Say no to Ironite

This article was originally published in March 2005

(March 2005) — Public health and environmental advocates are asking some popular home and garden retailers to stop selling Ironite, a fertilizer that’s reported to be heavily contaminated with arsenic. Twenty-three groups including Earthworks™, WashPIRG and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy have signed letters asking Home Depot, Lowe’s and Target to put the safety of their consumers first.

Ironite is a popular fertilizer sold to green up lawns and plants in home gardens, golf courses and athletic fields. Data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows Ironite has — by a wide margin — the highest levels of arsenic of all fertilizer products surveyed. Ironite also contains lead. But neither ingredient is listed on the Ironite label. Both can build up in the soil.

According to the Washington State Department of Health, “accidental ingestion of less than half a teaspoon of Ironite may be toxic to small children.” Arsenic is a known carcinogen and even small amounts of lead can harm a child’s ability to learn. Children can be exposed to lead and arsenic through skin contact with the soil after lawns and gardens are fertilized or by ingesting fertilizer on fertilized soil.

Ironite is now suing one of the public health and environmental groups, the Washington Toxics Coalition based here in Seattle, for alleged damages from loss of sales.

Ironite is made from mining waste generated by the Iron King Mine in Arizona. Federal rules have exempted mining wastes from hazardous waste disposal requirements since 1986. This exemption allows mine wastes to be “recycled” into fertilizers, and because fertilizer producers are required only to list nutrients on the labels of their products, gardeners aren’t informed about potentially hazardous ingredients.

When you want to spruce up your lawn, first build good soil. Compost is the best general soil conditioner. PCC will be stocking quality compost this spring. Choose an organic or slow-release fertilizer; a 3-1-2 (or multiple such as 6-2-4) analysis is generally recommended for our region.

Above all, avoid “weed and feed” products that contain weed killers such as 2,4-D, a pesticide that contaminates local streams. Leave grass clippings on the lawn to provide nutrients and reduce the need for fertilizer.

To learn more about mining waste being recycled into fertilizer, visit the Web sites of the Washington Toxics Coalition ( or Earthworks ( Use the search engine for “Ironite fertilizer” to locate letters that may be sent to retailers selling Ironite.

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