Less than a month after CSWD started refunding customers for contaminated compost, new lab studies have uncovered additional contamination.
Compost is supposed to be a gardener's best friend. But if you bought yours from Chittenden Solid Waste District this summer your garden may have been a flop.
"There is no question that CWSD's customers of our compost had herbicide exposure effects," said CSWD's Tom Moreau.
An independent lab found two herbicides -- Clopyralid and Picloram -- in the compost. The chemicals came in on yard waste and horse manure and were blended into CSWD's compost.
"The horses were getting a broad brush blaming for this compost issue," said Betsy Greene a UVM Equine Extension Specialist.
Greene represents the state's equine community. She says it's an accusation horse owners aren't happy about. "Horses are not producing herbicide in their bodies so how did they get it?" she said.
That's where the story takes a sharp turn. Vermont was able to get the manufacturer of the two herbicides to pay a different lab for a second opinion. That lab couldn't find any trace of those chemicals in the manure, but found extremely high levels of a more dangerous herbicide that was pulled from shelves last summer because it was killing trees.
"It was only supposed to be used for turf. Not for pastures," Moreau said.
CSWD says the second lab also discovered Clopyralid in Purina horse feed. The national brand that many Vermont owners are feeding their horses. Experts say that's why manure from all 11 farms tested positive for the chemical.
"Like CSWD, they were unaware that it was in their feed products. You can't blame them for that," Moreau said.
But the detection of the herbicide in feed used nationwide is prompting the federal government to move in. The fear is that CSWD's contamination problem will start surfacing at other composting facilities. For now the waste district is amending its policies.
CSWD is still accepting grass clippings but they're going to be kept separate from leaves. And they will be tested. In the meantime CSWD is also looking for a new nitrogen source since the manure has proved problematic.
"We'll probably be looking at chicken manure to see if we can use it. Obviously we'll have to test the chicken manure to make sure that it doesn't have any persistent herbicides," Moreau said.
The labs are still trying to figure out how their results could be so different. Sorting that out could take some time. CSWD says this controversy will not impact customer refunds. The waste district has already written more than 100 checks to customers that cover their compost, delivery and 100 dollars for lost crops.
CSWD says it will likely not be ready to begin composting by this coming spring.
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