The impact of PFAS on dairy farms

Michael Bartlett

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on August 15th, 2023

Because dairy farmers often use nutrient-rich byproducts to fertilize the fields where their cows graze, which sometimes contain PFAS, the milk they produce inevitably becomes contaminated with these harmful chemicals, which are currently present in the blood of up to 98% of Americans.

The PFAS contamination in milk and dairy products can originate from the processing and packaging of the final products but mostly comes from the transfer of these chemicals from feed to cows. Many dairy farmers use nutrient-rich byproducts from municipal wastewater facilities to fertilize the fields where their cows graze, which often contain PFAS, so these substances end up in the body of livestock and, subsequently, in the milk it produces. Since once in the body of animals, PFAS bind to certain proteins, they can easily move around from organ to organ, making it possible for farmers to get milk contaminated with these toxic chemicals. Furthermore, PFAS remain in the body of cows for a long time, as when they reach the kidneys to be excreted, the kidneys transport some PFAS back into the body.

Milk containing PFAS tends to be especially potent because the substances bioaccumulate in cows. One of the first dairy farmers to discover PFAS in the milk of his cows was Fred Stone from Maine. Then came Art Schaap, also a dairy farmer in New Mexico, who had to dump 15,000 gallons of contaminated milk every day. The Agriculture Department paid Schaap through its Dairy Indemnity Payment Program, authorized in 1968, to reimburse farmers who are directed by federal agencies to cease selling milk because of contamination with chemicals such as PFAS. At the moment, PFAS make up 88% of USDA dairy indemnity payments.

Another source of livestock exposure to PFAS is the very water they drink, as it sometimes contains tremendous PFAS concentrations. Moreover, the potential for soil contamination or dirt in the forages harvested from contaminated fields will increase the risk of contaminated milk. Therefore, dairy farmers must pay close attention to the fertilizers they use and the water they give their cows, as PFAS contamination is a very serious issue. Dairy farmers are encouraged to test for these chemicals in the field soils, as well as in the water they give their livestock. If your drinking water source is contaminated with PFAS, whether it is used for dairy farming or not, you might be entitled to financial compensation, which will cover the cost of testing, remediation, and treatment.

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