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Fateful Harvest: The True Story of a Small Town, a Global Industry, and a Toxic Secret Paperback – October 15, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks (October 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060931833
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060931834
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #285,682 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Arsenic, cadmium, lead, beryllium: industrial byproducts so toxic it is illegal to dump them into the air or water. Yet, through a loophole in "the crazy semantics of waste disposal," these same hazardous wastes are being applied to the food we eat. And until a small-town mayor from a farming community in Washington State became suspicious, nobody knew. Mayor Patty Martin is a whistleblower as extraordinary as Karen Silkwood and Erin Brockovich--smart, persistent, courageous, and overwhelmingly dedicated to her cause even when the town that elected her turned against her. Martin's obsession with hazardous waste in fertilizer began when she met Dennis DeYoung, a local farmer whose land was rendered infertile after the Cenex/Land O'Lakes company paid him to spread the residue from their fertilizer rinse pond on his land. But there was more than fertilizer residue there--it was a witches' brew of hazardous metals, cancer-causing chemicals, and even radioactive materials that hadn't been produced by the company itself. DeYoung and Martin wanted to know how they got there and why.

Duff Wilson, an investigative journalist for the Seattle Times, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his series "Fear in the Fields--How Hazardous Wastes Become Fertilizer," which formed the basis of this book. While the articles prompted a modicum of action in Washington State and elsewhere, complacency allows the practice to continue even now. Expanded into book form, this impassioned exposé about an alarming trend takes on even more power as Wilson and Martin ask questions the EPA has been unwilling to answer: Why should there be a limit on the amount of lead in paint and dioxin in cement but not in the fertilizer spread over farmlands and gardens? And is there a correlation between the widespread use of toxins in fertilizers and the phenomenal rise in childhood illnesses and cancers since the early 1980s? --Lesley Reed --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In this alarming, real-life version of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People, Patty Martin, a housewife, mother of four and mayor of the small farming town of Quincy, Wash., began to notice a pattern of failing crops, infertile topsoil and rare diseases in her community in the early 1990s. When she asked tough questions about the pattern, she received evasions and resistance from some local businesses and farmers, which only made her dig deeper. Martin found that a product manufactured with sludge from a waste pond in town, sold as fertilizer and spread on local farms, stunted crops, destroyed quality topsoil and left high concentrations of such heavy metals as cadmium, chromium and beryllium not usually present in fertilizers. As Martin pursued links between fertilizers, hazardous waste and public health risks, she, like Ibsen's protagonist, became increasingly unpopular in the town she was trying to protect. Growing beyond the conflict in Quincy, Wilson's investigation (which led to a 1997 series of articles that were nominated for Pulitzer Prize consideration) revealed that under prevailing state and federal laws, polluting industries throughout the U.S. saved millions of dollars by sending hazardous waste to fertilizer makers who in turn recycled the toxic chemicals into a product sold to farmers and consumers without disclosing what was in it. In the resulting outcry, Washington State became the first to insist that fertilizer companies provide detailed chemical analyses of their products. Wilson's copious reporting and Patty Wilson's example make a convincing case for a national policy on hazardous materials recycling. Agent, Elizabeth Wales. (Sept. 13) Forecast: This lucid presentation of the facts will stir the passions of readers already concerned about environmental issues, but those accustomed to more gut-wrenching accounts of similar transgressions, like A Civil Action and the film Erin Brockovich, won't be drawn in as easily.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Duff Wilson is an investigative reporter for the Seattle Times who got a call one day from Patty Martin, mayor of Quincy, Washington, who told him an almost unbelievable tale of toxic waste being sold as fertilizer. The zinger was, as Wilson discovered, it was entirely legal!
Imagine this: big industrial companies, growing increasingly displeased with having to pay for the cost of disposing of their hazardous waste materials, typically with unsafe amounts of heavy metals, find through a loophole in the law that they can declare the waste a "product" and sell it as fertilizer! Instead of paying perhaps a hundred dollars a barrel to get rid of the stuff, they can sell it to firms that add a little lime or some other soil conditioner and abracadabra! peddle it as fertilizer. Sound like a Greenpeace scare story? A nightmare dreamed up by disgruntled employees? "Bad" farmers looking to blame somebody for their failed Frankenfeed crops? The fertilizer industry would like us to think so, but this story about Patty Martin and her brave and lonely crusade against the dumping of hazard waste on farmlands tells us otherwise.
The terrible thing is that, although Wilson's original story, "Fear in the Fields--How Hazardous Wastes Become Fertilizer," first appeared in July of 1997, as the book closes in 2001, the loophole in the law has not been plugged, congress has not acted, and the polluters are still turning hazardous waste infused with cadmium, lead, arsenic, etc., into stuff smeared on farmlands. It gets into the crops farmers grow and ends up in the food on our dining room tables. It blows off the fields when it's dry and into the lungs of people.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Barbara on May 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
It is simple. Read the book. Decide if you want to eat your food with some toxic fertilizer sprinkled on by corporate-terrorists. Do your research and then decide what you are going to do about this horrendous insult to all life and the land around the world. This issue leaves me mourning for our world. Thankfully there are still dedicated people like Duff Wilson that uncover the scoundrels that have no conscience except for the dollar. Rachael Carson blew the whistle on DDT and now Mr. Wilson is blowing the whistle on toxic waste fertilizers unwittingly being used by farmers and gardeners everywhere. Wake up EPA!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By William Matthews on September 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Don Delillo could not have imagined this. I was more blown away by 'Fateful Harvest' than by 'A Civil Action' or 'Erin Brockovich'. Those earlier works were isolated cases of industry abuse, while this book exposes a real-life toxic waste scandal focused ultimately on the food eaten by billions. What's most scary is that the scandal is still going on! -- toxic waste is turned into fertilizer, and spread on the food supply; but the politicians shrug while lives are destroyed. Wilson, an experienced investigative reporter, does a great job of distilling the science (and the politics) behind the news story. He effectively weaves the life of an unlikely small-town heroine into the larger perspective. It's definitely a compelling and accessible read. I did it in a day and a half.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a story of how mining and manufacturing companies have successfully lobbied to and succeeded in poisoning croplands with their toxic wastes. It makes no difference how nasty or radioactive the mix, the minute it is mixed with fillers and placed in a bag with a fertilizer or soil amendments label the industries were home free--no regulation, no problem. It is certainly curious that it took so long for this to come out. There is an international treaty to prevent toxic waste dumping abroad that the U.S. has not signed. After the treaty was created Greenpeace activists noticed that the definition of "hazardous waste" was changed. "In other words rather than trying to eliminate hazardous wastes, governments are trying to eliminate hazardous waste definitions." The story broke, though, not because of some international activist organization, but because the bright and persistent mayor of a small agricultural town with a fertilizer plant was concerned about the health of local school children. By the time the townspeople demanded that she shut up, it was too late, the press was on the scene. Recounting this much of the adventure takes us about two-thirds of the way through the book. From there on the author carries on alone moving from the local level to the national level. His newly developed sources confirmed that this was not just a local problem of renegade "recylcers" near Hanford Washington, but a nationwide set of standard operating procedures uniformly practiced by the largest U.S. Corporations. The next step was not too hard, the author went to a home and garden store down the street, bought twenty kinds of fertilizer and had them analyzed for fourteen toxic metals. He went to the companies that made the really toxic ones like NuLife and Ironite.Read more ›
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is a deeply disturbing true story of a somewhat naive rural housewife who meets the rough & tumble of environmental politics head-on. It changes her life in unforseen ways, as well as those around her -- including the author, a seasoned investigative reporter who lets us inside his head. Readers should not demand absolute proof of health effects from toxic waste in fertilizers. The evidence marshalled by this book is convincing enough that real policy changes should result. In any event, it's obvious that we ought not to be taking toxic waste collected from smokestacks and dumping it on the food supply. The real scandal that Duff Wilson uncovers is the industry amorality and government complicity in this outrageously stupid practice of using toxic waste as plant food. Beware those who say there's not enough proof of harm -- that's what the cigarette companies argued for decades.
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