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Tuesday, August 5, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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EPA To Review Use Of Industrial Waste In Fertilizer

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

THE ENVIRONMENTAL Protection Agency has long encouraged the use of hazardous waste in fertilizers. Now, in the glare of public attention, it will examine the risks involved.

After years of encouraging the use of fertilizers made from recycled industrial wastes, the Environmental Protection Agency has begun an examination of the hazards to the public of the widespread practice.

The agency launched the review last week because of a Seattle Times investigation published early last month and because of the resulting letters and e-mail messages sent to the EPA, said Michael Shapiro, acting deputy assistant administrator for solid-waste management.

He said EPA experts also wanted a review.

The work began last week with a meeting involving high-ranking officials from the agency's solid-waste and toxic-substances offices. Shapiro said he didn't know how long the review would take.

"We'd all feel better having looked at it," he said.

The Times series disclosed how some industries are disposing of hazardous wastes by turning them into ingredients for crop fertilizer. The practice, which is legal, spares landfill space and saves millions of dollars for steel and aluminum companies, and other producers of hazardous wastes.

The EPA long encouraged the practice in the name of recycling, and it has never been proved dangerous to humans.

But there have been instances in which recycled-waste fertilizers have destroyed crops. Canada and other Western nations more strictly regulate it.

The EPA review will include other fertilizers besides those made with industrial wastes. Some nonrecycled fertilizers also contain small amounts of heavy metals, such as lead and cadmium, which can build up in the soil.

Soil experts say nobody knows how much risk exists in waste-recycling programs - such as fertilizers - that have boomed since Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in 1976.

A question facing EPA officials is whether they should establish standards for nonnutritive fertilizer ingredients, such as heavy metals.

Regulations currently apply only to plant-food ingredients, not to toxic materials that might be included in low levels in the fertilizer. Labels do not include dangerous chemicals unless they are more than 1 percent of the fertilizer. Carcinogenic chemicals are not listed on labels unless they are more than 0.1 percent of the fertilizer.

Links to The Seattle Times series on industrial waste being used in fertilizer are on The Seattle Times Today's News Web site at: http://www.seattletimes.com

Eric Nalder's phone message number is 206-464-2056. His e-mail address is: enal-new@seatimes.com

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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