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Will Increased Pot-Growing Harm the Environment?

Fertilizer-saturated soil dumped by careless marijuana growers can wreck river ecology.

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This dirt can hurt. Photo via

By Bryan Le

11/05/12

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Marijuana fans may go on about how something so "natural" can't possibly be bad for your health, but what about Mother Nature's? In medical marijuana-puffing California, environmental health officials have had to clean up more than a ton of marijuana grow soil found dumped on the bank of the Eel River in Humboldt County. That might not sound serious, but the soil used in pot cultivation tends to be high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium fertilizers (NPK), which can wreak eco-havoc if they percolate into rivers. “It's bad for the rivers because it starves the river of oxygen, harms river organisms and can cause fish die-off,” says Melissa Martel, director of Humboldt County's Division of Environmental Health. “It can also stimulate blue-green algae blooms during certain times of the year in creeks or slower-moving bodies of water.” The 30 large bags of grow soil that were discovered have been taken to a landscaping materials company to be reused. “The best management method for spent soil is reuse. Growing vegetable crops in this high-nutrient soil, or mixing it with other soil, may result in high yields,” says Martel. ”When something is dumped inappropriately, it costs agencies and property owners time, resources and money." Pot plants need NPK fertilizers throughout their adult stages. With the battle over marijuana legalization very much in the balance, some growers may want to nurture their PR more carefully.

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