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Naughty Nutrients: Popular Products Pulled From Shelves Amid Safety Concerns

Protect yourself from toxic chemicals in your grow! Protect yourself from toxic chemicals in your grow!

If you have been to your local hydroponic store lately and noticed a few popular items missing from the shelves, you’re not going crazy. Most stores have voluntarily removed at least five plant supplements from their shelves. And while there has been a lot of chatter on message boards about this, there still seems to be a lot of partial or incorrect information going around.

So why were these products removed, and is it safe to use them if you have them already? Let’s clear it up.

The Problem With Some PGRs

The products affected in this recall are ones that contain a synthetic version of plant growth regulators, or PGRs. Scientifically, these chemicals affect three types of plant hormones that control various aspects of plant growth: gibberellins, auxins and cytokinins. Typically, these PGRs are used on grass or ornamental plants to either slow or stop vertical growth. They’ve also been used in the past on fruits like apples to keep them from ripening too quickly and help them stay crunchy for long-distance transport.

In this instance it was discovered through independent lab research by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) that several products contained undisclosed levels of two toxic PGRs, paclobutrazol (typically called paclo) and daminozide (also known as alar), in violation of federal law regarding labeling of nutrients. Both chemicals have been shown in studies by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to have adverse health effects when consumed, and neither are approved for use in either the U.S. or UK on consumable products.

Paclo has been shown to cause cancer and massive liver damage in rats, and the EPA has not approved it for use in anything consumable.

These concoctions were advertised as nutrients that keep your plants short and bushy and your flowers thick and dense. In the absence of the federally mandated warning, it’s tempting to use these products that you believe will give you a leg up on the competition. Without knowing the possible harm, why wouldn’t you use a “nutrient?”

Daminozide, the one that was most commonly used to preserve fruit, has been banned since 1989 for use on anything other than ornamental plants because it has been deemed a likely carcinogen, with other unknown health effects when consumed. Makes you feel pretty good about all that fruit you ate prior to 1989, doesn’t it?

Paclo has been shown to cause cancer and massive liver damage in rats, and the EPA has not approved it for use in anything consumable. These chemicals are intended for use in ornamental plants and grass, period. Yet the offending companies not only included these PGRs in products that they knew would be used for consumable plants, they failed to warn consumers, and many charged over $100 per liter. That’s one pricey poison.

Which Products Were Affected?

The issue is that only products that were found to contain undisclosed PGRs were pulled from most shelves, so there are likely still some of these dangerous substances lurking in your local hydro store. One to be aware of is General Hydroponics’ Bush Load. 

Bush Load contains paclo, but GH does at least have the decency to tell consumers that its product contains this potentially harmful chemical, and also offers a warning in its brochure that reads: “Warning: Bush Load is for expert use only. Contact GH for usage recommendations.” One would hope that those recommendations include: “Do not use this product on anything you plan to consume!”

However, while Bush Load remains in most hydroponic stores (some have pulled it, label be damned), several popular growth-inhibiting or flower-hardening products have been pulled from most stores in the U.S., EU and Canada because they contain one or both of these dangerous PGRs yet said nothing about them on the label.

Growers are pretty familiar with vague nutrient labels, as some companies make nutes that contain proprietary formulas or are limited to what beneficial ingredients they can include on their labels by outdated regulations. However, vague labeling can also hide ingredients that companies would prefer you not know about.

Such is the case with Emerald Triangle’s Bush Master and Gravity, both of which contain relatively high levels of paclo (271 ppm and 516 ppm, respectively), along with Dutch Master’s Phosphoload and Green Planet Wholesale’s Top Load (which, as far as we can tell, has been pulled by the company, as it is not available on its website anymore). Phosphoload contains a whopping 17,800 ppm (no, that’s not a typo) of daminozide and 20.6 ppm of paclo; Top Load contains more than 3,000 ppm of daminozide.

Perhaps the most egregious example of misleading labels is the case of a product called Flower Dragon, whose slick packaging and catchy name attempted to push what would appear to be a basic P-K (phosphorus and potassium) supplement, commonly used during the flowering phase to increase size and density of flowers. However, when investigated, Flower Dragon actually doesn’t contain much phosphorus or potassium (645 ppm P, 2,490 ppm K), yet the solution had a massively high ppm reading. Clearly there was at least one unlabeled mystery ingredient.

The answer was found during those laboratory tests, when researchers determined that in addition to its small quantities of P and K, Flower Dragon contains over 18,000 ppm of daminozide. In reality, this chemical, which is banned for use in most of the plants for which Flower Dragon was marketed, was the main ingredient, yet it appeared nowhere on the label.

But Doesn’t Flushing Remove All This Junk?

The quick answer is no. Flushing will mostly remove salts that have built up in your plants, but chemicals like paclo and alar are not flushed thoroughly, or sometimes not at all. This is one of the reasons why certain nutrients, pesticides and other chemicals should not be used more than a few weeks into the vegetative stage, and not at all during flowering, the beginning of which is when these products are meant to be applied.

A good flush is an absolute must for quality hydroponic plants. However, when you don’t put crap into them in the first place, you don’t have to attempt its removal. Anecdotally, many growers have complained of unpleasant taste from plants grown using these chemicals.

There are companies like Advanced Nutrients whose entire line of products have tested negative for any of these potentially harmful ingredients, so you are good to go with any of their stuff.

PGRs may be effective at regulating growth and keeping plants short and bushy most of the time, but at what cost? There are other ways to keep your plants small and ensure a bountiful harvest, including controlling light, training and topping, and using a bud bulker like Advanced Nutrients Big Bud®. Big Bud, along with several other AN products, was also tested by the CDFA and was found to not contain paclo or alar.

So How Do I Know If My Nutes Are Safe?

The main thing that you want to pay attention to is whether you are buying any product that is marketed to keep your plants short and bushy, or your flowers thick and tight.

There are companies like Advanced Nutrients whose entire line of products have tested negative for any of these potentially harmful ingredients, so you are good to go with any of their stuff. But other companies make perfectly safe nutrients as well. What’s important is to do your research.

Start with the bottle itself (the more honest companies like GH tell you right there), and then get online and conduct more research. If you do not get satisfactory results from the Web, call the company’s customer service number. If they don’t have one, or they take a message and never call you back, just move on. We’ll give you a hint though: If the product is meant to inhibit growth in some way, it likely contains a plant growth regulator. Your best bet is to stick with known safe methods until (and if) we discover a plant growth regulator that is proven safe for consumable plants.

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Last modified on Thursday, 03 October 2013 18:02

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