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Monday, May 14, 2018

Is Ironite Safe to Use for Vegetable Gardens?

Q. Is Ironite safe to use in a vegetable garden? I have read somewhere that it’s not, but the label says you can use it.
The Ironite sold years ago is not the same product as it is now. 

A. The current Ironite products are totally different from the original Ironite product but carry the same name. Ironite was, and still is, a soil amendment/fertilizer used for correcting yellowing plants growing in alkaline soil. The original Ironite product did two things; it lowered the soil pH and added iron to the soil. It created a very good name for itself in the landscape and golf industry.
            The original Ironite product came from recycled mine tailings. These tailings also contained heavy metals; lead and arsenic being the two that got Ironite into trouble. There was a long controversy regarding whether the lead and arsenic were problematic for food crops.
            The Ironite label was changed to exclude applications to food crops to circumvent this problem. The old product came to an end when the mine supplying tailings used by Ironite was declared an EPA Superfund site in about 2005 and closed.
            Ironite is now owned by Central Garden & Pet Company, through its subsidiary, Pennington. It is a totally different product from the Superfund site days but carries the same name. Because of its industry reputation, a line of products carrying the Ironite name has evolved.
            So, in a nutshell, Ironite is not the same product as it was years ago. The Environmental Protection Agency allows the label to include application to food crops.


  1. Thanks for your article. I found this recent document from WSDA with ppm metals of many fertilizers including Ironite: https://agr.wa.gov/PestFert/Fertilizers/docs/rptFertHMWebCurrent.pdf

    Current 1-0-1 and 1-0-0 look similar to many other fertilizer products. The 2014 12-10-10 looked a bit high in As and Pb. Keep in mind that not all forms of As or Pb are readily absorbed by plants or human digestion.

  2. So where does Ironite come from now if not from mine tailings? What proof do you have? I am not so sure the source has changed but more the definition of what is "safe".

    1. I will share what I can. The EPA is the federal govt arm to establish "safe limits" for potential toxins to humans, other animals and the environment. Some states have established their own "safe limits" which it can as long as its limits are "safer" than the federal limits. In the post above yours someone sent a link to Washington states report on heavy metals in fertilizers. I am guessing here but I think Pennington has probably bought and retained the name "Ironite" for marketing purposes but is most likely making their Ironite product with the same fertilizer supplies as everyone else. That may be why Washington State reported that some Ironite products were similar in heavy metals to other fertilizers.

      In the meantime, our ability to measure extremely small amounts of anything became more and more precise. 50 years ago when I was in school measuring at the ppb (parts per billion; one part in a billion parts) range was quite a feat. Now we are measuring in the ppt (parts per trillion; pne part in a trillion parts) range and reporting it. 50 years ago the EPA was warning not to use the word "safe" because the what was considered safe was constantly changing with new research and the word "safe" was subjective. Instead, the word "safe" was open for interpretation. We know that nothing in the world is "pure" and free from some sort of contaminant. Our knowledge about toxins comes from science. We have to use this same science to determine our own definition of "safe". Otherwise, how do we compare or judge anything?

      I can say with reasonable assurance that the mines used by Ironite decades ago and caused a "stir" that I mentioned above are closed. These mine tailings cannot be used as a fertilizer source because heavy metal levels are just too high. Are companies using other mines and "mine tailings"? Yes. Many fertilizers are still "mined" from the ground. Others are byproducts from industrial processes. There will be a certain amount of "contaminants" in fertilizer because they are derived from "rocks" which contain a host of minerals. None of these minerals are inherently "bad" but some of them at certain levels are "toxic" to us. Those "mined" from industrial processes are more questionable.

      What to do? Toxic levels need to be established. Everyone has to decide for themselves what is the level of "toxicity" they are willing to accept and deem these levels as "safe" to use.

  3. What about fertilizers produced by China or other countries that do not share the same set of values? I mention China because it probably represents 95% of all the emails sent to me. Yes, they must submit a sample for analysis but what about the thousands of "chemicals" that are not even on the radar? As a consultant for a horticulture supply company, I probably average 3 - 4 emails each week wanting to sell "fertilizers" produced outside the US.