July 1, 2002

Jim Wheaton, Environmental Law Foundation, 510-208-4555
Fred Altshuler, Altshuler, Berzon, (415) 421-7151
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Ironite Sued for Toxics in Fertilizer and False Advertising

Company promotes popular home fertilizer containing lead, arsenic as “environmentally safe”


Teleconference Call Availability Monday, July 1st, 11:00 a.m. (888) 867-7084, code #11608

Re: San Francisco County Superior Court Case # 409694


San Francisco, CA – A lawsuit filed today by the Environmental Law Foundation charges a fertilizer manufacturer, Ironite Products Company, with selling California consumers a toxic-laden home fertilizer product containing high levels of arsenic and lead. The lawsuit also claims the company is deceiving consumers through a false advertising campaign that promotes its Ironite fertilizer as safe for the environment and human health.


The allegations of the complaint are as follows: The Arizona-based Ironite Products Company's signature product, "Ironite," is made from mine tailings from a proposed Superfund site in Humboldt, Arizona. Ironite contains high levels of lead and arsenic – heavy metals that are known to cause cancer and reproductive harm. The arsenic and lead levels in Ironite exceed California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) regulations, and labels on Ironite omit information about the contents of heavy metals as required by California law. Ironite is promoted by its manufacturer as "environmentally safe" and recommended for use on vegetables, flowers, lawns, potted plants, shrubs and trees.


"When it comes to fertilizers, what you see is not necessarily what you get. Ironite Products Company is passing mining waste along to consumers as fertilizer that is environmentally friendly for you and your garden," said James Wheaton, President of Environmental Law Foundation (ELF).


A number of governmental and non-profit group investigations have shed the light on the flow of "recycled" toxic waste from U.S. factories to fertilizer companies and the lack of government oversight. Some fertilizer manufacturers use toxic waste as a cheap and plentiful source of plant micronutrients, such as zinc or iron. However, such waste streams are often highly contaminated with persistent toxic chemicals, including heavy metals and dioxin.


In 1998 the Washington State Legislature passed the Fertilizer Regulation Act, the first law in the country to adopt standards and to require disclosure of the contents of heavy metals in fertilizer. The Washington Department of Agriculture has vigorously enforced its laws against Ironite Products Company and has issued a number of stop sale orders on Ironite.


In October 2001, CDFA passed its own set of standards limiting the amount of arsenic, cadmium, and lead in fertilizers. These standards went into effect January 1, 2002. The CDFA also requires disclosure on fertilizer labels of the maximum levels of nine heavy metals, or, alternatively, a statement on labels referring customers to a toll-free number or website for metals information. Companies were given extra time to comply with the labeling provisions, which go into effect today.

 “The irony is that on their own, lead and arsenic are classified as hazardous wastes, but if you mix them into fertilizer the health and labeling standards are less strict. We wish Ironite Product Company’s compliance was as strong as the toxicity of its fertilizer,” said Wheaton. “We’re filing this suit to force them to comply with even the minimal requirements of these laws.”.


Canada banned the use of Ironite in 1997 because of its high heavy metals content. But in California and across the country, Ironite can be found on the shelves of major retailers, including Ace, Albertsons, Home Depot, Lowe's, Target, True Value, Walgreens, and WalMart.


The Ironite Products Company posts the content of heavy metals in its fertilizer on the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s website.


ELF is suing Ironite Products Company under the California Business and Professions Code and the California Food and Agriculture Code in San Francisco Superior Court. The group will ask the court to order the Company to halt its distribution of Ironite in California until it reduces the amount of lead and arsenic in Ironite, and until it labels Ironite in compliance with California law.


The Environmental Law Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing human health and the environment by working to reduce public health hazards posed by toxic chemicals.


For more information about the lawsuit and toxic fertilizer, visit ELF's website at



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