Lady Banks

Deadly Polymers
for Your Garden

   

The reliable feature of polymers is their enormous molecules that persist in the environment. The "good" thing about this is these molecules are too large to be incorporated into cellular growth hence they have no nutrient value to flora or fauna. The "bad" thing is it persists in the envirionment & has no nutrient value to flora or fauna!

Many polymers are nevertheless included in livestock feeds & dumped in gardens & on agribusiness plantations as an ingredient in everything from pesticides to pure plain polymers sold as water-retentive soil ammendments. This is as rational as working packing-peanuts into the soil.

Many of the "superabsorbant" properties claimed by polymer manufacturers are exaggerated, & during biodegradation these polymers even reverse their effect depriving plants of moisture. Woodchips, quality compost, or peat do the same job adequately, plus the woodchips or compost provide safe plant nutrients & a medium for benificial micro-organisms such as polymers retard.

And, inevitably, it turns out that some polymers do in fact reach the foodchain, especially the allegedly safer-to-the-environment biodegradable synthetic polymers. These are fed directly to livestock as feed supplements, are dispersed over crops in herbicides & pesticides, & are mixed into garden soils because of preposterous claims of doing away with a need ever again to water the garden.

As it turns out, some of the broken down components act upon animals (including humans) much as do female hormones. This interfers with fertility cycles in women & lowers the fertility rate of men, causing also impotence in men. Now I agree there are too many people & the more we impose on ourselves that makes us reproduce less insanely, the better the world would be, but it's unfair to impose the same burden of infertility on natural fauna.

Furthermore, the polyacrylamides in garden-grade (& in feedlot grade) polymers are derived from (& contain) cancer-causing & poisonous monomer acrylamide.

And all that's for the "good" kind of biodegradable synthetic polymer! It's all down hill from there.

Although these polymers have been tested for toxicity in their undegraded state, the industry-funded research rather carefully avoids assessing the degrading properties & the new chemicals that arise from bonding with salts or bauxite it links to within the environment.

When someone like Frank Shields of the Soil Control Lab in Watsonville California finds that polymers in garden soils retard water absorption & are sufficiently toxic to kill plants (killed cucumbers in the test samples), the final assessment was that more studies are needed to understand the process. However, no funding was ever forthcoming since any study the goal of which is to find out why plants die or water fails to be absorbed goes against the interests of the funding sources who are the very manufacturers making the opposite claims for their polymers!

Frank Shields actually observed soils with biograding superabsorbant polymers repelling water so that the ground remained too dry. But Jim McNelly of www.composter.com reports a different reason for this dryness, as shown in assessment studies of which he was part. The polymers biodegrade into a taffy-like substance that do not release their moisture for plants to use, plus do not permit moisture to reach the surrounding soil.

McNelly indicates that some polymers are less harmful than others. But no comparative tests have been done to establish which is which. If or when someone does do such a comparative study, there will still be no way to correlate this information with garden products, no law requiring adequate labeling, & a garden product with the same label on it may in fact have a different composition one week to the next since many of the ingredients are a changable array of chemicals from new & from recycled waste sources.

So when asked "Would you like to dump huge amounts of ground up plastic in your garden soil, buddy?" how in the world did it ever come about that that the answer is so often, "Sure I would!"

Think propoganda. "I'm with the chemical company, getting my town too!" It puzzles me, but people just line up for the buggering.

Polymers in the environment are dreadful pollutants & I have wondered how industry made such powerful inroads into gardening practices. Industrial sales techniques targetting gardeners have always done this, & decades after some of their Neat New Discoveries is later banned, & we're still having to deal with DDT & dioxins in the food chain, as all the while new toxins are developed & people are encouraged to do injury to themselves & the whole world by dumping pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, heavy metals in fertilizers, & polymers all over the very gardens & lawns they purportedly love & were hoping to benefit.

People just seem never quite to be able to believe the same companies that told you it was okay to breathe in asbestos & spray dioxins all over your house just might still be making things up when they say polymers are the neatest things for your gardens & will lower your watering bill by 200 percent.

Pollution begins even before application of the product, as the manufacturer requires highly volatile & dangerous activating resins & catalysts & what-not to create the polymer product. Many of the pollutants are incinerated by the manufacturers themselves, without government oversight. "Magically" these pollutants have ended up in landfills though allegedly they are all either recyled or incinerated. The manufacturers have been awarded Superfunding for clean-ups so that by polluting the environment, they actually gain grants instead of prison time. Superfunding has never really resulted in any site restored to safety, & some were never cleaned up at all but just had -- tada -- polymers laid down on top of the pollutant with some landfill on top of that. The polymer barriers are known universally not to be a lasting fix.

This is the industry you support by dumping their plastics in your garden, so even imagining the polymers were as safe for your plants as the manufacturers like to say, I'd rather rely on a good home compost than pay to be buggered by the petrol & plastics industry.

There are contradictory factors at work within the industry itself, which is heavily invested in not making too many biodegradable synthetics that actually degrade well. Some within the pretend they do care about the environment & claim to be doing everything they can to limit the amount of carbon-linked polymers they're selling, so that the polymers will break down into nutrients & not linger almost forever in the environment. Yet this goes against their simultaneous goal of offering a product that does not break down rapidly just because sunlight or air or water or heat reaches it. If it biodegrades, it is for all intent & purposes spoilable goods from the seller's point of view.

So when speaking to environmentalists they pretend to be in favor of biodegradable polymers & they encourage environmentalists in their desire to have such biodegradable products to buy. Yet when lobbying Congress,polymer representatives make the arguments against biodegradable polymers, which they admit are unsafe. They prefer carbon-chained & petroleum polymers that barely ever break down after a hundred years because such products are not perishable, but their excuse to congress is that the biodegradable alternatives in fact degrade into methane & other dangerous biogasses while they decomposing, causing explosions & subsidence.

I wonder if the Congressmen even asked the lobbyists what subsidence is before they instructed the EPA to re-categorize polymers so that they would have fewer & fewer restrictions. The glorious quality of superabsorption, it turns out, deprives soils of moisture by locking it into polymers. This happens especially as the synthetic polymers biodegrade.

Well, the exploding part seems an exaggeration & is a landfill problem, though I suppose enough methane could get into basements to blow you up if you fill your yard with decayable polymers. But the problem of localized subsidence drying out soils that were supposed to stay more moist thanks to the polymers will be the eventual result of mixing this crap into garden soils. It will eventually do exactly the opposite of what it was intended to do, & make it either increasingly expensive or even impossible to water plants effectively.

This is why some manufacturers have in the past suggested that their polymers be used only in container gardening, with the medium being replaced before the biodegrading polymers can no longer release moisture. But as of May 2003 with a conservative Congress having relieved the industry of having to reveal the dangers of their products, they can now overlook just about all dangers. As a result, several fraudulent or self-deluded "earth friendly" companies are now suggesting you just dump this crap into all your soils & save on watering expense.

The alleged & propogandistic "benefits" of grinding plastic up in the garden was one of a half-dozen half-baked methods dreamed up in the 1960s to rid manufacturers of responsibility for disposal of horribly polluting waste products, & to sell this waste at enormous profit rather than find a way to get rid of it at enormous expense. The same thing is now being done with rubber tires -- grind 'em up & churn it into your soils, ignoring the fact that rubber leeches sufficient zinc to kill all the flowers!

As one British polymer manufacturer jested, "Our only problem is finding a garden big enough to take all this plastic." These companies truly are laughing all the way to the bank.

The facts are these: water-asborbant polyacrylamide polymers 1) biodegrade into cancer-causing & fertility-lowering toxins; 2) can continue to be water-retaining but cease to be water-releasing as they break down & begin to stop the soil overall from absorbing water, & may have a plasticizing effect on surrounding soils resulting in lower absorption rates & topsoil wash-off; & 3) have killed cucumbers by an unexplained toxic means in one controlled study, but funding to find out why polymers would in practice prove to so toxic has not been forthcoming so that this research is not thus far being furthered.

Another problem is that soil-dispersed polymers are washed into sewer & drainage systems by stormwater, often directly into lakes & the ocean, creating environmental havoc. The havoc lasts a good deal longer if they are carbon-link polymers by comparison to the synthetic, but they're bad either way.

Further, these companies have a history of hostility toward the public, despite the "spin" they put on their behavior. A single example would be Lavco Polymer -- not worse than average, but it's nice to be able to cite a specific case. They railroaded through an economically depressed town making all sorts of idle promises if they could get vampiric concessions from the community. They got themselves exempted from all antipollution laws, were given special tax exemptions, & in the name of "recycling" polymers undertook to relieve pressures from the polymer manufacturers so that they wouldn't have to make their products safer. Lavco literally threatened to move their industry to the Third World if they are ever restricted in their activities or receive too few local government subsidies or are ever told they have to pay taxes like everyone else.

Responses of polymers dispersed in soil & later exposed to fire & flood conditions are serious problems. Further toxins released by burn-throughs, & polymers rinsed into waterways, are never included in risk studies bought & paid for by the industry to prove their products are complete safety.

All studies that show only limited risk to polymers in the environment make several false assumptions: They are the only polutants in the environment rather than part of a horrific polluting soup mix of toxins; the chemicals that arise from degradation of the chemical components do not need to be included or assessed for toxicity; & the manufacturers are doing a very fine job of recycling or incinerating the harmful components therefore the harmful components are being dealt with properly.

None of these assumptions are true, but they are part of every finding of safety, for without stacking the deck in favor of the Industrial Pollution Complex, many of their waste products would have to disposed with difficulty & expense, rather than sold most profitably to gardeners to disperse throughout our gardens.

See this related article:
Kill Your Garden with Rubber Mulch!

   



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