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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 27, 2006

Bill sets stricter fertilizer standards

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer


Senate Bill 3179 SD1 would require the state Department of Health to:

  • Establish standards for toxic materials in fertilizers, with more stringent requirements than national restrictions.

  • Require labels that inform consumers about hazardous-waste products, or toxic substances in fertilizers.

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    Some U.S. fertilizer companies have used hazardous wastes in manufacturing of fertilizers, and there are few adequate safeguards to alert consumers to the problem, said Patty Martin, director of the Earth Island Institute's Safe Food and Fertilizer project.

    "The EPA says they don't even know how much of the market is waste-derived," she said.

    A bill before the state Senate (Senate Bill 3179, SD1) would establish a labeling program and some of the most stringent fertilizer-content standards in the United States. The bill requires the Department of Health to set fertilizer standards more stringent than those of the Environmental Protection Agency and the industry organization, the Association of American Plant Food Control Officials. It would also require that consumers be notified when hazardous waste or products derived from waste are included in fertilizers.

    The bill has been approved by two Senate committees and now goes to the Committee on Commerce, Consumer Affairs and Housing, whose chairman, Sen. Ron Menor, D-17th (Mililani, Mililani Mauka, Waipi'o), is among the bill's sponsors.

    The state Department of Health says there is no health threat and that the department's guidelines are adequate when they require fertilizer firms to notify the department if hazardous waste is contained in their products.

    The U.S. fertilizer industry does not object to labels disclosing the contents of fertilizers, but manufacturers believe there is no justification for subjecting them to standards stricter than national standards, said Rick Klemm, executive director of the Hawaii Alliance for Responsible Technology and Science.

    "There really is a need for some labeling and licensing, but don't subject us to unnecessary standards," Klemm said.

    He said he is not aware of any studies that suggest there has been a problem with contamination of Hawai'i soil by fertilizers.

    Klemm said he believes that all U.S. fertilizers coming into Hawai'i meet national standards, although certain products imported from Asia may not.

    The Sierra Club's Hawai'i chapter supports the stronger restrictions, claiming there is no effective regulation in place.

    "The Department of Health has not tested fertilizers independently to verify manufacturers' claims. We're one of the few states in which fertilizers sold to consumers are not regulated by the state," said Sierra Club chapter director Jeff Mikulina.

    Martin said nuclear fuel processors, steel mills, coal-fired power plants and other industries that produce large quantities of waste have sometimes been able to avoid hazardous-waste-handling regulations by using their waste as filler in fertilizer.

    Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.