Fateful Harvest: The True Story of a Small Town, a Global Industry, and a Toxic Secret

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9780060193690: Fateful Harvest: The True Story of a Small Town, a Global Industry, and a Toxic Secret

Quincy, Washington, had been a sleepy northwestern farming town until its rest is disturbed by a shocking secret beneath its once-fertile fields: chemical manufacturers are disposing of leftover toxic waste by selling it to unsuspecting farmers as fertilizer. The tainted fertilizer -- containing arsenic and cadmium, lead and dioxins-is believed to be destroying crops, sickening animals, and endangering the nation's food supply. And owing to a gaping regulatory loophole, it is completely legal.

Up against the secrecy and greed of powerful corporations, a local lifelong tomboy and mother of four will make an impassioned stand. Patty Martin begins a fateful journey that will lead to her election as mayor, but also invite the resentment of most of her neighbors for daring to confront the industry that has been Quincy's lifeblood. Martin is joined by a small number of brave farmers who bring ingenuity, outrage, and an investigative reporter to the fight against seemingly insurmountable odds to expose the truth. They learn that toxic waste is turned into fertilizer around the world, spread on food-growing land, absorbed by plants, and, ultimately, consumed by all of us.

Duff Wilson, whose Seattle Times series on this story was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, here provides the definitive account of a new and alarming environmental scandal. Fateful Harvest is a gripping study of corruption and courage, of recklessness and reckoning. It is a story that speaks to the greatest fears -- and ultimate hope -- in us all.

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Review:

Arsenic, cadmium, lead, beryllium: industrial byproducts 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 whistleblower as extraordinary as Karen Silkwood and Erin Brockovich--smart, persistent, 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 fertilizer rinse pond on his land. But there was more than fertilizer residue there--it was a witches' 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.

Duff Wilson, an investigative journalist for the Seattle Times, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his series "Fear in the Fields--How Hazardous Wastes Become Fertilizer," which formed the basis of this book. 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 exposé about an alarming trend takes on even more power as Wilson and Martin ask questions the EPA 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 fertilizer spread over farmlands and gardens? And is there a correlation between the widespread use of toxins in fertilizers and the phenomenal rise in childhood illnesses and cancers since the early 1980s? --Lesley Reed

About the Author:

Duff Wilson is a reporter at the Seattle Times. His work has been awarded a Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting from Harvard University and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. He lives near Seattle with his wife and two children.

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