"Forever Chemicals" Fertilize and Pollute American Agriculture

"Forever Chemicals" Fertilize and Pollute American Agriculture

Twenty million acres of US farmland may be contaminated with PFAS according to a recent report. Also referred to as “forever chemicals,” PFAS are an engineered class of compounds that don’t break down. They are often used in sewer systems and discharged from industrial sites as a sludge that is turned into fertilizer as a cost-efficient way to get rid of the discharge. However, the EPA doesn’t track PFAS in sewage sludge. The report produced by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) was an attempt to show the scope of PFAS pollution in food without that regulatory step.

“The EPA could today require treatment plants to test sludge for PFAS and warn farmers that they may be contaminating fields, but it has refused to do so,” Scott Faber, EWG’s legislative policy director, told the Guardian.

Oklahoma Donkey Dairy: Exposing Truth. Toxic waste contaminates farms across America!, April 12, 2022.

Spotlight on America: Thousands of farms warned about toxic PFAS from military bases; no fix in sight, September 23, 2021.

Environmental Working Group: EWG and Toxic Fluorinated Chemicals | 20 Years in the Fight Against PFAS, September 1, 2021.

Why This Matters

PFAS are known to cause a wide variety of health issues, including cancer and birth defects, and contaminate air and water. Last year, the EPA announced it would begin to regulate the chemicals and create new policies that could greatly benefit public health. But these regulations aren’t in place yet.

The PFAS crop contamination isn’t a problem that people can easily shop around at the grocery store, said Faber, given that it’s applied to fields for crops and cattle across the country. “We shouldn’t be using PFAS-contaminated sludge to grow food and feed for animals,” he stated to the Guardian.

News Center Maine: Toxic disaster of PFAS contamination a nightmare for Maine farmers, April 14, 2022.

PBS: Why PFAS are so impervious, and who is most at risk from the forever chemicals, December 9, 2021.

Last Week Tonight: PFAS | Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO), October 3, 2021.

Something In The Water

Understanding the scale of PFAS contamination in crops is an ongoing process, but it has also been detected in the drinking water of major cities including New York and Chicago. Across the US, 16 million people's drinking water has PFAS contamination, with low-income communities and people of color disproportionately at risk of exposure. Accumulating in the environment over generations, the CDC estimates that more than 95% of the US population has PFAS in their bodies.

EWG: A PFAS Story | Hope Grosse and Joanne Stanton, April 26, 2022.

CBS: Starbucks to ban "forever" chemicals from food packaging, April 1, 2022.

Vox: How "forever chemicals" polluted America's water, August 4, 2020.

Orange Water Media: PFAS in ME | A PFAS Documentary, September 19, 2019.