EPA's Approval of Toxic Heavy Metal Fertilizers Is Challenged by Lawsuit

EPA's Approval of Toxic Heavy Metal Fertilizers Is Challenged by Lawsuit

WASHINGTON, DC, October 23, 2002 (ENS) - 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

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

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

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."

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