The term organic fertilizer may summon up images of compost heaps and manure piles. However, the term simply refers to any fertilizer that occurs naturally. This means that many fertilizers are actually quite organic in nature. There are still risks, even with the most organic fertilizer available. Research has shown that three toxic organic compounds are being released by inorganic and organic fertilizers.
These compounds are dioxins, polychlorinated-dibenzo-p dioxins (PCDDs), and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs). These are toxic organic fertilizer compounds. Toxic, because they are poisonous, organic, because they occur in nature, and fertilizer compounds because they are released into the environment by fertilizers.
Where Do They Come From?
These toxic compounds are created when chlorine is present while certain items are burned. The EPA cites three of the major sources as coal burning, burning of treated wood, and application of sewage sludge.
The latter of these is why sewage sludge is presently banned from use on crops grown in the United States. Waste materials carry toxins that are ingested when eating. Each of these compounds is carried in so many food sources that the FDA recognizes that most Americans have some level of these toxic compounds in their system.
The use of inorganic fertilizer is not the sole source of these toxic organic fertilizer compounds. Despite inorganic fertilizers being created by man-made processes, both organic fertilizer and inorganic fertilizer are recognized as releasing dioxins into the environment. These dioxins are then absorbed by plants, which are eaten by animals, which are eaten by humans.
Like many environmental pollutants, the toxins are stored in the fatty tissues of animals and passed up the food chain, gaining concentration at each level. At the stronger levels of concentration, these toxins can cause birth defects, sterility, and cancer.
Pesticides and Dioxins
The use of pesticides is also connected to the release of dioxins into the environment. Investigations continue on the amount of pesticides needed when inorganic fertilizers are in use as opposed to organic fertilizers. Supporters of organic fertilizer use, such as compost, argue that the use of inorganic fertilizer compounds makes the use of pesticides necessary by drawing pests to plants treated with inorganic fertilizers and high levels of nitrogen. So far, research does support their claims, though it is suspected that this is because inorganic fertilizers have higher levels of nitrogen.
Whether you choose to set up a compost heap to fertilize your lawn and garden, or you choose to buy a bag of fertilizer at a local store, what you are handling is a material that is either in a state of decay or that is intended to decay and break down in the soil. The very process of decay creates wastes that can cause illness in humans. Because of this, all care should be used to avoid over-use of organic fertilizers and inorganic fertilizers. Fertilizers should also be stored safely when not in use to avoid contaminating the soil, air, and plant life around it.