EPA’s Approval Of Toxic Heavy Metal Fertilizers Is Challenged By Lawsuit

WASHINGTON, DC, October 23, 2002 – Farm, consumer and environmental health groups have filed a lawsuit to overturn a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule allowing hazardous wastes to be used in fertilizers.

Under the rule, toxic heavy metals, including lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium may be recycled into zinc based fertilizers. The hazardous waste derived fertilizers would not be labeled as such, and may be applied to farm lands and home gardens without further restrictions.

While industries have long been disposing of their hazardous wastes through fertilizers, the practice was not officially authorized until this rule.

Many of the heavy metals that will be recycled into fertilizers are toxic substances. Lead has been known to cause behavioral problems, learning disabilities, seizures and even death. Mercury may cause neurological abnormalities, including cerebral palsy in children and severe deformations in animals. Arsenic and cadmium may damage internal organs, skin, and nerve function.

The rule would allow these heavy metals to be applied to farms and gardens in concentrations that exceed the limits set for disposal of the hazardous wastes in lined and monitored landfills.

“The government’s own studies show that, over the past few years, heavy metal levels in children’s diets have risen,” said Patty Martin, a former mayor of Quincy, Washington, and the founder of Safe Food and Fertilizer. “Rather than take steps to reduce the toxic burden on children, however, the EPA is illegally authorizing a practice that will put our children at even greater risk from exposure to lead, arsenic, and other toxic heavy metals.”

The groups are concerned that the heavy metals in the fertilizers could migrate through the soil, run off into streams, and leach into waterways, affecting neighboring lands.

“In Oregon alone, over 1.6 billion pounds of fertilizers are used each year,” said David Monk of the Oregon Toxics Alliance. “On a national level, the cumulative effects of these fertilizers could be staggering.”

Safe Food and Fertilizer, Family Farm Defenders, the Oregon Toxics Alliance, and the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) claim that the “land ban” provisions of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) prohibit the EPA from allowing hazardous wastes to be put in fertilizers that end up on farm fields and home gardens.

While treated wastes may be placed in land disposal facilities, the facilities must be designed to prevent migration of the hazardous wastes and have, at a minimum, double liners and leachate collection systems. The EPA’s rule defies this scheme, by allowing hazardous wastes – including untreated wastes – to be disposed of on farmlands and home gardens.

In 1994, the EPA banned a similar type of practice, in which hazardous wastes were being used in road de-icing chemicals. The EPA justified that ban by noting that hazardous wastes could not legally be applied to the land in an uncontrolled manner.

“The EPA has already recognized that it has no authority to allow this type of uncontrolled land disposal of hazardous wastes,” said Melissa Powers, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, the law firm representing the plaintiffs in this case. “This rule will not withstand judicial review.”

– Source: Organic Consumers Association

Posted in Toxicity, Uncategorized.