Possible Unsafe Product Alert: what are you putting on your lawn?

This spring, Scotts Miracle-Gro Company has shown its hand, and for once, they have a brown thumb.

In case you haven't already heard, last week, the Associated Pres reported that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) told nine companies -- including Wal-Mart and Home Depot -- to stop selling three products made by the company, well known for making food that plants seem to really, really enjoy: "Miracle-Gro Shake 'n Feed All Purpose Plant Food plus Weed Preventer," as well as "Bonus S Max," which is used on St. Augustine grass in the southwest, and "Turf Builder Plus 2 Max."

According to the EPA, the products, of several gazillion that they carry, had invalid registration numbers. And while that sounds harmless at first, the federal agency never had a chance to properly review the products, which they tend to like doing, in case there are any chemicals involved that could hurt people or the environment. It's not so stunning that this happened, but that it happened at such a well-known company. A Scotts representative told the press that a former employee didn't follow product registration rules.

Methinks that's why he -- or she -- is a former employee. If still on the job when this was discovered, it's not surprising he was canned. But if he was fired long ago for ineptness, then clearly the employee is still haunting Scotts.

If anyone out there has any of these products and have questions, you can go to this web site of FAQ posted by the EPA. As they say at the site, "EPA has not reviewed any information about the safety of these products. Pesticide products must be registered with the EPA to protect public health and the environment."

Of course, I have no clue if the products are dangerous or not, I do tend to buy Scotts' explanation for the snafu. After all, they bring in $2.9 billion in annual worldwide sales, according to the AP. I somehow believe incompetence more than some diabolical conspiracy inside the company. Regardless, it's an embarrassing situation for them.

But not entirely unique. For instance, last year, Clorox got in hot water for doing the same thing, not reporting some registration numbers, according to an environment blog, Beyond Pesticides. They were fined by the EPA when sending shipments to two charities in Los Angeles. These were unregistered and mislabeled Chinese versions of Clorox Disinfectant Bleach. They were fined $177,000 by the EPA, though by the end of year, they settled for $95,000.

So back to Scotts. If you have any of the products that were pulled off the shelves, the EPA asks that you store the product in a "cool, dry place such as a garage or utility shed and contact Scotts or your retail outlet" and presumably wait until you hear more. At least, that's my impression. At agricultural business web site called USAgNet, they advise, "Do not dispose of them down the drain, in the garbage or at a community disposal site." So what do you do with them? Leave them in the garage until the end of time?

I can't answer that, but I do suggest that after you follow the advice, go back to your well-manicured lawn -- or your garden, where you can survey your tomatoes and gerberas -- and feel superior for awhile. You're not alone. Even the best known gardeners have their bad days, too.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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