Composting Might Not Be So Green Afterall

by Christopher Paul on June 6, 2011

Farmers and the USDA are not sure how to handle composts that might have chemicals in them – normally negating the organic qualifications they normally adhere to. It turns out, grass clippings and other materials – treated in some pest- or herbicide – might leach those chemicals into the compost which doesn’t always breakdown during the composting process.

“Pesticide-laced compost has presented a quandary for the USDA’s National Organic Program ever since California regulators traced residues of dichlorophenyl-dichloroethylene, a breakdown product of DDT, and bifenthrin, an ant killer, to compost in pots of organic wheatgrass in Northern California grocery stores (the levels were not high enough to make anyone sick). DDT was banned for most uses in the early ’70s and bifenthrin is classified as a possible human carcinogen and is highly toxic to fish. The NOP initially proposed setting a strict upper limit for bifenthrin levels in compost but abandoned the idea when wider tests revealed that many brands of commercial compost wouldn’t pass. Regulators ultimately decided to allow any level of contamination in compost so long as “residual pesticide levels do not contribute to the contamination of crops, soil, or water.””

So in other words, even organic foods might still have some small amount of cancerous chemicals in them thanks to the compost used as fertilizer. Testing laws vary by state. California seems to have the most stringent testing laws while Texas (surprise, surprise) says no testing is needed at all.

Of course, the issue could be overblown and not important in the greater scheme of things as most chemicals are broken down during the composting process, according to the compost makers quoted in MJ.

It’s not going to stop me from buying organic at all. In fact, it’s going to only reenforce the idea that organic is the way to go… because if we’re so worried about trace amounts of these things in our organic food, we should exponentially concerned about the chemicals that make it into conventional and processed foods.

Are There Toxins in Your Compost? – Mother Jones

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