The recent report of the President’s Cancer Panel said nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers may directly or indirectly cause cancer among humans, an assertion that the Fertilizer Institute strongly disputes.
The panel was adamant about the exposure of Americans to agricultural chemicals in its report called “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk, What We Can Do Now?’’ that it submitted to President Barack Obama.
“The entire U.S. population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals,” the panel wrote in the chapter “Exposure to Contaminants From Agricultural Sources.”
The Fertilizer Institute is not reading on the same page as the panel.
“All major fertilizer products have been proven safe after rigorous human health and ecological toxicity testing,” the institute said in its May 6 news release. “The results of these tests were successfully submitted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency into an international database of chemicals managed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development,” the Fertilizer Institute stated.
Despite asserting that every American is exposed every day to agricultural chemicals, the panel seemed almost as forceful in avoiding a direct cause-and-effect connection between nitrogen fertilizers and cancer.
“Nitrogen fertilizer may increase cancer risk due to the breakdown of nitrogen by digestive enzymes,” the panel wrote. “Most of the nitrogen in fertilizers is converted to nitrate that seeps into groundwater… Nitrate levels also can be high in streams and rivers due to runoff of nitrogen fertilizer from agricultural fields.
"Almost all public water supplies, however, have nitrate levels below the Environmental Protection Agency Maximum Contaminant Level of 10 parts per million," the panel notes.
While the panel avoided directly connecting human exposure to nitrate in drinking water and cancer, it was not reticent in its assertions about phosphate fertilizers.
The panel says that phosphate fertilizers are “often contaminated with cadmium and are responsible for significant cadmium soil and water contamination. Fertilized soils have been found to have two to six times the cadmium concentration of nearby unfertilized land.”
The panel went further. “In the food supply, cadmium is most highly concentrated in grains and seafood. For decades, residents of Southern Louisiana have had pancreatic cancer rates markedly higher than the national average,” the panel wrote.
The Fertilizer Institute stressed in its news release that the links between nitrogen and phosphate fertilizer and cancer that the panel drew — whether direct or indirect — do not exist.
“The Fertilizer Institute is unaware of any scientific evidence that warrants fertilizers’ mention in this report, when in fact the nutrients found in fertilizers are required by all living organisms," they say. "The references to fertilizer in this report… are contrary to the available body of literature that demonstrates that fertilizers have a positive effect on human health by enhancing the nutritional quality of fruits and vegetables."
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