PFAS affecting agriculture - crops and farm animals

Treven Pyles

By Treven Pyles

Posted on July 31st, 2023

PFAS are an extensively used chemical family that is now referred to as forever chemicals because of their high thermal and chemical durability as well as their low biodegradability. Some PFAS have been linked to harmful health consequences and have been found even in human blood and breast milk all over the world.

Due to their great mobility and persistence, per and polyfluorinated alkyl compounds frequently migrate from soils to surrounding surface water or groundwater. Thus, human health may be negatively impacted by irrigating crops or managing cattle for milk or meat production using nearby streams. There have been reports of PFAS in milk and groundwater in numerous dairy-producing states across the US (for example Wisconsin or New Mexico).

The primary PFAS exposure routes researched to date are the following:

  • Drinking water
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Milk
  • Food packaged in PFAS-containing materials
  • Indoor dust inhalation

More recently, PFAS contamination coming from regularly consumed agricultural products, such as grains, fruits, vegetables, or cereals has even been evaluated in scientific studies. The absorption rate and impacts vary between and within species, hence more and more PFAS are being assessed in studies that include soil, water, and plants.

The main sources of PFAS contamination in agriculture

Growing information about phytotoxicity, PFAS metabolism, and soil-plant transfer processes can help guide future decisions about farming on PFAS-rich soils. The risk of PFAS exposure from plant absorption is complex and comprises not only the plants that are consumed directly but also through the food chain. It's therefore critical to comprehend PFAS sources in plants and the mechanisms governing how much of each PFAS is absorbed by different plant types.

Sources of PFAS to agricultural field crops include:

  • Atmospheric deposition via precipitation or particle-bound PFAS
  • Absorption from the gaseous phase
  • Irrigation using contaminated well water or treated wastewater
  • Pesticides
  • Aqueous film-forming foams used to extinguish fires
  • Land-applied sewage sludge
  • Industrial compost

Similarly, tainted water and other sources might affect the food produced in hydroponic and greenhouse systems. Based on local activities and facilities, the relative contribution of various PFAS sources can change. For instance, PFAS contributions from atmospheric depositions have been particularly concerning regarding crops planted close to fluorochemical industrial factories. The main PFAS source of severely contaminated water around fire training grounds remains AFFF, but though irrigation with AFFF-contaminated water could greatly raise exposure risks, impacts on agriculture are often limited to this.

It has been discovered that the majority of commercially accessible waste-derived products sold in local or large retail chains, which are frequently bought for use in urban and suburban gardens, golf courses, or private lawns, contain PFAS. In addition, PFAS can enter agricultural soils by atmospheric depositions or contaminated irrigation water, if they are produced or used in manufacturing.

Sewage sludge and other residues, sometimes referred to as 'biosolids', have been applied as fertilizer in agriculture for many years. States must systematically look into the soil and water in areas where wastes have been dumped in the past. Those states with a solid paper industry sector, like Wisconsin (which is also a significant dairy state) would be advised to start testing their milk and croplands for PFAS.

Identifying the risks and concentrations of PFAS in soils and water could aid in preventing bioaccumulation

All states should give priority to testing agricultural land that is already in use or where there is a hydrogeological connection to a nearby drinking water source. For instance, substantial quantities of PFAS pollution have been found in Maine's groundwater, far from the site where sludge was applied many years prior. Despite the fact that other crops have also been recognized as being in danger, dairy products seem to be particularly susceptible to PFAS contamination.

Regular testing of milk should be carried out on farms both before and after processing. It is practically impossible to restore PFAS-contaminated soils to a safe state for farming, as farmers in Maine and elsewhere have learned. The timing and extent of any changes are uncertain, despite the fact that the EPA has already taken preliminary steps that may alter how PFAS-contaminated wastes are regulated in the future.

With the assistance of our experienced attorneys, you can join the PFAS water contamination lawsuit

Our lawyers will be happy to assist you in determining whether you qualify to join the PFAS Settlement Payout Program. We have over 30 years of expertise in pursuing compensation for victims of hazardous exposure. You might be eligible to receive compensation from the 3M settlement, money that will cover the cost of water testing, cleanup, and treatment.

The legal procedure is quite straightforward and will primarily be conducted over the phone. Anyone who qualifies will join the lawsuit right away, and if our efforts are successful, they shall receive the monetary compensation they are due.