The substance is a synthetic form of the mineral gypsum, and it also contains mercury, arsenic, lead and other heavy metals.
The material is produced by power plant "scrubbers" that remove acid-rain-causing sulfur dioxide from plant emissions.
The Environmental Protection Agency says those toxic metals occur in only tiny amounts. But some environmentalists say too little is known about how the material affects crops, and ultimately human health.
As you may know, coal-fired plants produce about 50 percent of the power in the US, and are a major source of environmental pollution. One of its byproducts is FGD gypsum (flue gas desulfurization gypsum). Not surprisingly, the standard solution is to develop a scheme to sweep the problem under the rug and make money doing it.
In this case, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has begun promoting what they call “wastes beneficial uses,” in order to deal with industrial byproducts.
This is history repeating itself ad nauseum.
The plot to use of FGD gypsum on agricultural soils is virtually identical to the story of how the toxic byproduct fluoride was deemed beneficial to human health, once it became too costly for the aluminum industry to clean it up.
Ironically, while the EPA and USDA are recommending the use of this toxic byproduct on fields, the Obama administration is also in the process of drafting the first federal standards for storage and disposal of coal wastes. The White House and the EPA are currently at odds over how to handle the more than 125 million tons of coal ash and sludge waste generated each year, reports the Wall Street Journal.
According to the Associated Press, this action was prompted by a spill from a coal ash pond near Knoxville, TN, just over a year ago. Ash and water flooded 300 acres, damaging homes and killing fish. The cleanup will cost an estimated $1 billion.
It’s logically challenging to accept that while an accidental coal waste spill is environmentally devastating, the willful spreading coal waste on farm lands, year after year, would be environmentally sound.
Granted, the combined contents of the spill was likely far more toxic than FGD gypsum alone, but we’re still talking about adding toxins to our farm lands, and no matter how minute these toxins are, they will eventually accumulate.
Why would we want to do this to ourselves, and to our future generations?
Where Else Can You Find This Toxic Byproduct?
By the way, the use of FGD gypsum on farm fields is not brand new. According to the American Coal Ash Association, farmers' use of the material has more than tripled in the past 6 years, from about 78,000 tons spread on fields in 2002, to nearly 279,000 tons in 2008.
However, the overall annual production of this byproduct is expected to double in the next several years, as more coal-fired plants come online and as more scrubbers are added to existing power plants to comply with the EPA’s Clean Air Interstate Rule and other requirements. This means, the problem of what to do with all that waste will grow significantly.
About half of the nearly 18 million tons of FGD gypsum produced in the US in 2008 was put to “beneficial use” in the manufacturing of drywall. However, did you know that this potentially heavy metal-laced byproduct is also used as a filler ingredient in some foods and in toothpaste?!
Yet another reason to avoid processed foods. Much of it is not even food-based!
There’s no question that the push for FGD gypsum in farming is orchestrated by the industry producing the waste – as a solution that is convenient and profit-producing for them. I doubt it has ANY real benefits to human health.
Consider this 2007 National Network for Use of FGD Gypsum in Agriculture workshop, led by the Electric Power Research Institute, whose sole objective is to “increase the use of FGD gypsum in agricultural applications.”
The electric power industry hard at work to improve the quality of your food?
I think not.
Because as reported by the Wall Street Journal, the Electric Power Research Institute has also stated that utilities could lose $5 billion to $10 billion of revenue each year if they were no longer allowed to sell coal combustion byproducts to industry. Furthermore, the organization says added storage costs could be a burden on power plants, especially those operating in deregulated markets, where they must compete against other forms of non-coal power generation.
What Can You Do?
There does not appear to be any kind of grassroots movement to stop this practice. Or if there is, I’ve not been able to find it. However, there is one thing I’d encourage you to do, and that is to bring your concerns about the agricultural use of FGD gypsum to the attention of organic growers everywhere.
Because it appears use of FGD gypsum may have trickled into organic farming as well, since it’s not considered a petroleum-based soil additive, which is forbidden in organic farming.
One of the significant benefits of buying locally-grown, organic food is that you can oftentimes meet the growers face to face. You can ask questions about their growing practices and discuss your personal concerns with them directly. And that is a dialogue I believe must be revived.
We’ve become so far removed from our food sources, most people have no idea what they’re putting in their mouths anymore. Approaching your local farmers and opening up a dialogue might be the most important thing any one of us could do.