The basis for Duff Wilson's Fateful Harvest was formed from his Pulitzer Prize nominated series "Fear in the Fields--How Hazardous Wastes Become Fertilizer". Arsenic, cadmium, lead and beryllium are industrial by-products so toxic it is illegal to dump them into the air or water. Yet, through a loophole in "the crazy semantics of waste disposal", these same hazardous wastes are being applied to the food we eat. And until a small-town mayor from a farming community in Washington state became suspicious, nobody knew. Mayor Patty Martin is a whistle blower as extraordinary as Karen Silkwood and Erin Brockovich--smart, persistent and courageous and overwhelmingly dedicated to her cause even when the town that elected her turned against her. Martin's obsession with hazardous waste in fertilizer began when she met Dennis DeYoung, a local farmer whose land was rendered infertile after the Cenex/Land o' Lakes company paid him to spread the residue from their fertiliser rinse pond on his land. But there was more than fertiliser residue there--it was a witch's brew of hazardous metals, cancer-causing chemicals and even radioactive materials that hadn't been produced by the company itself. DeYoung and Martin wanted to know how they got there and why.
While the articles prompted a modicum of action in Washington state and elsewhere, complacency allows the practice to continue even now. Expanded into book form, this impassioned expose about an alarming trend takes on even more power as Wilson and Martin ask questions the Environmental Protection Agency has been unwilling to answer: Why should there be a limit on the amount of lead in paint and dioxin in cement but not in the fertiliser spread over farmlands and gardens? And is there a correlation between the widespread use of toxins in fertilisers and the phenomenal rise in childhood illnesses and cancers since the early 1980s? --Lesley Reed
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