Health Effects of Synthetic Fertilizer



Synthetic fertilizers can seriously deplete the nutritional content of foods, and direct contact or exposure to synthetic chemical fertilizers can kill infants or cause health problems in many adults. Studies show exposure to artificial lawn chemicals to an increased risk of cancer and other health problems in pets. Remember this the next time you pick up a bag at our local hardware store.


Also, if you have any type of urinary, kidney, or liver health difficulties, you should especially avoid any type of exposure. The adverse effects of synthetic chemical fertilizers are often underplayed and ignored despite their damage being far reaching. Synthetic fertilizers can cause a vast array of symptoms, some immediate, some signs showing up later, some effects on people and animals are direct, and some effects are indirect.


Children who live in homes that use pesticides and/or synthetic fertilizers on their lawn have over six times a greater rate of leukemia. Groundskeepers at golf clubs, and golfers themselves suffer from a long list of health problems related to landscapers' toxic chemicals, the most common being non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. SOURCE: American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 29(5):501-506, 1996

Working as a Golf Course Superintendent has been found to significantly increase the risk of dying of  four cancer types including - brain cancer, lymphoma (non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, NHL), prostate and large intestine cancer. A study was conducted of 686 deceased members of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America from all U.S. states who died between 1970 and 1992.  Brain cancer rates for the Superintendents was found to occur at over twice the national average, while non-Hodgkin's lymphoma also occurred at over twice the national average.  Prostate cancer occurred at nearly 3 times the national average and large intestinal cancer occurred at 1.75 times the national average.  The researchers stated that a similar pattern of elevated NHL, brain and prostate cancer mortality along with excess deaths from diseases of the nervous system has been noted previously among other occupational groups exposed to pesticides.

Drs. Kross, B.C., Burneister, L.F., Ogilvie, L.K., Fuortes, L.J.,
Department of Preventive Medicine Health, University of Iowa SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, 86(9): 1289-96, 1996


Living closer than 2600 feet to an agriculture area has been found to increase the risk for developing brain cancer.   This 1996 research project studied cancer rates among over 600 people.   Brain cancer overall showed a twofold increase risk for people living within the 2600 foot distance.  An astounding 6.7 fold increased risk was found for the brain cancer type known as astrocytoma for people living within 2600 feet from an agriculture area.  For more information on brain cancer and neuroblastoma see: brain cancer research summaries - neuroblastoma research summaries

Drs. A. Aschengrau, D. Ozonoff, P.Coogan, R. Vezina, T. Heeren
Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics
Boston University School of Public Health


What most do not realize is that it does not have to be ingested. Most of the damage for synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides comes from what is absorbed through the skin. Keep children and pets away from any area that has been freshly treated. It will get on the clothes and fur and then all through your house.


Synthetic fertilizers boosted food production and increased people's health and wellbeing for a short number of years. Then came a rapid decline because the problems created by the use of synthetic fertilizers outnumbered their benefits (Townsend et al. 2003).


The National Research Council states that 6 out of the top 7 and 9 out of the top 15 foods with oncongenic (cancer causing) risk are produced from food containing high amounts of nitrates from fertilizers and pesticides. A twelve year study showed that foods grown using chemicals had 16 times the amount of nitrate, which is a carcinogen, than organically grown ones.


Doctor’s Data Analytical Laboratories found higher amounts of aluminum, cadmium, lead and mercury in foods grown with synthetics next to organic products.


It was found that vitamin C content in crops grown with synthetic fertilizers were less than those grown organically.


In the U.S. there are three hyphenated numbers (for example: 15-5-10) on the front label of fertilizer bags representing the percentage of each element by weight in the bag. The elements represented are N (nitrogen), P (phosphorus), and K (potassium). The "15-5-10" means: 15% of the bags weight contains nitrogen, 5% of the bags weight contains phosphorous, and 10% of the bags weight contains potassium.


You will notice in the above example that 15-5-10 add up to a total of 30% of the weight of the bag. What is in the other 70%? It is not disclosed, it does not have to be revealed. It can be just about anything...including, and often, industrial waste. Many people are skeptical that toxic residues from industry would be used to fill up the majority of a bag of fertilizer. Believe it!  


An independent research group tested fertilizers from only 12 states for 22 toxic heavy metals and found that these fertilizers contained high levels of these toxic substances. Of the 29 fertilizers tested, some were major and popular brands. Lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, barium, chromium, nickel, beryllium, dioxin, etc. can be pretty potent stuff.

( )


Over a five year period 270 million pounds of toxic waste was sent to fertilizer companies and farms according to reports from 44 different states. Regulatory agencies are extremely strict if industry wishes to dispose of toxic waste in lined landfills. However, regulations are relatively lax if they transfer the waste or resale it. In other words, the simplest method of getting rid of toxic waste is just to resale it. So, unwittingly we become the consumers who purchase toxic waste to dump on our yards and parks and food crops.


Conventional agriculture is a big culprit in taking all kinds of industrial waste, sludge, and/or sewage sludge and dumping it onto fields as fertilization. To give you an idea of how nutty this can be, look at a relatively safe fertilizer: manure (when it is composted). Conventional farmers are not required to delay harvesting after applying fresh manure. Organic farmers must wait 90-120 days between application of raw manure and the harvest of any organic crop that may be eaten raw, this allows the fresh manure time to compost and thus, prevent the spread of any potentially dangerous bacteria. From talking with different farmers and ranchers, I was amazed at how gross the dumping of masses of chemicals onto fields really was.


High nitrogen levels in private wells used as potable water have one of the higher rates of a condition called Methemoglobinemia, aka Blue Baby Syndrome, which damages blood cells and is traced to high Nitrates.


Ammonium nitrate (NH3NO3): Ammonia, a base, is extremely toxic to humans. It has a sharp penetrating odor. Nitric acid is mixed with ammonia to form a salt, ammonium nitrate. Ammonium nitrate can easily have reactions if exposed to a variety of metals (e.g. iron, zinc, copper), acids, alkalis, solvents, oil, grease, etc. You will notice that bags of fertilizer are often plastic coated and sealed in order to keep contaminants out and gases in.  Introduce heat to fertilizer and there will be further instability. The release of toxic fumes is one of the main hazards associated with the decomposition of Ammonium nitrate. Exposure to ammonium nitrate can cause eye and skin irritation and burns. Inhalation exposure can result in irritation of the nose, throat, and lungs. One can also experience nausea, vomiting, flushing of the face and neck, headache, nervousness, uncontrolled muscle movements, faintness and collapse. Because ammonia or nitrates combine rapidly with water, feeling dehydrated is common. Lips will become dry. The next time you handle or are exposed to chemical fertilizer, you will probably notice some of these symptoms. Because the accumulation of ammonia in the body can quickly lead to death, the urea cycle in humans is extremely important.


Nitrate is converted to a very toxic substance (nitrite) within the digestive systems of human infants and also different livestock and poultry and birds. During the first few months of an infants life or in some baby animals or in some adult animals there exists a bacteria in the stomach that changes the nitrate to nitrite. Nitrite is extremely toxic and reacts with the hemoglobin in the blood to cut out the oxygen supply. It does not take a whole lot of substance to start producing toxic reactions. A baby will suffocate if not given immediate medical attention after exposure to enough nitrate. Signs are parts of the body turning blue or the blood turning chocolate brown.   Pregnant mothers should also dramatically avoid fertilizers. Also, you certainly would not want to expose any of your young pets (or some adult species) to fertilizer. As a baby gets older, the hydrochloric acid in the stomach kills off the bacteria responsible for the changes from nitrate to nitrite.


Nitrogen is an essential constituent of proteins. In humans, when our proteins (amino acids) breakdown, the nitrogen waste from the protein turns to ammonia (NH3). Ammonia is very, very toxic, but the liver along with other body functions quickly convert the ammonia into a less toxic substance, urea [(NH2)2CO]. While urea has some toxicity, we excrete it when we go to the bathroom or sweat. However, the body is set up to process and handle nitrogen waste only at a constant rate. If there is too much nitrogen waste for the body to handle, you will notice that you start to feel poorly. The highly toxic ammonia content starts to buildup in the body (and possibly the less toxic urea buildup if there are difficulties with the kidneys or other body systems). You might personally observe this at those times you eat too much in proteins, such as meat. A person will start to feel kind of lousy and kind of poisoned in an odd sort of way. Some bacteria and parasites in the body also can dump toxic ammonia into the system causing similar symptoms. So, you can imagine how stressful this is on a body's system when nitrogen from fertilizers enters the body through the air, skin, or ingestion. The body can only handle so much at a time.


Waste-Derived Fertilizers should not be used where crops are used for human consumption




The fertilizer industry uses several combinations of potassium that can be harmful to humans under the certain conditions. High doses potassium chloride interferes with nerve impulses, which interrupts with virtually all bodily functions and mainly affects heart functioning. Potassium alum may cause stomach complaints and nausea at concentrations as low as 2 g, and may be corrosive and even lethal in higher concentrations. Potassium carbonate is lethal to adults at doses above 15 g. The same goes for potassium tartrate at 1 g, and for potassium cyanide at only 50 mg. Potassium dichromate is lethal at between 6 and 8 g. Sodium (or potassium) nitrate can really irritate the respiratory track with a shortness of breath if the dust is inhaled. It can cause all kinds of gastric and stomach pains, dizziness, bloody diarrhea, convulsions, headaches, mental impairments, redness or itching of the skin or eyes.


Phosphate rock frequently contains radioactive material. When processed part of it stays with the fertilizer and the other is gone in the byproducts. These levels are considered within safety thresholds but they are there in the background. If your area has a high natural radiation background it just adds to it. It you use ground rock phosphate you are getting the full dose that is in the rock.



A variety of consequences occur when plants are forcibly fed too much nitrogen, especially in the direct nitrate forms you have seen in synthetic fertilizers.  A plant can absorb only so much nitrate, so the surplus nitrate dissolves very easily in water and gets washed away. But the real clincher is that it is EXTREMELY difficult to remove nitrate from water.  Generally, the farther water travels through soil, the safer it becomes as contaminants are diluted or filtered out. Nitrate is the exception. It can ruin well water and one would have to dig a new well where no nitrate leaching has occurred.


Synthetic fertilizers can dramatically diminish the nutritional value of foods. Synthetic fertilizers also diminish the natural disease fighting and pest fighting mechanisms of plants. To solve this problem more and varied chemicals are used like pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. We end up with foods that are lacking in viable nutrition (USDA studies show reductions in nutrients for 30 to 70 % in the last 40 years plus they are loaded with residue forms of dangerous chemicals.

Organically grown food cost more but is worth the extra for its long term health benefits.


3006A 9/17/10

Copyright © 2010 Organic Products Company.  All rights reserved.