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Nanomaterials in Fertilizer and Bio-Solids Could Harm Soil

PHOTO: CREDIT: Dwight Sipler
PHOTO: CREDIT: Dwight Sipler
April 30, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Nanomaterials added to farm fields with fertilizer could threaten soil health, public health, and the food supply, a new report concludes.

According to Dr. Steve Suppan, senior policy analyst with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, some fertilizers are now sold claiming to be more effective because they contain nanomaterials. In addition, Suppan said, nanomaterials are already in the sewage waste stream that's processed into so-called bio-solids.

"And the EPA says about 60 percent of these bio-solids are applied to U.S. agricultural land, and that would be equivalent to about 3.6 million tons of bio-solids, with an unknown amount of nanomaterials in them," the scientist declared.

Research has shown that nanomaterials can damage the digestive systems of earthworms and hamper the function of beneficial microbes, essential in maintaining soil health.

Laboratory testing has also found possible human health risks, and Suppan said that's why OSHA needs to develop a safety protocol for those working with nanomaterials in agriculture and other industries.

"Whether you're in the process of manufacturing nanomaterials or if you're taking them and incorporating them into semi-conductors or car bumpers, or what have you," that's the case, he said.

Suppan stated that the government should also require a registry, because right now the system is voluntary and it's unknown who's making nanomaterial, how much is being made, or for what purpose.

"They need a mandatory nanomaterial data submission rule," he said. "I just don't see any other way that they can figure out what the environmental state of nanomaterials is unless they compel submission from the industry."

A moratorium on fertilizing with bio-solids from sewage treatment plants near nanomaterial fabrication facilities has also been proposed to give researchers more time to study the effects.

More information is at

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN