Some states in the U.S. are giving the go-ahead for the use of sewage sludge as a crop fertilizer with little to no testing, despite the sludge being contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as forever chemicals.
While only two states, Michigan and Maine, are currently testing for PFAS contamination in the sludge, other states are considering more widespread use and less testing for PFAS contamination in sewage sludge used for cropland. In Virginia, officials have allowed a larger amount of sewage sludge to be used in agriculture without requiring testing for PFAS. Officials in Alabama have also rejected a call to require testing for forever chemicals in the sludge.
“We’re in an absolute mess, and the government knows we’re in a mess, but it seems like they don’t know what to do,” said Julie Lay, an agricultural worker in Alabama. Lay has been working against the use of sludge, as reported by The Guardian.
Other states are still considering testing limits and the use of sewage sludge, which is the byproduct left from the water treatment process. The process doesn’t remove PFAS, which can move from the sludge to soil and crops and further into the environment, contaminating local waterways, when used on cropland.
In Michigan and Maine, PFAS testing has revealed these forever chemicals existing in the sludge, soil, groundwater, livestock and blood of farmers. Maine has banned the use of sewage sludge as fertilizer.
An estimate from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) says PFAS could be contaminating more than 20 million acres of cropland in the U.S. Studies have linked PFAS exposure to various health risks, including decreased fertility, developmental effects in children, higher risk of certain types of cancer, suppressed immune systems, hormone interference and higher cholesterol levels.