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RELEASE: CITIZENS SUE EPA TO PREVENT
FARMLANDS AND GARDENS FROM BECOMING HAZARDOUS WASTE DISPOSAL
For Immediate Release, October 22, 2002.
For more information, contact:
Melissa Powers, Western Environmental Law Center (541) 485-2471
Patty Martin, Safe Food and Fertilizer (509) 679-8711
Farm, consumer, and environmental health groups today filed a lawsuit
to overturn an 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 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
highly toxic substances. Lead has been known to cause behavioral
problems, learning disabilities, seizures, and even death. Mercury may
also 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."
Groups are concerned that farmers and consumers could unknowingly buy
and use hazardous waste-derived fertilizers, because the fertilizers
will not be labeled. Once applied, 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 with
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
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
Safe Food and Fertilizer (SFF) is a grassroots citizens' group whose
mission is to proactively protect human health and the environment, by
advocating for a ban on the use of hazardous and other industrial wastes
as fertilizer, soil amendments and animal feed. SFF works to empower
other grassroots organizations and consumers locally, nationally, and
internationally. SFF was founded by Patty Martin, who learned of illegal
hazardous waste recycling while she was the mayor of Quincy, Washington.
Her discovery of this practice was featured in reporter Duff Wilson's
investigative report in The Seattle Times, "Fear in the Fields: How
Hazardous Wastes Become Fertilizers." The report became the topic of a
subsequent book, Fateful Harvest: The True Story of a Small Town, a
Global Industry, and a Toxic Secret.
Family Farm Defenders (FFD) is a coalition of organizations and
individuals committed to the creation of a farmer controlled and
consumer-orientated dairy industry. FFD adheres to the principle of
democracy by empowering farmers to speak for and represent themselves in
the quest for economic justice and sustainable agricultural policies.
The Oregon Toxics Alliance (OTA) is a statewide grassroots organization
working to eliminate contamination and unnecessary toxics use and the
harm they cause to human health and the environment. OTA is committed
to achieving fundamental changes in the practices and policies that
permit toxics use and contamination. OTA supports citizens' efforts to
avert the dangers of toxics use in their communities and throughout
CALPIRG monitors government and corporate decisions and advocates on
the public's behalf. The mission of CALPIRG's toxics program is to stop
the dumping of toxic chemicals into our air, water and on our land,
reduce the use of toxic chemicals, and guarantee citizens the
right-to-know about toxic chemical use and exposure.
The Western Environmental Law Center is a not-for-profit public
interest law firm with offices in Eugene, OR, Taos, NM, and Ketchum, ID.
WELC provides litigation services to grassroots groups, Native American
Tribes, and local governments seeking to enforce our nation's
Patricia Anne Martin
617 H St. SW
Quincy, WA 98848
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