March 19, 1998 in Nation/World

Locke Signs Fertilizer Regulations Industry Must Prove It Meets Metals Standards

Duff Wilson Seattle Times
 

Gov. Gary Locke signed on Wednesday the nation’s first law to limit potentially toxic metals in fertilizers and require a major study on dioxins in the products before the end of the year.

Wednesday morning he called it “a historic piece of legislation that will make Washington the national leader in fertilizer regulation.”

For the first time, fertilizer manufacturers will have to tell state regulators about unadvertised ingredients in order to prove they meet standards for nine toxic metals, Locke said.

The new standards go into effect in July 1999. After that, farmers and gardeners with computer connections to the World Wide Web will be able to look up the exact contents of every fertilizer product on a state Web site.

The product labels will contain the Web-site address.

Consumers could find detailed information on the Web for lawn and garden products, or from specification sheets at companies that blend fertilizers for agricultural use.

The information will be based on a list of chemicals submitted by manufacturers when their products are registered to prove they meet the standards for nine heavy metals.

In addition, state regulators are checking one in five fertilizer samples - about 60 per year - for levels of a variety of heavy metals that were never checked before, Bob Arrington, an assistant director at the state Department of Agriculture, said.

The legislation was introduced and passed upon Locke’s request after The Seattle Times last year disclosed heavy metals were being spread on farms and gardens through fertilizer, sometimes from industrial wastes, without public knowledge.

Washington’s standards are based on those already in existence in Canada but initially will be looser. This state will allow permissible levels of toxics in any one product to be averaged over four years. Canada has a one-year limit. Washington will work out details of the plan before it takes effect July 1, 1999, Ali Kashani of the Department of Agriculture said.

Later, Washington’s standards could be tightened. One section of the law allows stricter standards as new scientific information emerges.

Craig Smith, vice president of the Northwest Food Processors Association, said he was happy with the law and the last-minute change that required detailed information to be posted on the Web site.

Oregon, Idaho, California, Texas, Maryland, Utah and other states are also studying proposals to limit and test for toxic metals in fertilizer. The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a major study, and an industry group is spending more than $1 million on a nationwide risk assessment.

The law was praised by fertilizer and food products industry officials, but blasted by environmentalists and the former small-town mayor who helped draw national attention to the lack of regulation and testing of contaminants in fertilizer.

Former mayor Patty Martin of Quincy, Wash., said the law will legalize an unsafe practice. “This law is a disgusting example of industry influence over the political system,” she said.

Jon Stier, a lawyer with the Washington Public Interest Research Group, said, “Locke gave industry exactly what it wanted - a license to continue dumping arsenic, lead and dioxin on the ground that grows our food.”

But Scott McKinnie, executive director of the Far West Agrichemical and Fertilizer Association, said, “This law is going to provide information to the public to assure their products are safe.”

The law also requires “a comprehensive study of plant uptake of metals” to be presented to the legislature by Dec. 31, 2000.

Locke said he hoped the federal government would study the health risks from contaminants in fertilizer and perhaps pass national standards.

“While this legislation is controversial, it is an important first step that no other state in the nation has in fact attempted,” Locke said.


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