Efforts to keep compost herbicide free - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Efforts to keep compost herbicide free

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By any measure, last summers contaminated compost recall was a major headache for gardeners.

"It crushes me because it is such a waste," said Vivian Companion, in her garden last July.

What was a waste for gardeners become a million dollar nightmare for the Chittenden Solid Waste District, which runs Green Mountain Compost.  It also led to a year long effort by state agriculture officials to better understand Aminopyralid and Chlopyralid, a newer class of persistent herbicides that got into horse manure -- a main ingredient used by some composters. It resulted this spring in a successful push to have Dow Chemical place new restrictions on its use.

"The new label basically prohibits use on pastures in all of New England and the product is not registered in New York, so as far as Aminopyralid making it into compost in Vermont, we've got a fairly large buffer," said Cary Giguere with the Vt. Agency of Agriculture Food & Markets.

The herbicides are sold under such brand names as Miletone and Forefront and are used for weed control on pasture. Officials say they're popular because unlike other herbicides, they are non-toxic to humans or animals --  in other words, they go right through them.

"Dow was very receptive from the moment we called them. This is a problem with one of their products. They wanted to solve the problem and help us solve it as well," Giguere said.

CSWD General Manager Tom Moreau says the label change is a good start, but that unregulated Internet sales remain a concern. "You can have all sorts of permits with all the dealers but if they don't buy it from a dealer -- there's unscrupulous people out there," he said.

One year later, with a million dollars in losses and compost on store shelves not expected until early next year, Moreau admits marketing will be an uphill battle. He says he hopes CSWD's treatment of customers last year will make the difference. "We handled it like you should -- being transparent, helping people.  We're all gardeners ourselves.  We all suffered through it ourselves and had terrible gardens last year and I think hopefully people will remember us for that," Moreau said.

And with new chemical testing and a new greenhouse for growth trials, he says customers can be assured there compost will be some of the most scrutinized in the state. "It will be tested seven ways to Sunday -- so to speak -- and we're going to really advertise that.  There's compost out there that's being sold that's not tested chemically today and they're having issues with it," Moreau said.

And although he hasn't seen a check yet, Moreau says he's also been told to expect some compensation from Dow for all the hardship.

Agriculture officials say it is unlikely that any herbicide-laden compost in soils from last summer will be a problem because they have had a year to break down.

click here for more tips on monitoring compost

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