Food is a Four Letter Word

February 20, 2009

It was encouraging to see this blog appear from a Seattle reporter. It’s about Patty Martin, a crusader against toxic fertilizer, and the consequences she has endured as a result of taking on one of agribusiness’ dirtiest secrets. Routinely, as Martin explained to now Times reporter Duff Wilson, fertilizer companies dump toxic waste into their products. This waste comes from industry–coal, steel, film processing equipment, you name it–and the EPA deems it legitimate recycling material because it contains an element or mineral potentially beneficial to plant growth. What’s overlooked is the fact that it also contains high concentrations of dangerous heavy metals. In private correspondence with Martin, I have learned that rates of arsenic in US soil have risen dramatically since the 1980s, when this harmful and shameful practice began.    

Secret Ingredients
Small town never forgets or forgives former mayor’s crusade to protect food and farmers from toxic material.

If there were a poster child for the overused saying that “no good deeds go unpunished,” it would be Patty Martin.

Chuck Allen, a reporter for the Quincy Valley Post Register, wrote a story today about the Quincy City Council unanimously tdefeating the appointment of former mayor Martin as the city recreation director.

You’ve got to read Allen’s story to see why this is so absurd.

Regrading the vote, Martin told the reporter that, “I’m sorry I’m such a threat. It wasn’t about whether or not I could do the job. It’s about making sure a person who stood up to do the right thing and against something that was illegal doesn’t have a voice.”

It was a decade ago that Martin, then the mayor of Quincy, Washington, a 2-square-mile town about 160 miles east of Seattle, took on the agri-chemical industry. 
She was worried about the harm to consumers and farm workers that might come from the very common practice of using industrial waste as fertilizer on the potatoes, apples, wheat, corn and vegetables produced on the hundreds of thousand of irrigated areas in the Quincy Valley.

She and some concerned farmers found that there was illegal dumping of hazardous waste, which, because of bizarre EPA rules magically became “safe” when it was called fertilizer.

Many local farmers hated her. Major agricultural chemical companies expressed evil wishes about her well being. Her enemies included global corporations feared her crusade would somehow get the attention of the outside world and USDA and EPA might crack down on the dangerous practice.

Restraint and subtly were unheard of in the assaults on her and her farmers.

Duff Wilson, one of the nation’s best investigative reporters, worked for the Seattle Times when he learned of the mayor’s battle. For months he chased the story and did a fantastic job of documenting the toxic dangers and corporate and government shenanigans surrounding this public health atrocity. He was a finalist for Pulitzer Prize for public servive for his work.Picture

Wilson’s 2001 book, Fateful Harvest, gets to the heart of an environmental crime that continues today, albeit somewhat better hidden.

I covered hearings and public meetings where policy makers in EPA headquarters used Martin’s findings and Wilson’s work to try to halt the toxic waste shell game. However, the Bush White House, buckled to the agri-chemcial lobby and ordered the OMB to stifle the new regulations.

Today, Wilson, who is doing his reporting magic for the New York Times, told me that Martin “helped expose and reform” the dangerous practice.

“As a result of her calling this to public attention when she was mayor of Quincy eight years ago, many states reformed their fertilizer rules and set limits on these so-called toxic tag-alongs in fertilizer,” Wilson wrote me in an email.

“It’s sad for me to see that (she) continues to suffer retaliation in her hometown for trying to make fertilizer, farming and food safer.”

For more of the story on what Martin did and Wilson wrote, check out this link and ask how much of this is still happening.


Posted by Andrew Schneider at February 19, 2009 6:13 p.m.

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