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More Facts, Not Fear
Science, Regulations and the California Fertilizer Industry

 

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), in April 1999, set forth proposed regulations for commercial inorganic and micronutrient fertilizer products. The regulations, based on the best-available science, will be discussed in a public hearing on December 2, 1999 in Sacramento, CA. A number of interested parties that participated in the six-month process that developed the regulations came to a majority agreement: that the proposed regulations were based on sound science and would protect the public's health. Recent allegations, however, question the validity and safety of the proposed regulations. These allegations are false. This document provides a quick "Q and A" on the background and rationale for the proposed regulations, as well as issues of concern.

Background Q & A:
What is the basis for the proposed fertilizer regulations?
The proposed regulations are based on CDFA's recent human-health risk assessment, "Risk-based Concentrations for Lead, Arsenic and Cadmium in Inorganic Commercial Fertilizers." The study, released in March 1998, provides the basis for creating a safe limit on the levels of certain metals in fertilizer products.

Will the proposed regulations protect human health?
CDFA's study looked at the typical farm family's exposure to lead, arsenic and cadmium in inorganic, commercial fertilizers. Both adults and children were included in the study to insure that the most "at-risk" individuals would be reviewed for potential exposure. The study's conclusion: fertilizers used in agriculture are safe to humans, especially for those who use them or are around them on a daily basis. Based on this knowledge, the proposed regulations utilize the information in the study to form standards for metals in fertilizers.

How do the regulations work?
Under the proposed regulations, fertilizer manufacturers would be required to provide written documentation to retailers that their products meet the California standards for safe levels of lead, arsenic and cadmium. Manufacturers that utilize certain recycled products in their fertilizers would also be required to notify retailers, as well.

CDFA would implement and oversee the proposed fertilizer regulations. Part of their oversight would include random sampling of fertilizer products to insure compliance, as well as continued research on other metals and field testing.

Why are the standards in the regulations lower than in other countries?
The proposed regulations offer standards that are based on current, best-available science. Participants in the facilitated rulemaking process reviewed existing research as well as existing standards in Canada, Europe and elsewhere. The participants agreed that California standards should be scientifically based, and voted in favor of the proposed regulations.

Why is labeling not mandatory under the proposed regulations?
Many products in California and across the United States require accurate labeling of products: vitamins, cereal and prescriptions, to name a few. Fertilizer manufacturers and retailers are required to provide similar information through a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) which lists the product's ingredients. MSDS's are available to any consumer, farmer or member of the general public that requests it.

What about products that contain recycled materials?
Certain fertilizer products (micronutrients) do utilize recycled materials in order to manufacture their products. While some of the products include recycled waste materials, all are refined and required to meet federal and state guidelines for land disposal.

There is one example of an industrial waste, otherwise classified as a "listed hazardous waste" by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), used as a raw material source for a fertilizer micronutrient: K061, or electric arc furnace dust. U.S. EPA has approved the use of this one recycled material as a source of zinc. While the product does contain trace amounts of nonessential, naturally-occurring metals such as lead and cadmium, the material is subject to further processing and refinement before becoming fertilizer. It is important to note that while zinc is a critical micronutrient for certain plants like corn, cotton, fruit and nut trees, it constitutes less than one-tenth of one percent of all fertilizers applied in the United States.

Is there anything being done at the national level?
U.S. EPA recently reviewed the use of recycled materials in fertilizers in a 1999 study entitled "Eliminating Risk from Contaminants Contained in Agricultural Fertilizers." The study looked at exposure pathways and included air, soil, water and food chain modeling. According to U.S. EPA, "the results of this analysis indicate that, based on the data available, hazardous constituents in fertilizers generally do not pose harm to human health or the environment." By refining and recycling, such waste products are put to a beneficial use as opposed to being dumped in a landfill. U.S. EPA is currently reviewing the use of certain products, including K061. The fertilizer industry supports this process.

Why not remove the metals altogether?
Heavy metals are naturally occurring elements. They are found in soils, water and rock formations across the United States that have not been put to agricultural, urban or recreational use. Because many fertilizer products are mined from the earth, metals can be traced in fertilizer products. While technology to remove the metals is being researched, the level of metals in fertilizer products has been proven safe. Research conducted by the U.S. EPA, CDFA and an independent study by The Weinberg Group Environmental Consulting Firm all indicate that the levels of heavy metals found in fertilizer products pose no risk to human health (see attached reference list).

What about accumulation of metals in the soil?
Research conducted by the University of California at Riverside (UCR), shows that accumulation of metals in agricultural soils is a myth. According to UCR's Dr. Andrew Chang, metals in soils alter significantly over time; they form bonds with other elements in the soil, ultimately "leveling off."

Do metals accumulate in plants?
Extensive research has been conducted on the issue of plant-uptake and bioaccumulation. According to research conducted by Dr. John J. Mortvedt, formerly with Colorado State University, Dr. Richard Burau with the University of California at Davis and the Washington State Department of Ecology, the uptake of metals in plants does not pose a significant risk to human health. While some plants do absorb metals in the soil, they do so at insignificant levels.

Are metals in fertilizers a threat to human health?
As stated above, plants do not readily absorb non-essential metals that occur naturally in soils or in trace amounts in fertilizers. For this reason, the food supply is not at risk due to fertilizers. According to Dr. Allan S. Felsot, Washington State University, "historical trends in dietary intake show that exposure to arsenic, cadmium and lead have decreased since the mid-1970's. Because dietary intake data are based on yearly repeated sampling of randomly collected food that is prepared at home, the downward trend in metal intake suggests that soil amendments have not had a measurable impact on residues in food nor on dietary intake."

What about "bad players"?
The vast majority of fertilizer manufacturers fall well below the proposed standards. The California Public Interest Research Group and the Environmental Working Group have highlighted only one product as being in violation of the proposed standards. If the regulations were approved, all manufacturers would be required to meet the standards or not be allowed to sell products in California.

Summary
According to the U.S. EPA, "fertilizer products do not pose a risk to human health or the environment." Research conducted by the California Department of Food and Agriculture and The Weinberg Group support this conclusion. Based on existing research, the proposed regulations for commercial, inorganic fertilizers in California protect both consumers, as well as the environment.

Regulations: Industry Supports Science, Not Fear
According to research conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and numerous studies by the University of California, Colorado State University and Washington State Department of Ecology, fertilizers are safe. Recent accusations by environmental interests, however, threaten to scrap proposed regulations that would protect human health and the environment and unjustly scare Californians. After nearly a decade of research, peer reviews and a facilitated rulemaking process that involved interested state agencies, and farm and environmental groups, CDFA drafted proposed regulations for fertilizer products sold in the state of California. The Environmental Working Group and the California Public Interest Research Group, both participants in the process, are now falsely stating that the regulations do not go far enough.

"According to the U.S. EPA, CDFA and a long list of interested parties, the proposed regulations for fertilizers in California would provide more than enough protection for consumers and the environment," said Jennifer Lombardi, director of communications, California Fertilizer Association. "We're pleased to have proposed regulations that are science-based and protect the public."

The proposed regulations are the result of a six-month facilitated rulemaking process that addressed the need for fertilizer regulations in California. Environmental, farm and state interests who participated in the process earlier this year looked at existing science on the level of heavy metals and the use of recycled materials in inorganic, commercial fertilizer products. After conducting a comprehensive research review, participants on the rulemaking committee voted in favor of basing fertilizer standards on a CDFA research report entitled "Risk-based Concentrations For Lead, Arsenic and Cadmium in Inorganic Commercial Fertilizers" (RA). Under the proposed regulations, manufacturers of commercial, inorganic fertilizers who sell products in California would be required to provide proof that their products did not exceed certain levels for lead, arsenic and cadmium. Manufacturers would also be required to document whether their products contained recycled materials. If a manufacturer did not meet the requirements, s/he would not be allowed to sell product in the state of California.

"The CDFA risk assessment provides the basis for regulations that protect the general public," added Lombardi. "After two peer reviews by researchers from the University of California the results were found to be scientifically solid." "We've always supported regulations that are based on science, not scare tactics," added Lombardi. "Research from U.S. EPA, CDFA and others has shown time and again that fertilizers are safe — quite frankly, the only thing that is toxic is the misinformation that is being utilized to scare consumers."

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Additional Contacts

Mr. Dan Woltering The Weinberg Group Environmental Consulting Firm (202) 833-8077

Dr. Terry Roberts Potash & Phosphate Institute of Canada (306) 652-3535

Dr. Lee Shull Consultant, Author, CDFA Risk Assessment Newfields (916) 374-9050

Dr. Allan S. Felsot Washington State University (509) 372-7365

Dr. Andrew Chang University of California, Riverside (714) 787-5325

Dr. Richard Burau University of California, Davis (530) 752-0194

Dr. Larry Bonczkowski Participant in the Facilitated Rulemaking Committee Agrium U.S. Inc. (303) 694-8800

Mr. Ron Phillips The Fertilizer Institute (202) 675-8250

Mr. Bob Krauter California Farm Bureau Federation (916) 561-5554

Mr. Oscar Hidalgo Public Affairs Officer California Department of Food and Agriculture (916) 654-0462

Mr. Steve Mauch Feed, Fertilizer & Livestock Division California Department of Food and Agriculture (916) 654-0792

 

 

 

 

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