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Q & A: radioactive waste in fertilizers?

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Most recent answer: 12/26/2013
Q:
http://www.nytimes.com/1987/11/16/us/converted-radioactive-waste-used-to-fertilize-in-oklahoma.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
A very serious question about the nature about our non-organic gmo foods. Is it possible that treated raffinate is still being used today by many non-organic farmers? Does it cause mutation? Would there be a coverup of these types of materials being used? Please be honest. If you really aren't sure I wouldn't mind being directed to the right source. Excuse me if I sound paranoid. I don't know the magnitude of the situation but my imagination has no problem filling in the gaps.
- DJ (age 24)
Kingston, NY, USA
A:

We don't know the answer. Here are some inconclusive general background thoughts:

0. The GMO issue is something entirely different from this issue of making fertilizer out of wastes. In my personal opinion the GMO issue is over-rated compared to all the other environmental issues we face.

1. We haven't found any information on whether the Ker-McGee program is still going on.

2. Radioactivity is rather easy to measure. The effects of medium-level radioactive exposure are fairly well known. The effects of low-level exposure are harder to pick out from background problems. So it's very hard to say exactly how small any such effects are, but they aren't large. (See )

3. Heavy metal exposure is also not good. (See e.g. ) It's unclear exactly how much of a problem that is in this case.

4. Both heavy metals and radioactivity can cause mutations. Whether that has anything to do with the anecdotes of mutations in the treated areas we don't know, since there is a background rate of mutations anyway.

5. It's not paranoid to think that a big company or other institution might lie to cover up harm that they've done. That happens all the time. However, it can also happen that people think there was harm when there wasn't. 

So we've been of no use except to assure you that your uncertainty is reasonable.

Mike W.

 


(published on 12/26/2013)

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