Killing Fields? Toxic waste being spread as fertilizer
Seattle Times
(reprinted in the San Jose Mercury News 7-5-97, front page)

QUINCY, Wash. — Some farmers blamed the weather for their lousy wheat crops, stunted corn and sick cows. Some blamed themselves.
   But only after Patty Martin, the mayor of this small, dusty town 100 miles east of Seattle, led them in weeks of investigation did they identify a possible new culprit: fertilizer.
   They don't have proof that the stuff they put on their land to feed it actually was killing it. But they discovered something they think other American farmers and consumers ought to know:
   Manufacturing industries are disposing of hazardous wastes by turning them into fertilizer to spread around farms. And they're doing it legally.
   "They just call dangerous waste a product, and it's no longer a dangerous waste," Martin said. "It's fertilizer."
   An investigation by the Seattle Times has found the practice occurs around the country. Industrial toxic waste is being used increasingly as a fertilizer ingredient.
   There is no conclusive data to prove the practice poses any risks, and none to prove its safety.
   Experts disagree on the risks and say further study is needed. However, little study is under way.
   As things stand now, any material that has fertilizing qualities can be labeled and used as a fertilizer, even if it contains dangerous chemicals and heavy metals.
   The wastes come from iron, zinc and aluminum smelting, mining, cement kilns, the burning of medical and municipal wastes, wood-product slurries and other heavy industries.
   Across the Columbia River basin from Quincy, in the town of Moxee City, Wash., a dark powder from two Oregon steel mills is poured from rail cars into the top of a silo attached to Bay Zinc Co., under a federal permit to store hazardous waste.
   The powder, a toxic byproduct of the steel-making process, is taken out of the bottom of the silos as a raw material for fertilizer.
   "When it goes into our silo, it's a hazardous waste," said Bay Zinc President Dick Camp. "When it comes out of the silo, it's no longer regulated. The exact same material. Don't ask me why. That's the wisdom of the (Environmental Protection Agency)."
   In its investigation, the Seattle Times learned: