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Persistent Herbicide In Compost Destroys UK Gardens – Can It Happen Here?

2224263396_6c6667faac_m1.jpgIn today’s Observer, Caroline Davies describes how this year British gardeners find their fruits and veggies are stunted, deformed, and dying. The culprit: Dow Chemical’s persistent herbicide aminopyralid sprayed on grazing land or fodder. The herbicide stayed in the plants the cattle ate, stayed in the cattle (and horse) poop, stayed in the compost produced from the poop, and came out the other end of the process all ready to kill food crops and home gardens.

Problems with the herbicide emerged late last year, when some commercial potato growers reported damaged crops.


[T]he herbicide has now entered the food chain. Those affected are demanding an investigation and a ban on the product. They say they have been given no definitive answer as to whether other produce on their gardens and allotments is safe to eat.

It appears that the contamination came from grass treated 12 months ago. Experts say the grass was probably made into silage, then fed to cattle during the winter months. The herbicide remained present in the silage, passed through the animal and into manure that was later sold. Horses fed on hay that had been treated could also be a channel.

It can’t happen here?

Well, the EPA has licensed aminopyralid in several products used in the US: Cleanwave, Milestone vm, Forefront r&p, and Milestone.

[Gotta love these names. Imagine being paid to come up with ’em. "What do you do?" "Well, I sit around and think up cute names for toxic molecules." ]

Anyway, Cleanwave is registered (approved) for use on wheat. Forefront is approved for use on rangeland (land where cattle graze). Milestone and Forefront are approved for use on — yep, you guessed it — pastures.

The same use that apparently blasted gardens all over Britain.

Bryn Pugh, legal consultant at the National Society of Allotments and Leisure Gardeners, said he was preparing claims for some members to seek financial compensation from the manure suppliers. But it was extremely difficult to trace the exact origins of each contaminated batch. ‘It seems to be everywhere. From what I know, it is endemic throughout England and Wales. We will be pressing the government to ban this product,’ he said.

Better living through chemistry?

Shirley Murray, 53, a retired management consultant with an allotment near Bushy Park in Hampton, south-west London, said several of her allotment neighbours had used the same manure bought from a stables and all were affected. ‘I am absolutely incensed at what has happened and find it scandalous that a weedkiller sprayed more than one year ago, that has passed through an animal’s gut, was kicked around on a stable floor, stored in a muck heap in a field, then on an allotment site and was finally dug into or mulched on to beds last winter is still killing "sensitive" crops and will continue to do so for the next year,’ she said.

‘It’s very toxic, it shouldn’t get into the food chain. You try to be as organic as you can and we have poisoned our food’.

Don’t use manure or compost with manure on your garden? Well, even if you only use the "green compost" from your local municipal compost program, you still can’t know if you’re bringing home the same aminopyralid that’s turning green and pleasant British gardens into blasted waste. The marvel of persistent chemicals means that anything sprayed on the community’s gardens and parks and fields and golf courses can end up in that community compost.

Just as anything we put through the municipal sewer systems — heavy metals, industrial chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, pharmaceuticals — ends up in the sewage sludge. The same sewage sludge the EPA magically declared "biosolids". You don’t put biosolids on your garden? You just use that nice safe commercial compost in the plastic bags from your local garden shop?

Gee — America’s sewage treatment industry thanks you. They paid a lot of lobbyists (and contributed to bribed a lot of pols) so you’d help them dispose of their toxic waste by spreading it on your garden.

Alaimo ordered the government to compensate dairy farmer Andy McElmurray because 1,730 acres he wanted to plant in corn and cotton to feed his herd was poisoned. The sludge contained levels of arsenic, toxic heavy metals and PCBs two to 2,500 times federal health standards.

Also, data endorsed by Agriculture and EPA officials about toxic heavy metals found in the free sludge provided by Augusta’s sewage treatment plant was "unreliable, incomplete, and in some cases, fudged," Alaimo wrote.


In his 45-page ruling, Alaimo said that along with using the questionable data, "senior EPA officials took extraordinary steps to quash scientific dissent, and any questioning of EPA’s biosolids program."

When you buy that bagged commercial compost at the garden store, the overwhelming likelihood is that you’re buying compost with "biosolids"…which is the EPA’s fancy name for municipal sewage sludge. The concentrated toxic waste left over after bacteria have transformed most of the poop in sewage. The toxic waste that contains the stuff the waste treatment bacteria don’t eat: industrial chemicals and herbicides and pesticides and heavy metals (including thallium) poured into municipal drains and sewers.

And the endocrine disruptors (hormone-like chemicals) the bacteria don’t eat.

Nancy Holt, a retired nurse from Mebane, N.C., is beset by mysterious neurological problems. She blames the cause of her illness on the multiple unknown toxicities of the sewage sludge that has been spread since 1991 on the fields across from her house as "fertilizer."


"And we have precocious puberty, little girls developing breasts at 5 or 6 years old, little boys developing armpit hair. And that is something that people don’t want to talk about," Holt says. "They will talk about their thyroid glands, their cancers, but they will not talk about early puberty. We are on a true toxic tilt."


In the Potomac River, 60 miles upstream from Washington, D.C., scientists have discovered many small-mouth male bass with eggs inside their sex organs. The cause of these "intersexed" fish is almost certainly endocrine disruptors — also known as estrogen mimickers — in the water, chemical pollutants that disrupt an animal’s natural hormonal system.

In February, the Washington Post reported that the concentration of intersexed fish is greatest near towns or near heavily farmed land. One major source of these endocrine disruptors is thought to be the post-treatment "cleaned" water from municipal sewage treatment centers that is discharged directly into the Potomac River system and runoff from fields "fertilized" with sludge.

With chemicals that last so long they’ll blast our gardens and our families, wouldn’t it make more sense to follow the precautionary principle and never release them into the world in the first place?


Turns out we can have even better living — and more of it — without corporate chemistry in our gardens and bodies.

Who could have anticipated?

[photo credit: H4NUM4N]

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Kirk Murphy

Kirk Murphy

terrestrial obligate aerobe with endoskeleton (bony) and bilateral symmetry.

chordate, bipedal, warm-blooded, mammalian, placental (origin), opposable thumbs.

not (yet) extinct.

indigenous habitat: California Live Oak.

current habitat: Central California Coast (most northerly aspect).... 'northwest of the new world, east of the sea'

potential habitats: all potential habitats critically endangered (due to global climate change).

ailurophilic - hence allergic rhinitic.