ED: You may be even more horrified to learn that it was The Inlander's editors (as it was labeled "Editor's Choice") not the readers, who picked that icy place of proposal.
Mr. Fretwell's letter of March 29, 2001, was a classic case of killing the messenger in order to distract from the message -- in this case the disposal of hazardous waste as fertilizer. The Inlander is not guilty of bad journalism, but rather of educating the public about an event by interviewing the guest speaker (me).
No, the issue is with the report itself. This is an issue that the industry would prefer not to get any public attention. After all, if you were disposing of hazardous waste in a commercial product like fertilizer that's used on our food supply, would you want the public to know?
Essentially, industry can dispose of any waste that contains fertilizing, micronutrient, or soil amending properties as fertilizer. There is no requirement to prove safety or crop benefit. Sources of waste-derived "fertilizers" currently sold in Washington state include incinerated tire ash, nuclear fuel and mining wastes, and waste from pulp and paper production. These wastes may contain levels of lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium and other heavy metals in concentrations that characterize them as hazardous.
Hazardous means that these wastes "pose a substantial present or potential hazard to human health or the environment," and under most regulatory schemes would be required to be disposed of in a lined, secure and monitored hazardous waste landfill. But in this situation where they are recycled for their soil-amending qualities, the exact same hazardous waste can be disposed of as "fertilizer."
Under the landfill scenario there is a hefty disposal cost, while under the fertilizer scenario you might make a little money. If you were industry and the choice were yours, which would you choose?
These "fertilizers" may also contain dioxins and other chemicals. Originally the law required that the label identify whether it was made from hazardous waste, but the industry worked to have that provision removed.
It wasn't until after the Seattle Times exposed this practice that EPA initiated a risk assessment. The assessment identified several major uncertainties including "soil-to-plant uptake," and said "significant uncertainties and unknowns [exist] regarding the estimation of lifetime cancer risks in children." But then that is to be expected. After all, the EPA doesn't even know the "market share of these products in the total fertilizer market."
And not all is well with the soils in our state as Mr. Fretwell would have you believe. The Department of Ecology's review of Washington soils found that "cadmium and zinc concentrations show small but statistically significant increases in agricultural fields over background sites" and that "the increased agricultural cadmium levels warrant monitoring over a period of time to determine their rate of increase and to ensure that the levels do not become a concern."
With birth defects, childhood asthma, cancer, and learning disabilities on an alarming rise since 1980, Mr. Fretwell's "yawner of a story" is of grave concern to those of us with children. These increases are not due to better testing as the industry would have you believe, they are a fact. Even the EPA acknowledges the "probable cause" of the rise in childhood health problems is "environmental toxins," yet allows this method of hazardous waste disposal to potentially place our food, air and water at risk.
Patricia Anne Martin
Safe Food and Fertilizers
I thoroughly enjoyed the March 29 issue of The Inlander, but was disappointed by a couple of the mistakes in the snippet on the future of Gorge Park.
I am a graduate student at WSU writing a thesis on the effects the Olmsted brothers had on the two parks they designed and had completed under their direction. These two parks are Liberty Park and Cannon Hill. Corbin Park was also designed by the Olmsted brothers, but was not completed according to their plan.
The two corrections that should be passed on to readers of The Inlander are:
The correct spelling is Olmsted, not Olmstead. I would have thought that if there was a question of doubt, The Inlander would have done its research. Nancy Compau, at the Downtown Library is a great resource for answering questions regarding Spokane's past.
And, the Olmsted brothers did not design Manito Park. Manito Park was already a park by the time the Olmsted brothers came to Spokane. They had minor suggestions for the Park Board, but they did not have any say in its original design.