Fear in the Fields: How Hazardous Waste Becomes Fertilizer

A Seattle Times investigation found that, across the nation, industrial wastes laden with heavy metals and other dangerous materials are being used in fertilizers and spread over farmland. The process saves dirty industries the high costs of disposing of hazardous wastes.
(July 3 – 4, 1997)

While the Seattle Times claimed the process was legal, only two hazardous wastes had been exempted under federal rule at the time of publication of “Fear in the Fields”.  These wastes were KO61 and K062, i.e., steel mill flue dust and spent pickling liquor from the galvanization of steel.  Because these rules were less stringent than existing state regulations at the time of their adoption, the State of Washington was not required to adopt them and, in fact, had not.  The use of these wastes and others, was illegal in Washington State.

Interestingly at the same time as we are exposing the use of hazardous waste in fertilizer, the FDA had discovered carrots containing high levels of lead grown in Quincy.  This information did not become known until much later.

The State’s response was to legalize the use of hazardous waste in fertilizer by “regulating” it.  As our State Representative Gary Chandler at the time stated, this was done to “avert a people’s initiative.”  The law had nothing to do with protecting the people of the State of Washington, and everything to do with protecting the polluters.

Washington’s fertilizer standards allow the background concentrations of toxic metals to double over 45 years without consideration to the number of products applied.