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U.S. government wants farmers to spread toxic powder from coal plant scrubbers on their food crop fields

Friday, February 19, 2010 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: food crops, fertilizer, health news

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(NaturalNews) The federal government is pushing farmers to use a toxic byproduct of the coal burning industry to fertilize and loosen the soil in their crop fields. Initiated under the Bush administration as a beneficial use for the substance, efforts by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continue to advocate for the widespread use of synthetic gypsum in agriculture.

Called flue gas desulfurization gypsum, or FGD gypsum, this synthetic powder is produced by coal plant "scrubbers" that remove sulfur dioxide from plant emissions. Sulfur dioxide is the chemical that causes acid rain to occur. FGD gypsum is a white, powdery substance that some believe will help to enrich crop field soil.

The current administration has been pushing for the agricultural use of FGD gypsum despite the fact that it is known to contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic. According to the EPA, the mercury contained in FGD gypsum does not affect plants and runoff into water supplies at "significant" levels. As far as the other heavy metals are concerned, the EPA is holding to the mantra that the levels are minute, contending that using in in crop fields is perfectly safe.

Last year, a coal ash pond just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee, spilled, flooding about 300 acres of land with ash and killing many fish in the area. The spill damaged many homes as well and cleanup costs are expected to be upwards of $1 billion. This catastrophe has prompted the EPA to draft regulations on how to handle toxic coal waste safely.

The EPA would not comment, however, about its support for FGD gypsum in agricultural use in light of the spill and the damage it caused. If the waste from coal plants is toxic and must be dealt with in a manner that keeps it contained, many are wondering why the EPA would promote the same waste for use on crops.

In 2001, the USDA partnered with the EPA to promote FGD gypsum use. Since that time, the amount of the substance used by farmers on their fields has triple. According to the American Coal Ash Association (ACAA), nearly 280,000 tons of the byproduct was spread on fields last year.

Thomas Adams, executive director of the ACAA indicated that almost nine million tons of the roughly 18 million tons of FGD gypsum produced last year was used to make drywall. He believes that finding new ways to recycle the substance is preferable to dumping it in landfills.

Sources for this story include: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content...

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