Kirkus Star


The True Story of a Small Town, a Global Industry, and a Toxic Secret
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Have some lead with your french fries? Seattle Times reporter Wilson delivers a crackerjack investigative report on the toxic wastes in the fertilizer that helps grow the food on your table.

This story centers around the small town of Quincy, Washington, where fertilizer heavily laced with toxic sludge was thought to be destroying cropland and sickening animals. A little research, spearheaded by the town’s (soon to be ex-) mayor discovered absurd quantities of such heavy metals as cadmium, beryllium, arsenic, and chromium, for starters, in the soil where the fertilizer had been applied. Attempting to protest, they soon learned a bitter truth: It’s legal to dump toxic waste in such fashion, just as it is to add it to road de-icers. They also earned the ire of the local recyclers of hazardous waste, the fertilizer industry, and the chemical industry. The mayor got in touch with Wilson. “It would not be inaccurate to call me a muckraker,” he admits, and he’s a damn good one, too. Wilson shows how loopholes in the law, a blind eye from such regulatory bodies as the EPA, and a fierce desire by those with toxic waste on their hands to save a buck has resulted in heavy metals entering the food chain all across the country. Call it a soil amendment, and you can recycle arsenic, waste oils, acid, flue dust, pesticides, solvents, and zinc dross with a touch of nitrogen and call it fertilizer. They have even mixed radioactive wastes into fertilizer. Industry and government will not take action until there has been a proven link between the fertilizer and disease; readers can only hope that this investigation will help spur that research and make the connection impossible to ignore.

An appalling story of industry abuse and regulatory stupidity (and that’s the generous reading).

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 2001
ISBN: 0-06-019369-7
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2001