Something rotten in the compost pile

Are there toxins in your compost?

By definition, compost is organic. But what if the compost is fed with pesticide-tainted grass clippings? Or plastic bags or lead-paint chips have blown into the pile? According to a recent Mother Jones article, random tests of compost used in organic agriculture occasionally have turned up elevated levels of lead and traces of pesticides. Testing is mostly voluntary, with organizations like the Organic Materials Review Institute (independent reviews of organic farming products) and the U.S. Composting Council (voluntary accreditation) doing heavy-metal and pathogen testing (neither tests for pesticides).

While there are no federal laws requiring large-scale composting facilities—such as Recology—to screen their product for contaminants, there are some state laws addressing the matter. California, for one, requires tests at large facilities every month or so for heavy metals and pathogens. Despite fears, compost makers stress that the intense heat and microbial action in the compost process will break down most contaminants.

Backyard composters can protect their piles from airborne contaminants by using large, lidded plastic bins (available locally at Collier Hardware, 105 Broadway, 342-0195).

Source: “Are There Toxins in Your Compost?”—Mother Jones