In case you needed another reason to avoid conventional fertilizers, you can add that they may contain toxic waste to the list.
EPA regulations allow fertilizer manufacturers to use fly ash which contains heavy metals in their products. “Fly ash” is a byproduct of coal-fired power plants contains contaminants like arsenic, lead, and radium. When we feed it to plants, those toxins can wash into waterways when it rains, and chances are the plants are taking up at least some of those chemicals. While the levels of these contaminants may not be significant on a per-plant basis, chemicals like lead build up in the body over time.
So, why would anyone use fly ash on crops? According to Environmental Health News, “Adding moderate amounts increases crop yields and stabilizes soils while reducing the need to throw huge quantities in landfills or holding ponds.” Coal companies save money on disposal fees, and fertilizer companies save money by adding fly ash as filler. A win-win for corporations, but not so much for consumers.
Keeping Fly Ash Our of Your Diet
Luckily, it’s not too hard to avoid conventional fertilizers in your garden and in the food you buy. There are a couple of things you can do:
1. Grow your own. When you grow your food, you control what goes on the plants. You can fertilize with compost and know exactly what’s going on your garden.
2. Know your farmer. If you can’t grow your own food, get to know the person who is. You can ask about the fertilizers they’re using and even (very politely) educate them about toxic waste in fertilizers, if you’re concerned.
3. Avoid conventional produce. Larger, conventional farms are also more likely to be treating soil with fly ash. If you can’t buy from a local, organic farmer, go for organic wherever possible.
3. Avoid the big boys. Larger corporations like Monsanto and N-Viro are more likely to use fly ash in their fertilizers. I couldn’t find information about whether fly ash is allowed in organic fertilizers, but some companies like ChickGro specifically say that they don’t use fly ash in their fertilizer.
Image Credit: Fertilizer photo via Thinkstock