Dangerous Fertilizer Chemicals to be Aware of

Blue fertilizer in brown paper bag.

Fertilizer is good for your plants, but maybe not so good for the environment. If you're not using organic fertilizer, the chemicals used may be harmful to your family and pets, as well as to the surrounding environment.

TIP: Children and pets should never be exposed to inorganic fertilizers. Keep them off of the lawn for at least 24 hours after fertilization and make sure to rinse fertilizer from sidewalks or paths.

Why So Dangerous?

Inorganic, manufactured fertilizers contain various levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (also known as N-P-K fertilizers). This type of fertilizer is known to increase growth potential in homegrown gardens and farms, and has been the most popular form for years. Some studies have found that many of the manufactured fertilizers contain high levels of hazardous waste as a result of production. This toxic waste may include traceable levels of heavy metals such as cadmium, zinc, and even arsenic. Checking the labels of your fertilizers for these ingredients is always a good practice. However, due to certain laws, fertilizer companies are only required to list active ingredients. Most of the trace metals are technically only inert ingredients and do not need to be listed.

TIP: Also, labels are not required to indicate whether or not the fertilizer has been tested to meet federal land disposal standards. Inaccurate labeling means that consumers cannot make informed decisions concerning inorganic fertilizers.

Commercial fertilizers also have the dangerous potential of polluting runoff and contaminating bodies of water. High concentrations of nitrogen-based fertilizers have been known to contaminate groundwater wells and drinking water. Also, polluted runoff will eventually meet up with a major body of water and can be very dangerous for the environment. Contaminated water is responsible for killing fish, birds, and other wildlife as well as making their home inhospitable.

Common Nonorganic Fertilizers

There are four particularly common chemical fertilizers that are all considered N-P-K fertilizers.

  • Anydrous ammonia: Contains 82 percent nitrogen
  • Urea: Contains 46 percent nitrogen gas
  • Superphosphate: Contains nitrogen and phosphate
  • Diammonium phosphate: 18 percent nitrogen, 46 percent phosphate

Organic Fertilizer Benefits

Besides avoiding the dangers listed above, using organic fertilizers has distinct advantages. While commercial fertilizers add important nutrients to boost plant health, they totally lack some minerals that are also important for your garden. These trace nutrients are never added to the soil when using commercial fertilizers, and so your soil slowly becomes depleted of these and ends up very unhealthy. Organic fertilizer is well-rounded and packed with not only key minerals but also microorganisms that process your soil into rich matter. Instead of high levels of only three nutrients, you have natural levels of all nutrients in the spectrum, over time making your garden soil a breeding ground for healthy growth.

The reason inorganic fertilizers are still in high use despite the health advantages of organic fertilizers is that, in the short term, they are simply more efficient in fertilizing plants. If you plan to use these or any other N-P-K fertilizers, be sure to wear appropriate eye and hand protection, and use a breathing mask for safety. Always read the label and apply according to instructions.