"Dirty" electrical power and even dirtier fertilizer have been attacked by a policy watchdog organization in a pair of recent reports.
The studies distributed by the New York Public Interest Research Group target smokestack mercury emissions from power plants and shipments of toxic factory wastes to fertilizer companies.
"Factory Farming," a report co-released with the Environmental Working Group and Environmental Advocates, concludes 271 million pounds of toxic wastes were shipped to more than 200 fertilizer companies in 36 states between 1990 and 1995.
Outokumpu American Brass of Buffalo was ranked third-highest of 15 New York State companies shipping out such wastes.
Its 930,000 pounds of copper, nickel and zinc wastes were topped only by Photocircuits Corp. of Nassau County (nearly 6.8 million pounds) and Hadco Corp. of Owego (nearly 2 million pounds).
Excel Precision of Buffalo was ranked seventh, with ammonia shipments of nearly 44,000 pounds.
Researchers said the waste shipments are legal ways to dispose of problem materials, because current laws allow companies to recycle some wastes, allow the steel industry to send certain untested ash wastes to companies making zinc-type fertilizers, and allow some firms to transfer wastes directly to farms if the farms can treat the waste on their lands and render it harmless.
The result, NYPIRG officials said, is the inclusion of lead, mercury and other hazardous wastes in fertilizers used on crop-producing lands.
The study uses self-reported data from the national Toxic Release Inventory, already three years out of date, but NYPIRG said the danger should convince legislators to pass a ban already proposed by Assemblyman Steven Englebright, chair of the Legislative Commission on Toxic Substances and Hazardous Waste.
A Clean Air Network report titled "Turn Up the Heat on Dirty Power," distributed by NYPIRG for the Natural Resources Defense Council project, follows a December report by the Environmental Protection Agency that pinpointed smokestack emissions from coal-fired power plants as the nation's largest source of mercury air pollution.
Although New York was not listed among the report's "dirty dozen" states for mercury emissions, the state does rank 14th in total mercury emissions tonnage and a small percentage of state lakes and rivers are affected by local warnings against consumption of mercury-tainted fish.
The study also outlines mercury's impacts on brain development, nervous system functioning, kidneys and digestive systems, and the heart.