconsider limits on arsenic in drinking water.

The results come as the U.S. EPA is reviewing comments on a proposed rule to limit heavy metals and dioxin for zinc fertilizers and label these fertilizers for toxic substances.

"There is no justification for putting products that contain toxic wastes on the lawns where our children play, or on the land where we grow our food," said U.S. PIRG's Baumann. "EPA should not just be limiting the amounts of toxic waste in fertilizers - they should be prohibiting toxic wastes in fertilizers."

Spreading the contaminants found in fertilizers on farm soils is of particular concern because lead, cadmium, mercury and other contaminants persist in soil for decades where they can be absorbed by food crops. A California Department of Food and Agriculture assessment of the health risk posed by toxic fertilizers says that eating food grown with contaminated fertilizers will be the greatest single source of exposure to these contaminants for commercial products.

"We know that contaminants in waste-derived fertilizers can get into the food chain," said Baumann. "Guessing at the highest 'safe level' for these contaminants is risky business - and if we're wrong, it may not be possible to clean up contaminated farmland."

U.S. PIRG is the national lobby office for the state Public Interest Research Groups. State PIRGs are nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest advocacy organizations.

The CALPIRG Charitable Trust is the 501( c)(3) sister organization of the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG), a non-profit, non-partisan research and advocacy organization that works on behalf of consumers and the environment. With more than 70,000 members and 14 offices statewide, CALPIRG is the largest consumer group in California.

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