Contaminated Compost: Coming Soon to a Store Near You


In Santa Rosa, Calif., the folks at Grab n’ Grow have been making compost and planting mixes for 25 years, using organic materials generated in Sonoma County. In 2002, the company detected residues of a potent herbicide called clopyralid in a batch of compost. The next year, Grab n’ Grow manager Don Liepold and his wife saw the herbicide’s trail of destruction in their raised bed organic garden — lettuce that refused to grow, curled and wilted peas, and stunted, gnarled tomato leaves. 

As we reported in July 2009, clopyralid and its close cousin, aminopyralid, easily persist, sometimes for YEARS!, in hay, manure and compost. When contaminated materials are used in food gardens, tomatoes, beans and other sensitive crops develop curled foliage that looks like a disease, if they grow at all.

Both herbicides are manufactured by DowAgrosciences, which seems to have no moral or ethical problem selling products which clearly are polluting the public compost stream. Meanwhile, aminopyralid pesticides have been pulled from shelves in the United Kingdom. Liepold, the Rachel Carson Council and MOTHER EARTH NEWS think the U.S. EPA should take the same action here.

“I have been testing  and detecting herbicide residues and thus rejecting cow manure, horse manure, turkey mulch, rice hulls, mushroom compost and yard trimmings,” says Grab n’ Grow manager Don Liepold. “I spent $20,000 in lab fees in 2008, and am on the same track for 2009,” he says.

It is extremely difficult to keep contaminated materials out of commercial compost. “One load of contaminated grass clipplings can ruin a batch of compost,” says Eric Philip of Anatek Labs in Moscow, Idaho. Philip has seen so many positive tests for clopyralid residues in compost that he would not use untested compost in his own garden.

“When folks have plants die in their home gardens, their first assumption is that they did something wrong,” Philip says. But with pyralid-laced commercial compost becoming more common, contaminated soil amendments are often to blame.

D Newton
7/12/2012 11:19:17 PM

One of the most effective products on the market for herbicide removal is activated charcoal. I have seen it sold on Amazon listed as "soil detox". It's inexpensive, easy to use, and will work equally well in soil, compost, manure or mulch.

9/21/2009 2:43:50 PM

I am having the same problems with compost purchased from the municipal composting facility. Thankfully, I only used it on my flower gardens not the food garden, but still.... One corner garden absolutely refuses to grow anything beyond scraggly cosmos, and all the herbs have died. I am curious how to get rid of it. "My" butterflies are suffering since they have limited nectar plants and no host plants this year. And I am so disappointed that a relatively low-cost source of compost is a problem and so no longer a source. Compost is hard to come by in the southwest since it is so arid.

Jeffrey Dickemann_1
9/14/2009 4:29:03 PM

I believe that the class action lawsuit proposed by one commentator is the way to go. For this to happen, all those who have experienced any monetary loss from these contaminants need to get together. Mother can facilitate this. Then you need to plan your lawsuit, hire a lawyer with environmental background, and raise funds to cover costs. I'm sure that other Motherites like myself, luckily unaffected, woulc be happy to donate,even if Mother herself cannot directly involve herself in the legal process. What say you? jeffrey

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