US Encouraging Coal Waste as Crop Fertilizer

Written by Nick Andre

The EPA and US Department of Agriculture are promoting the use of waste from coal fired power plants as fertilizer for crop fields. Farmers have been told that the white chalky waste known as synthetic gypsum, can be used safely on their fields to loosen soil and fertilize crops destine for human consumption. Synthetic gypsum is created from substances captured at power plants, by devices that remove sulfur dioxide, mercury, lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals from the plant’s emissions. These devices have been recently required by law to reduce acid rain and other environmental impacts and have left a stockpile of synthetic gypsum waste.

The very harmful substances the government is removing from emissions due to their environmental and health impacts, are now being sent to farms to be spread on our food. The EPA claims that synthetic gypsum is safe because the toxic substances, particularly mercury, are not found in the crops or water run-off in “significant levels”. They have also touted it as a “green” method of fertilization due to it being recycled material. However, a number of prominent scientists and advocate groups have spoken out against the policy, saying there is not enough research available to claim safety for use in agriculture.

According to the American Coal Ash Association, the EPA and USDA started promoting the use of this chemical in 2001 and since then farm use has tripled to 279,000 tons in 2008. Synthetic gypsum is also commonly used in drywall. An estimated 8.85 million tons of the substance was used in 2008 for the popular building material.

To us, this is just one more reason to buy organic produce whenever possible. Sulfur dioxide, mercury, lead, and arsenic are substances that should stay away from the food we buy, no matter how small the amount.


“The Advantages of Synthetic Gypsum.” Cement Americas. 1 May 1999. Web. 30 Dec. 2009. <>.

Callahan, Rick. “EPA, USDA Encourage Farmers To Put Coal Ash That Contains Mercury And Arsenic On Crops.” The Huffington Post. 21 Dec. 2009. Web. 30 Dec. 2009. <>.

“U.S. wants farmers to use coal waste on fields.” The Washington Post. 23 Dec. 2009. Web. 30 Dec. 2009. <>.

About the author

Nick Andre

Nick is the Managing Editor of and the Managing Director of Kumani Inc., a Certified Green web development and business consulting firm. A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has deep passions for nutrition, organic agriculture, renewable energy, and the environment, which led him to found Modern Serenity in 2009. Nick is also a bit of a political junkie and is involved in environmental advocacy, land conservation efforts, and more.