Contaminated Compost: Coming Soon to a Store Near You

| 9/4/2009 8:33:34 AM

Tags: compost, herbicides,

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

9/14/2009 12:24:04 PM

this is for jim taylor...hope you get this...i don't wanna sound like i know it all...but i drove truck for u.p.s. for 28 years...and got to know many gardenders in rural placer county...i too have clay soil...i found out is loaded with all the good minerals...and ammending it is the best garden soil ever...i bought my three acres in is what a rosaian, i delivered to, told me...usiing alfalfa hay would do the trick...and i did...i used sand and saw dust.... turned into the soil a foot and a half...layed about a three inch thick with alfalfa on the bed in the fall and turned it in early spring...some of it grows was a job...but well worth it...( if you use alfalfa is so hot it will kill your plants...this is only for a new ever the bale alfalfa was fine with what i still left in the bed...the soil is loamy and rich...hope you give your soild a try...regards,

9/12/2009 2:20:31 PM

Has anyone considered this contamination due to the 20 or so years of Chemtrails? What goes up must come down. Watch this stuff move around, high clouds getting lower and lower.

9/12/2009 10:51:21 AM

I, too, would like to know if running the compost through my red wriggler worm bins will solve this problem. I am receiving grass clippings, leaves & wood chips from our local municipality to make compost which I am planning to use in multiple worm bins in my greenhouse this winter. I plan to use the resulting vermicompost mixed with coir as potting soil to raise veggies, etc in the greenhouse. Does anyone know if the worms will be harmed or will solve the problem?

jim taylor_5
9/12/2009 8:24:12 AM

This article makes me wonder if the packaged manure is not the only problem. We have heavy clay soil so for the last couple years I have been experimenting with raised beds and container gardening. I made heavy use of packaged "Flower and Vegetable" mix from a name-brand supplier at a local home center. The first year all was problems and better yields than I expected. This year I repeated the process and even expanded my planting but was greatly disappointed. Everything (carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, beets) planted in this mixture either failed to germinate or produced a very weak plant that exhibited the symptoms you relate in the article. Thanks for the heads up.

sandy barringer
9/11/2009 11:27:58 PM

I had the same problem a couple years ago when I bought (at a big-box store) so-called "organic, cow manure". I have lived on a farm and done organic gardening and did my own composting of horse manure, so I have some experience with the process. With this compost, I got fantastic results and expected the same from this "organic, cow manure" It looked to have been composted, so it wasn't the raw stuff out of the stall. Imagine how shocked I was when I used it on some plants (fortunately not food plants) and nothing would grow, including weeds! It didn't take much to figure-out that this stuff is contaminated. (Weeds will usually grow in anything even when nothing else will.) I have not bought any since. The only place I will get manure for composting is from a certified, organic farm. Obviously, you can't trust even the organic label!

stephanie morrison
9/11/2009 9:43:37 PM

More and more negative effects from herbicides and pesticides are becoming known. Its hard to understand how some of the more obvious ones didn't deter their use to begin with. I'll have to admit that contamination in manure and even grass clippings in compost didn't occur to me. Fortunately, I produce most of my own compost from my pesticide/herbicide free home but I'll be very cautious should I need manure and compost from outside sources in the future. Can't wait till we're living in a society where these chemicals are completely out of use and just a part of history.

bob r
9/11/2009 8:32:44 PM

I have spoken to two county extension agents about gardening this year, and neither mentioned anything about this. I believe it could be the cause of symptoms I saw in my garden. Last year I thought I was doing a great thing for my garden when I went and got a couple of bushels of manure from someone with horses and alpacas. I put that manure in my compost last year and used it this spring. Many plants developed burned leaf margins after a few weeks of harvesting. Tomatoes and peppers started getting black streaks at stem end, and rotted. Hooray! The terrorists win!

9/11/2009 5:46:34 PM

I am so glad to finally know what has caused several of my new fruit trees such problems. I have been told by ag. extension and our organic nursery the trees do NOT have leaf curl, yet they don't know what the problem is. Thank you so much for getting the truth out to us. Now we have to act. I also appreciate the various solutions offered. I certainly won't turn to commercial organic compost (from a previously trusted source) or purchase 'organic' straw. Who knows now what organic means?!? I wonder if the big companies knew the impact these herbicides would have and did it anyway so it would undermine the small organic companies and put them out of business?

9/11/2009 3:55:15 PM

This story is appalling. One solution would be to check out the Middleider Gardening Method at Otherwise known as the poor man's hydroponics, it uses a mixure of sand and peat moss or the like, instead of soil.

9/11/2009 3:40:28 PM

We bought composted cow manure this spring to put on our garden to help build the soil in an effort to grow our food organically. We purchased it from Walmart. We bought a truck load to do the whole garden. It was packaged in bags and was a generic brand put out by Scotts. Our garden did not grow. In fact , I had started the seedlings indoors from heirloom seed and purchased a few other things from the nursery center in the spring. Everything that I planted was healthy and growing well until it got in the ground. I was at a loss as to what was killing my plants until I read the article you first published a couple of months ago concerning the contaminated manure and hay. We called the local agricultural agent and described what was happening to our crop and what we thought was the reason. We sent him your article by email. He contacted the state agency who sent out one of their agents who took samples of the garden soil, samples of the dying tomatoes and beans, samples of the composted manure from a bag we had left and packaged them all up like it was from a crime scene. The state agricultural agency is doing the testing of the samples free of charge. They are concerned. We will not get the results of the test back for another month. If you are experiencing the same problem contact your local and state agency. They are an arm of the EPA. We have to do something to stop these big businesses from polluting our soil.If the samples come back as contaminated from the manure, we will have the ammunition needed to take this to court and sue for damages. Not only have we lost the money we spent for the manure, but we have also lost a years worth of garden produce, wasted effort and water plus all income from the farmers market sales and it may go on for several more years before the soil can be used again.I am not sure how long it will be before I can say my food is organically grown. I personally am mad as hell. Somebody needs to pay for such irresponsible business pract

margaret lauterbach
9/11/2009 1:40:26 PM

I've been warning my readers about Clopyralid since 2002. It's apparently harmless to animals, but persists as an herbicide through their excrement, and if that is composted, it persists in compost for at least three years. Another herbicide from Dow Agrosciences is Picloram which persists through composting for over ten years!I think this product is mainly used in National Forests and Parks to control weeds such as yellow starthistle. Someone ought to hook up the Dow Agrosciences people with the Monsanto people who developed Terminator technology, and ask them to figure out a way to terminate the effectiveness of these herbicides. It mystifies me why they'd let this go to market like that. Want to get rid of weeds? Don't buy a product, just pick up horse poop from that weedless paddock. Now that you're onto this unstoppable herbicide, please also consider imidacloprid, a systemic insecticide that persists for a year. Once you start it and see bees dying, you can't stop it. Several companies are putting out this shrub and tree systemic whose pesticide flows throughout the systems of shrubs and trees, even to the flowers. Many European countries bar sale of neonicotinoids such as imidacloprid. The EPA should re-consider its use.

anita owen
9/11/2009 12:33:18 PM

Several years ago I imported compost, which I will never do again. I didn't need to guess, I knew what the contamination was caused by. Needless to say I didn't eat well that year. But there is good news folks. Get a copy of Paul Stamets book titled Mycelium Running. Or visit online The process is called Mycoremediation: the use of mycelium for decomposing toxic waste and pollutants. IT WORKS. Also, visit Countryside Naturals online, or call Kevin Fletcher 1-888-699-7088, for supplies to mix your own complete organic fertilizers (but stay away from bonemeal-use rock phophate) Your best bet is to buy in quantity for a greatly reduced shipping rate (per pallet) Gather friends in need & split the cost if necessary. I shipped in a 5 year supply and sealed individual ingredients in airtight containers. Now I can custom blend fertilizer when I need it. It is very sad to know there is very little we can trust.Never trust manure.Aside from the obvious Hormones, antibiotics, etc. passed thru cows, most horse farms have automatic spray insecticide systems to combat horse flies, and of course drench the manure. If you grow all the vegetable waste through red wiggler worm bins..or set aside a spot in the garden and bury it, the earthworms will turn it to gold. Hope this helps you all

9/11/2009 9:58:19 AM

This is my worst nightmare ! I smell a lawsuit - a Huge class-action laws suit. It boggles my mind that this stuff isn't yanked from the market. I have seen traces of it here and there in my own garden for the first time and just read about 100 farms down the valley that were all affected because of someone who was "trusted" selling compost at Farmers Market. As this article points out though, nothing can be trusted, this man had good intentions and they still aren't sure how it got in his stuff - there are people that want to punish him. A bit short-sighted if you ask me. They figure some of this ground is wrecked for years. The taint can come from beyond the "providence" of what we can establish. This is scary SCARY stuff folks ! we have to organize loudly and make ourselves heard. My one thought as to some possible remedy is heavy Biochar or charcoal amendments to badly corrupted soil. I wonder how composting worms will handle it ? mine are fine but like I said I have only a few small signs of it. Thanks for publishing this gruesome tale and I do hope you continue waving it around. People have to learn more about what they are doing when they buy that****. No more bags of lawn clippings for me, although I stayed away from the "perfect" yards.

leah mccoy
9/11/2009 9:07:27 AM

i also want to know how to take care of this sence i think this happened this season to my garden and i wanna fix it before next season.

9/8/2009 11:16:15 AM

i read this article and realized this is what had happened in a prior city i lived in where we'd built raised beds. i could not figure out why my plants were dying two seasons in a row...i'll bet this is what had happened... you did a good job naming signs and symptoms--but, in your article offered no solutions...what do you do when you realize that you probably have contaminated soil? dig it all out and take it somewhere? water and water and water?

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