David Daehnke

The Gardening Guru
Mahwah, NJ

Ecological News You Should Know


Date: 15 Jun 2002

From: "Bill Rosebrock" {billrose@fast.net}

Environmental News Service

Washington, DC - Public health and environmental advocates are calling on home improvement stores to stop selling a fertilizer made from mining waste that is contaminated with arsenic. On Tuesday, 23 groups sent a letter to Home Depot, Lowes and Target asking them to put the safety of their customers first, and stop selling a product called Ironite.

Ironite is a fertilizer produced from the mine tailings of a proposed Superfund site in Humboldt, Arizona and sold to consumers as a lawn and garden fertilizer. Testing by government agencies has found levels of arsenic high enough to classify the fertilizer as a hazardous waste.

Although federal law requires that hazardous waste be disposed of in regulated landfills, a legal loophole called the Bevill Exemption excludes the mining industry.

"It's an outrage that the mining industry, through legal loopholes, can dispose of its toxic mine waste by selling it to unwitting gardeners," said Bonnie Gestring of the Mineral Policy Center. "If it's toxic enough for Superfund consideration, it doesn't belong in anyone's vegetable garden."

A 1997 expose by "The Seattle Times" charged that many industries dispose of their toxic waste by turning it into fertilizer. When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency compiled data on heavy metal contamination of fertilizer, it found that Ironite contains - by a wide margin - the highest levels of arsenic of all fertilizer products surveyed. Ironite also contains high levels of lead.

Ironite has the potential to raise the amount of arsenic in lawns and gardens. A soil scientist in Minnesota found that levels in his garden rose to 100 parts per million after he applied Ironite - an amount 100 times background levels in that state.

"Arsenic and lead have no nutritional value to people or plants. They don't belong in fertilizer, and they don't belong in our lawns and gardens," said Jackie Hunt Christensen, co-director of the Food and health Program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. "Retailers should make sure the products that they sell don't endanger the health of their customers."

"State and federal agencies have known for years about the high levels of arsenic in this product, and their failure to take action is mind boggling," said Laurie Valeriano of the Washington Toxics Coalition. "We need retailers like Home Depot to take matters into their own hands and get this product off their shelves."

Other fertilizers besides Ironite also contain toxic waste. Retailers can obtain information about the levels of heavy metals in fertilizers at: http://www.wa.gov/agr/pmd/fertilizers/index.htm

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