Saturday, September 4, 2010

No good deed, part 2: damage control

Damage control for gardeners and farmers affected by tainted compost is slow and labor intensive. They can dig up and dispose of (how??) all their contaminated soil, or they can wait a year, or two, or three, until the chemical biodegrades and is no longer active. Chemical testing is expensive, so the recommendation is a bioassay, which is a fancy term for planting some seedlings and seeing if they curl up and die.

Damage control for the industry takes a different form. Smit Compost's website makes absolutely no mention of the problem. However, the word from other sources is that he is working to "rebuild trust," which of course he'll have to in order to stay in business. Everything I've heard indicates this is a good guy who is now in a real bind. Some of the commercial growers with crop losses up to six figures may be coming after him for restitution at a time when his own sales have probably dropped off substantially.

Dow Chemical has a whole lot more experience with this kind of dilemma, and has perfected the trick of passing the buck while wearing an expression of deepest sympathy and concern. Check it out at:

a few highlights, show how the pros do it:

We're the good guys:
"Aminopyralid is also used to control invasive weeds and some brush that threaten our native plant communities and wildlife habitat."

It's not our fault:
"How could aminopyralid have gotten into the manure or compost I used?"

"The short answer is that it shouldn't have. Product labeling contains warnings and detailed instructions about the use of aminopyralid-containing herbicides. If these instructions are followed, aminopyralid residues should not reach your garden."

Note the careful use of "should." Well of course the stuff should not have reached our gardens. But this has zero to do with following application directions. The folks who sprayed it on Eastern Washington hayfields may or may not have followed instructions, but they aren't the ones who fed it to Whatcom County dairy cows. Unless that label says "be sure and tell anyone who buys your hay that they mustn't sell manure to a composter," and the hay farmer then labels every single bale, the stuff is going to get into our soil. It's another illustration of John Muir's quote: "Everything you pick up, you find the whole universe is attached."

Things will be fine in no time
"How long does it take for aminopyralid to break down?"

"Aminopyralid breaks down through the action of soil microorganisms over the growing season and in many cases dissipates by the following year. However, you can only be sure that the product has completely degraded to a level that won’t injure susceptible plants by conducting the bioassay method."

Once again, note the wording "in many cases dissipates by the following year." The implication is that we can take a summer off from that pesky weeding and harvesting and be good to go next year. Not so fast. To use the same syntax, the molecule does its damage at very low concentrations and in many cases does not dissipate within one or even two years.

No comments: