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State Agencies Announce Plan on Fertilizer Safety

OLYMPIA, WA — The State of Washington has proposed steps to make sure farmers know what is in the fertilizer they use, protect the environment, and make sure consumers know their food supply is safe. The plan includes several immediate actions and some long-term steps.

The departments of Agriculture, Ecology and Health will work with an advisory group made up of growers, the fertilizer industry, environmentalists, and government regulators to refine the proposal and determine how these ideas can be carried out.

State Department of Health Secretary Bruce Miyahara said that more information about recycled waste products in fertilizer is needed. “The information we’ve seen so far says there is no reason to worry about the food supply,” he said. “However, continued study of fertilizers should be done to ensure its safety.”

“Growers have a right to know what they use is beneficial to crops, safe for the consumer and the environment,” added Department of Agriculture Director Jim Jesernig.


“This is a strong, well-balanced approach,” said Tom Fitzsimmons, director of the state Department of Ecology, which regulates hazardous waste in Washington. “We’ll look to people in agriculture, health and environmental fields to help us put this plan to work.”

The ten-point plan proposes the following:

  1. Ongoing sampling to monitor fertilizers for cadmium, lead, arsenic and other heavy metals. Both random and targeted samples would be taken each year. In addition, the Department of Ecology will complete an ongoing study of dioxin sources and determine if dioxins are appearing in fertilizers.
  2. Sampling of fields in the Columbia Basin to evaluate concentrations of metals in the soil. Crops grown on the fertilized fields may also be sampled.
  3. An advisory work group will be established. Tasks include working out details on labeling and issues surrounding proposed legislation. Representatives from a cross-section of interest groups will be invited to participate.
  4. Labeling of all fertilizer products for non-nutrient ingredients will be required by the Department of Agriculture after review by the advisory group.
  5. Proposing legislation to enable the Department of Agriculture to adopt standards for heavy metal content for all fertilizer products.
  6. Proposing legislation granting the Department of Ecology authority to approve or reject industrial by-products used as fertilizers or soil improvements. Decisions will be based on available human health and environmental criteria.
  7. A formal request to EPA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asking them to take the lead on development of national standards for fertilizers.
  8. Informing fertilizer manufacturers of Washington’s hazardous waste restrictions to ensure that out-of-state manufacturers comply with state requirements.
  9. Long-term: Work with federal agencies and other regulators to develop national standards. In particular, the State of California’s efforts to study fertilizers and soil amendments will be closely monitored.
  10. Long-term: Carrying out a comprehensive field and crop study that analyzes plant uptake of metals and compares absorption rates with existing and proposed standards. This may include field studies by WSU scientists.

The agency directors say development work on this plan will begin immediately.

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Linda Waring, Dept. of Agriculture (360) 902-1815
Ron Langley, Dept. of Ecology (360) 407-7004
Renee Guillierie, Dept. of Health (360) 753-3934
Dennis Brown, Washington State University (509) 335-2930