The radioactivity debate

When I read the article on radioactive buds (CC#40, Radioactive buds?), I was really horrified. I immediately contacted Dr Cal Herrmann, head chemist at General Hydroponics and eminent scientist known and respected worldwide. He had this to say:
“The article on radioactivity in fertilizers gives interesting measurements made by Dr Paul Hornby at his analytical services laboratory, Hedron Analytical Incorporated.

“His table shows values of radioactivity for various fertilizers, which seems to be listed in the same order as the potassium content. The organic fertilizers containing little or no potassium list very low in radiation, and the chemical fertilizers containing naturally radioactive potassium give more of the potassium electron-radiation.

“Another naturally radioactive element in carbon-14. Its radiation is used in radiocarbon dating of old wood and other organics. A fertilizer with a lot of organic carbon, as might be the case for the slow-release feature of OsmoCoat, could also show some counts from this source.

“This means that the study made by Dr Hornby is related to the radioactivity emanating from potassium and carbon. These are two of the most indispensable elements for a plant’s survival and good health.”

So what do we do to avoid radioactivity and still grow beautiful, healthy, happy plants? Are you contaminating yourself each time you eat food or draw on a pipe?

Radionucleides are found naturally in air, water, soil, and in us. Every day we ingest and inhale them. They are an inseparable part of our being. It is the same for plants. They absorb several naturally radioactive elements in their daily diet, such as potassium, water, and carbon.

Potassium, by definition, is slightly radioactive, be it of chemical or organic origin. This means that any fertilizer containing potassium will be slightly radioactive.

So should we get rid of the potassium? That is impossible. Potassium is an essential element to your plant. After nitrate, it is the second constituent of a plant (a plant needs nitrate, potassium, and phosphate).

Radioactivity is not the only source of contamination to look for in a fertilizer. Many other sources of toxicity exist, and this is what we should be looking into if we really want to keep our health safe.

This brings us back to David Malmo-Levine’s article, which recommends the use of organic nutrients instead of what I call purified (hydroponic) ones.

The difference between the two is that “organic” means that no man-made chemicals are used to make the fertilizer, while “purified” means the fertilizers are made out of purified mineral salts.

In water or in soil, plants absorb their food in the form of ions. There is no difference between an ion of organic or of mineral origin. What matters is whether or not the ions are in a form that is harmless and whether or not they can be used by plants.

Composting, while “natural,” often introduces toxic substances. Examples include harmful pesticides and herbicides from previous crops, and heavy metals like lead, mercury, tin, or nickel which can be present in the fish waste and seaweed commonly used in organic fertilizers.

Also, most organic fertilizers lack essential trace elements like manganese, copper, zinc, boron, and molybdenum. These must be present in small amounts for proper growth as they are catalysts that help in nitrogen assimilation, ion transport, and enzyme manufacture. Used as is, organic nutrients will create deficiencies in plants.

In hydroponics, mineral salts in the form of ions may be either naturally derived or man-made, but most have been purified and processed so that they are water-soluble and in a pure form. Many start out as mined minerals or naturally concentrated deposits that are dissolved and processed into compounds with a definite molecular structure and composition. In the refining process, these mineral salts are purified to remove heavy metal contaminants and toxic substances that could harm plants or people.

Since the chemical composition is precisely known, different mineral salts can be combined to form a balanced hydroponic nutrient. When dissolved in the proper proportions with good quality water, a hydroponic nutrient solution will provide all of the mineral elements needed for plant growth. The hydroponic methods eliminate much of the uncertainty found in organic growing.

Of course, you can use a hydroponic fertilizer with soil cultivation. There are many advantages to this kind of hybrid application. Care must be given not to overdose the plants, but a good hydroponic manufacturer will give you proper application instructions. The results are always astounding.

Not all fertilizers are equal. Some are purer than others. General Hydroponics’ fertilizers are precisely formulated by Dr Herrmann with the best quality purified mineral salts. General Hydroponics always uses high-end products to make sure that you get the most refined, efficient, and healthiest formulas.

David Malmo-Levine responds

Thank you for your comments and information. I believe much more debate must take place before we will be able to fully understand the relationship between smoking tobacco and getting lung cancer and smoking cannabis and not getting lung cancer.

However, I am not convinced by Dr Herrmann’s “potassium equals radiation” theory. There is no ascending order of radioactivity in the chart as Dr Herrmann suggests. The numbers jump around in no particular order.

Dr Herrmann may have not seen the previous article on radioactivity (CC #35, Radioactive tobacco) where the radioactive component of the fertilizer was already identified. It generally comes from the apatite rock ? the phosphate component of most or all chemical fertilizers. This apatite rock contains polonium 210, lead 210, and radium. Organic fertilizers get their phosphorous from non-apatite sources and thus do not give off “extra” radiation.

There are few credible reports that identify chemical phosphate fertilizers as the source of the radioactivity in cigarettes, but they do exist. One is Cancer risk in relation to radioactivity in tobacco, from Radiologic Technology. Another can be found in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Combine the information on apatite with the fact that researchers have induced cancer in animal test subjects that inhaled polonium 210 but were unable to cause cancer through the inhalation of any of the non-radioactive chemical carcinogens found in tobacco, as reported by Radiation Res, and you have a very interesting theory regarding the origin of tobacco-related cancer. It seems to be apatite-based-fertilizer-related cancer.

I welcome any debate on the topic, as properly identifying the carcinogens in smoked herbs will be the step necessary to remove people’s fears regarding them ? be they tobacco, cannabis, or otherwise. We might even stop the millions of deaths every year from apatite-related tobacco cancer.

? Radioactive tobacco: