Maine Considers Action Against Chemicals In Fertilizer

From: Robina Suwol
Date: 21 Jan 2002
Time: 18:43:07
Remote Name:


January 18th 2002, 

A public hearing will be held to hear a bill that would "limit the amount of arsenic allowed in fertilizer sold in Maine." The bill, LD 1944, was proposed by Representative Scott Cowger of Hallowell and would set the allowable level of arsenic in fertilizers at 500 ppm. Ironite is one fertilizer product that would be affected if this bill were to come to fruition. In fact, it would be banned considering its current composition of 4380 ppm of arsenic, according to Washington State Department of Agriculture. 2910 ppm of lead was detected as well. Maine has tried to regulate the sale of Ironite in the past but to no avail. The state's Department of Environmental Protection had issued a Notice of Violation to Ironite for "distributing a waste-derived fertilizer without the required approvals." However, federal law provides an exemption that creates difficulties in regulation of Ironite. The manufacturers of Ironite claim that humans or plants cannot be affected by the arsenic and lead because these toxins are locked up within minerals in the fertilizer. Others have voiced concerns that acid rain will cause a breakdown of the minerals, unleashing the poisons into the environment. The potential damage is great. One disease that has been linked to arsenic is bladder cancer. Maine has the second highest death rate in the country from this disease.


Arsenic and lead in fertilizer, sold in Maine. A public hearing is scheduled for Friday, January 18th, 2002 to hear a bill put forth by Rep. Scott Cowger of Hallowell that would limit the amount of arsenic allowed in fertilizers sold in Maine. The bill, LD 1944, will effectively ban the sale of Ironite brand fertilizer in Maine. This is because, according to a Washington State Department of Agriculture analysis, Ironite contains 4380ppm of arsenic and 2910ppm of lead. Cowger's bill will set an allowable arsenic level of 500ppm for fertilizers sold in Maine. Ironite is made of tailings from an abandoned silver mine in Arizona, and is widely available at WalMart, Home Depot, etc. Athletic fields and golf courses are major users of Ironite, and its use on food crops is encouraged by the manufacturer. The Ironite company claims their product is safe, and that the arsenic and lead are locked up in minerals in the product and "unavailable for uptake by plants and humans." There is concern, however, that the acidic rains in New England could release the toxic metals from the product, accumulate the toxins in areas of repeated applications over time and create runoff problems. Maine has the second highest death rate in the country from bladder cancer, a disease that has been linked to arsenic. An exemption in federal law has made it difficult for states to regulate the sale of Ironite. The Maine DEP issued Ironite Products Company a Notice of Violation for distributing a waste-derived fertilizer without the required approvals. Maine DEP's negotiations with the Ironite company to regulate the sale of the material in Maine have been unsuccessful so far.


Rep. Scott Cowger can be reached by email at and by phone at 622-0655. LD 1944 "An Act to Restrict the Availability of Products with Excessive Levels of Arsenic" D=1944 A hearing for LD 1944 is scheduled for Fri Jan 18, 2002, 9:00 am, Room 437, State House. As You Sow: Toxic Waste in California Home and Farm Fertilizers (Report by California Public Interest Research Group and Environmental Working Group) Smelter Toxics Served at Dinner via Crop Fertilizers (Environment News Service article) Washington State Department of Agriculture analysis of Ironite Ironite Products Company website Maine has high rate of death from bladder cancer (Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel, 12/28/01) Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Bureau of Health, has said high levels of arsenic in Maine are a prime suspect in a recent bladder cancer study. Her phone number is 287-8016. Her email is David Wright, Residuals Unit, Solid Waste Division, Maine DEP, has been working on the Ironite issue. He can be reached at 207-287-7676 (phone), 207-287-7826 (fax), (email). Paula Clark of the DEP can also be contacted on this matter at 287-2651 or by email at The legal case involving Ironite's Notice of Violation is being handled by attorney Denny Harnish in the Maine Atorney General's Office. His phone number is 626-8580. Maine Environmental News, our awarding service that covers all environment related issues in Maine, can be accessed at Source url:

Last changed: September 15, 2006