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Friday, August 22, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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State Proposes Tougher Fertilizer Rules -- Plan Is Aimed At Product Labeling, Monitoring Of Industrial Waste Used On Crops

Seattle Times Olympia Bureau

OLYMPIA - State regulators are calling for testing of fertilizer made from recycled industrial waste, of the soil it is put on and of the crops that are grown in that soil.

Under recommendations released yesterday by three state agencies, fertilizer also would be labeled to give farmers detailed information about industrial byproducts. Now, fertilizer labels list only which nutrients are included.

"The information we've seen so far says there is no reason to worry about the food supply," Health Secretary Bruce Miyahara said in a written statement released with the 10-point plan. But he said more study needs to be done.

The plan by the departments of health, ecology and agriculture is designed to regulate how much and which types of industrial waste can be used in fertilizer and to monitor Washington farms to make sure there is no health risk from toxic wastes moving up the food chain.

A fertilizer-industry spokesman said he was pleased with with the state's methodology but isn't ready to sign on until he sees specifics of the labeling plan and the proposed state standards for levels of wastes in fertilizer.

"I want to sign on to the process and sign on to working cooperatively," said Scott McKinnie, executive director of the Far West Fertilizer and Agrichemical Association in Spokane.

An advisory group of farmers, industry representatives and other interest groups will be formed to work out the details.

McKinnie said he has been waiting to see what Gov. Gary Locke's administration would do, and "at least this puts a little more flesh on the bones."

The Washington Toxics Coalition, an advocacy group that identifies threats to public health from toxics, blasted the plan as inadequate and said Locke is ignoring requests that he ban outright the use of toxic wastes in fertilizers.

"The governor's statements show more concern about not ruffling the feathers of polluting industries than about protecting our food supply and our health," said the group's Carol Dansereau.

The Seattle Times reported last month that some industries dispose of hazardous wastes by turning them into ingredients for fertilizer to spread on crops.

The practice is legal. It has not been proved dangerous to humans, nor has it been proved safe. Hazardous materials such as cadmium, lead, arsenic, radioactive elements and dioxins are sometimes included, and there have been instances where recycled-waste fertilizers have destroyed crops.

The agencies' recommendations include:

-- Sampling of fertilizers for cadmium, lead, arsenic and other heavy metals. There would be both random and targeted sampling.

State officials are now analyzing tests taken on 55 fertilizer products.

-- Sampling of fields in the Columbia Basin to measure concentrations of heavy metals in the soil. Department of Health spokeswoman Renee Guillierie said crops grown in the fertilized fields also may be tested.

-- A long-term study on what is known as "uptake," looking to see whether heavy metals in fertilizer are ending up in crops. The proposal calls for a team of Washington State University scientists to grow crops with different types and amounts of recycled fertilizer.

-- A regulation, to be adopted by the Department of Agriculture, that would require labeling all fertilizers with non-nutrient ingredients. Fertilizer companies would be required to test the products. The tests would be verified by spot checks done by the department.

-- A request from the Department of Agriculture to the 1998 Legislature for adoption of the tougher fertilizer standards of Canada, including limits on the concentration of heavy metals.

-- A request from the Department of Ecology to the Legislature for authority to reject any industrial byproducts in fertilizer if they are found to be harmful.

-- A request from the governor to the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture that national standards for fertilizers be developed.

Seattle Times staff reporter Tom Brown contributed to this report.

David Postman's phone message number is 360-943-9882. His e-mail address is: dpos-new@seatimes.com

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

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