Daily News Archive

Common Fertilizer Found To Leach Arsenic and Lead
(Beyond Pesticides, November 22, 2004)
A new study identifying lead and arsenic contamintion from a common plant fertilizer used on lawns highlights an urgent need to move toward organic practices and products. In a study that made headlines last month and earlier this month, researchers at the University of Florida have found that Ironite, a commonly used plant fertilizer, can release enough lead and arsenic to be classified as hazardous waste because the levels exceed the U.S. hazardous waste toxicity characteristic limit for lead and arsenic (5 mg L-1).

The fertilizer is a mixture of mine tailings, sulfuric aid and urea. An exemption in federal law, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Section 3001(b)(3)(A)(ii), allows mine waste to be sold as fertilizers with products labels required to lists nutrients only. This study adds to the body of knowledge on this contamination because the researchers establish the leachability of these contaminants and their bioavailability.

The study, "Arsenic and Lead Leaching from the Waste Derived Fertilizer Ironite." Environmental Science and Technology, 38(20), 5400-5404 (2004) by Brajesh Dubey and Timothy Townsend of the University of Florida, Gainesville, contradicts the claims of the manufacturer, Ironite Products Company of Scottsdale, AZ. According to the study authors, the manufacturer has claimed that "lead and arsenic are present as the minerals arsenopyrite and galena and that the elements in these forms are 'very stable in the environment and not available in a form which is toxic'."

This study not only raises concerns about human exposure through direct ingestion with the product or possibly contaminated soil but is of concern to municipalities that are struggling with unacceptably high levels of lead and arsenic in their storm water outflows. The contaminated fertilizer currently displays no warning to users.

This study adds to the concerns disclosed by the Seattle Times in 1997, when its investigation found that across the nation industrial wastes laden with heavy metals and other dangerous materials were being used in fertilizers. The paper maintained that the practice saved dirty industries the high costs of disposing of hazardous waste. In response, limits on toxic metals in fertilizers are set in Washington, California, Texas and Minnesota, as well as in Canada.

Environmental Science and Technology, October 15, 2004, p 382A, reports that "These results provide crucial evidence for an ongoing risk assessment by the U.S. EPA that could lead to nationwide bans or restrictions on such products, accoridng to EPA officials involved iwth the assessment."

TAKE ACTION: Contact your Governor and state legislators and ask that fertilizers contaminated with lead, arsenic and other dangerous materials be banned from sale in the state.