The Q&A Archives: Safe to use newspaper mulch?

Question: I have heard that chlorine bleached wood pulp leaves a dioxin residue in paper products, including newspaper. Is it still safe to use newspaper mulch in my garden? Helen Kertesz Scotts Valley, CA

Answer: Although there are small amounts of dioxin in some paper products, they aren't present in newspaper, says Jim Minor, research chemist with the Forest Products Research Laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin. Newsprint isn't bleached with chlorinated products, but with hydrogen peroxide and other bleaching agents. Paper products such as milk cartons do contain small quantities of dioxin. However, gardeners who start plants in milk cartons shouldn't be concerned about exposure to dioxin because the amounts present are well below acceptable levels. (The minimum tolerance level for products containing dioxin, such as the herbicide 2,4,5 T, is .02 parts per million. Residues of dioxin in milk cartons have only been found in parts per trillion.) Even so,the forest products industry is trying to eliminate all residues, Minor adds.

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