When Tom Moreau's plants began looking funny last week, he thought he had a pest problem. But when his neighbors plants weren't curling up and dying like his were, he realized the culprit was his compost.
"I came to the conclusion that, you know, the pest doesn't care if it's my beans and 20 feet away is my neighbor's beans who look really healthy," he said.
Moreau is also the general manager of the Chittenden Solid Waste District, which sells Green Mountain Compost, and he thinks his bulk product has been contaminated.
"We think this is episodic or a batch type of thing," he said.
The company has stopped the sale of the bulk-size product, but says bagged versions sold in stores are still safe.
Right now they warn you not to eat any crops that may show signs of contamination. Scientists think a chemical grade herbicide is to blame.
"This is something that would have been used on a pasture in a horse pasture situation to control bedstraw or thistle," said Cary Giguere of the Vt. Agency of Agriculture.
It's a professional grade chemical used to stop dandelions and other broadleaf plants, so grass clippings or waste from a horse who ate the grass could be to blame. More testing is still needed to figure out the exact source. Giguere says labels on those chemicals warn they aren't for composting, but it will be hard to determine who is to blame.
"Some of these risk mitigation measures go beyond the applicator and go to the farmer, the manure hauler, the composter," Giguere said.
Moreau says there's no way yet to tell how many customers may be affected, but so far he's received about 50 complaints. He says if you bought in bulk from Earth Day to Memorial Day, you could be at risk.
"It is frustrating when somebody may have either inadvertently or just wrongfully done something that impacted not only us, but more importantly it is very significant for all those gardeners who bought our product and now are very disappointed," Moreau said.
Right now the soil is at a lab for testing, once the chemical is identified, they hope to trace it back to the source.