America is just beginning to understand the scale and scope of contamination by a large group of man-made chemicals known collectively as PFAS.
It’s not entirely clear yet if their mere presence is bad, but it’s clear they’re everywhere. The same properties that make them useful in items like non-stick cookware and fire-fighting foams are what also make them so difficult to clean as they migrate through soil and water, may cause health effects at high exposure levels.
Search today environmental working group sheds new light on PFAS contamination on cropland. About 5% of all US agricultural fields, or 20 million acres, could be contaminated with PFAS.
How did it come to this? Largely from the sludge, farmers applied to their fields as fertilizer. It is possible for PFAS to contaminate sludge, which is a by-product of the wastewater treatment process, by leaching into landfills and industrial discharges. When these chemicals then contaminate crops and animals, these products can then be unsafe to consume and farmers can suffer. Two Maine dairy farms, for example, have been closed due to hazardous PFAS contamination, and lawmakers are looking for it exclude mud unless it has been tested.
As the issue has garnered more attention, put on the map in recent years through investigative reporting by The Intercept and the 2019 movie “Dark Waters,” there was a flurry of activity at all levels of government to restrict the presence of PFAS or rule on who is responsible when victims are exposed.
Shelly Oren, policy associate at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said the group was tracking more than 200 PFAS-related bills in state homes this year, up from 180 bills in 2020 and 76 in 2018. The number of individual companies or groups lobbying PFAS at the federal level has grown from just one in 2017 to 164 in 2021, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The extent of the use of these chemicals is reflected in the diversity of these invoices: California is considering a ban on PFAS in cosmetics, Maryland banned certain PFAS chemicals in fire-fighting foam, and Maine passed arguably the most sweeping bill end the sale of intentionally added PFAS in most products from 2030. A number of states have exceeded the concentration limits for PFAS in drinking water.
Some states are targeting chemical companies themselves, like a bill in New Hampshire it would force a plastics company to pay for water sanitation. Another bill about to be signed into law in Vermont gives residents exposed to toxic chemicals the right to sue companies for medical surveillance costs.
Efforts like these are gaining momentum: environmentalists are joining firefighters and farmers in some cases to fight for restrictions, and many PFAS-related bills are garnering bipartisan support.
“PFAS contamination is certainly a cross-cutting issue that affects everyone – rural communities, urban communities, farmers, hunters, indigenous communities – so there is an opportunity to create a diverse coalition that crosses ideological lines,” said Tricia Rouleau. , Agricultural Network Director at Maine Farmland Trust.
So where are the chemical companies and their lobbying arms in the face of these efforts? It’s a mixed bag. The American Chemistry Council, for example, opposes California’s proposed legislation to ban PFAS in cosmetics, but “supported state legislation to eliminate the use of PFAS in fire-fighting foams. used during training and testing exercises,” the group wrote in a statement.
One thing the ACC, DuPont de Nemours Inc., and 3M Co. all agree on: that the EPA’s process for potentially adding certain PFAS chemicals to the agency’s list of hazardous substances under the Superfund Act is unnecessary and inappropriate. In doing so could allow the EPA to force responsible companies for excessive releases of PFAS to help pay for the ensuing cleanup.
The EPA is expected to announce a proposed rule within a month or two.
Team Sustainability is editor Greg WordAssociate Editor Debra Kahnjournalists Lorraine Woellert and Catherine Boudreauand digital producer Jordan Wolfman. Contact them at [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected].
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