Environmental Health News

What's Working

  • Garden Mosaics projects promote science education while connecting young and old people as they work together in local gardens.
  • Hope Meadows is a planned inter-generational community containing foster and adoptive parents, children, and senior citizens
  • In August 2002, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board voted to ban soft drinks from all of the district’s schools

#258 - Hazardous Waste Is Legally 'Recycled' Into Pesticides And Labeled 'Inert', 05-Nov-1991

Today fewer than 20 corporations own and operate better than 90% of all
the major newspapers, magazines, radio stations, book publishers, and
TV stations in America. If current trends hold, by the end of the
century as few as 10, or even 6, companies may own them all.[1]

An equally important trend is that news reporters now rely heavily on
public relations firms for stories. Not that the journalists themselves
like it that way. When 2432 journalists were given a list of animals
and asked to choose which is "most like a PR person," 71% said weasel,
11 percent said fox, 2 percent dog, and 1 percent worm.[2]
Nevertheless, 81% of journalists said they need PR people; 38% SAID
THEY GET HALF THEIR STORIES FROM THEM; 31% said they relied on PR
people for 5 to 10 stories a week; 15% said they relied on them for
more than 10 stories; 17 PERCENT SAID THEY USED PR PEOPLE FOR EVERY
STORY.

Local news reporters said they get only 15% of their stories from PR
people; editors of lifestyle pages put the figure at 60%, and among
entertainment editors, the figure is 75%. REPORTERS CREDIT PR PEOPLE AS
THE SOURCE FOR 90% OF ALL STORIES ON HEALTH. The environment, of
course, is part of the "health" beat.

Clearly the polluters are managing to manage the news. It is therefore
increasingly important for an aggressive, independent alternative press
to thrive and prosper. Publications ranging from E THE ENVIRONMENTAL
MAGAZINE to NACE NEWS, PAHLS JOURNAL, WASTE NOT and EVERYONE'S BACKYARD
provide news and information that never get considered by the
mainstream media--either because the big news organizations are owned
by polluters, or because the PR firms who "package" health and
environment stories are owned or influenced by polluters.[3]

In June of this year a first-rate alternative newspaper called GREEN
LINE in western North Carolina broke a story that is still echoing
across the land.[4] Reporter Andrea Helm discovered a loophole in
federal laws that allows hazardous chemical wastes to be included in
pesticides and labeled "inert ingredients." Yes, that's right--the
pesticides that your neighbor sprayed on his lawn (and probably on your
dog) may legally contain hazardous wastes, including many that are
carcinogenic, mutagenic, or teratogenic. And it's perfectly legal.

An "inert ingredient" in a pesticide is anything not registered as an
"active ingredient." The "active ingredient" is the poison. The purpose
of an "inert" is to preserve the active ingredient, make the active
ingredient easier to apply, or make the active ingredient work better.
For example, an "inert" might soften the skin of the target species,
making it easier for the poison to penetrate the body. Or an "inert"
might be an oily substance that prevents rain from washing the poison
away. A typical pesticide is 1% to 20% active ingredient (by weight)
and 80% to 99% "inerts."

The Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides recently
received from U.S. EPA's Office of Pesticides and Toxic Substances a
list of 2000 chemicals that have been approved for use as "inert"
ingredients in pesticides. The list includes such things as carbon
tetrachloride, toluene, xylene, cadmium and lead compounds.[5]

A little-known exemption in RCRA (the nation's basic hazardous waste
law) allows hazardous wastes to be "recycled" into pesticides as
"inert" ingredients.

It is interesting--and perhaps entirely coincidental--that the nation's
largest waste hauler--Waste Management, Inc.--started buying into the
pesticide business in the late 1980s. In 1987 Waste Management, Inc.
made an unsuccessful bid to buy Chemlawn. However WMI persisted and now
owns Trugreen in Alpharetta, GA, ABC Pest Control in San Antonio, TX,
Biltmore/Getz Pest Control, WM Pest Control of Oak Brook, IL, United
Pest Control of Washington, DC, and other lawn care and pest control
companies. Recently, WMI has reportedly consolidated many of its
pesticide companies into something called ServiceMaster Consumer
Services Limited Partnership, which is 20% owned by Waste Management,
Inc.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) press officer Al Hire told
reporter Andrea Helm that allowing recycled hazardous waste in
pesticides is "a way of disposing of hazardous materials." Two days
later, when Helm phoned to check the quotation, Hire changed it to "a
way of USING hazardous materials." Either way, there can be no doubt
that "recycling" hazardous waste into pesticides is a perfectly legal
and EPA-approved way of "using" hazardous wastes.

The Lake Michigan Federation (LMF)--a group of citizen activists with
offices in four cities--recently documented a case of "recycling" a
hazardous waste as an "inert" ingredient in pesticides.[6] A company
called Granulated Technologies (Grantech) in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is
buying toxic sludge from the Fort Howard Paper Company; Fort Howard
produces the sludge when it de-inks paper in its paper-recycling
process. (Yes, paper recycling is a toxic business if the paper is de-
inked and then bleached with chlorine.) Grantech heats and dries the
sludge to convert it into small pellets to be used as carriers for
agricultural pesticides and fertilizers, and perhaps also as kitty
litter. Because Grantech is recycling the toxic sludge, it escapes
regulation under RCRA, the nation's hazardous waste law.

LMF is publicizing EPA data on the chemical contents of the sludge. A
year's worth of the dried sludge contains 301 pounds of styrene, 287
pounds of 2,4,6-trichlorophenol, 1921 pounds of naphthalene, 5629
pounds of bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, 5814 pounds of chromium, 1643
pounds of lead, 33 pounds of mercury, 122 pounds of thallium, 278,897
pounds of zinc, and so on.

Other compounds identified in the sludge are 2,3,7,8-TCDD (the most
potent of the dioxins), 2,3,7,8-TCDF (a dibenzo furan) and a range of
chlorinated phenols, chlorinated catechols, chlorinated guaiacols, and
chlorinated benzaldehydes. Toxic soup.

This is not something you want to put on your garden, yet that is where
Grantech intends to put it, with the blessing of state and federal
environmental agencies.

Once again government is trying to "linguistically detoxify" hazardous
waste, this time by calling it "inert" because it is being "recycled."
From the viewpoint of public health and safety there is only one real
solution to this shell game: banning some chemicals (chlorine is a
prime candidate) and reducing the use of others in a phased, monitored
program of chemical control. In other words, pollution prevention.
These are realities the mainstream press is evidently unable to report.
Hats off to Andrea Helm and to GREEN LINE for breaking this important
story.

--Peter Montague

=====

[1] Ben H. Bagdikian, MEDIA MONOPOLY. THIRD EDITION (Boston: Beacon
Press, 1990).

[2] Associated Press, "Poll finds PR 'weasels' needed," ARKANSAS
DEMOCRAT, September 11, 1991, pg. 2D. The survey was done by Jericho
Promotions, a PR firm in New York City at (212) 260-3744; Jericho has
twice promised to send us the study free but has never actually sent
it.

[3] E THE ENVIRONMENTAL MAGAZINE is published by Earth Action Network,
P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06851. NACE NEWS is published by Native
Americans for a Clean Environment, P.O. Box 1617, Talequah, OK 74465.
PAHLS JOURNAL is published by People Against Hazardous Landfill Sites,
102 North Morgan, Valparaiso, IN 46383. WASTE NOT is published by Work
on Waste USA, 82 Judson Street, Canton, NY 13617. EVERYONE'S BACKYARD
is published by Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste, P.O. Box
6806, Falls Church, VA 22040.

[4] Andrea Helm, "EPA Waste Policy Threatens Health," GREEN LINE Vol. 4
No. 9 (June, 1991), pgs. 1, 16-18. [GREEN LINE, P.O. Box 144, Ashville,
NC 28802; (704) 251-1333.]

[5] For further information on hazardous chemicals used as "inerts" in
pesticides, contact Colehour Arden or Norma Grier at Northwest
Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP), P.O. Box 1393, Eugene,
OR 97440; phone (503) 344-5044. You will also want to know about NCAP's
publication, the JOURNAL OF PESTICIDE REFORM. See also Stephen Lester,
"Secret Ingredients in Pesticides: Toxic Waste," EVERYONE'S BACKYARD
Vol. 9, No. 5 (October, 1991), pgs. 7-8. And: Robert Abrams, THE SECRET
HAZARDS OF PESTICIDES (Albany, NY: NY State Department of Law, June,
1991). Available free from the Manhattan office of the New York State
Department of Law, 120 Broadway, NY, NY 10271; (212) 341-2070. And: Jay
Feldman, "Statement of Jay Feldman... Before the Subcommittee on Toxic
Substances, Environmental Oversight, Research and Development,
Committee on Environment and Public Works, U.S. Senate, May 9, 1991.
Available from National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, 701
E Street, SE, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20003; phone (202) 543-5450.

[6] For more information contact Rebecca Leighton, Lake Michigan
Federation, 1270 Main St., Green Bay, WI 54302; (414) 432-5253.

Descriptor terms: hazardous waste; pesticides; inert ingredients;
recycling; carcinogens; mutagens; teratogens; northwest coalition for
alternatives to pesticides; epa; office of pesticides and toxic
susbstances; carbon tetrachloride; toluene; xylene; cadmium; lead; wmi;
chemlawn; granulated technologies; grantech; green bay, wi; wi; fort
howard paper company; rcra; linguistic detoxification; bans; chlorine;