EPA Sued to Remove PFAS from Biosolid Fertilizers

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Thursday, June 6, 2024
Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933
Laura Dumais (202) 792-1277


EPA Sued to Remove PFAS from Biosolid Fertilizers

EPA Neglects Duty to Keep Toxic Forever Chemicals Out of Food and Water


Washington, DC — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) faces a federal lawsuit over its failure to prevent toxic per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in biosolid fertilizers from contaminating farmlands, livestock, crops, and water supplies. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) filed the lawsuit on behalf of a group of farmers and ranchers whose livelihoods and health were decimated after PFAS-laden biosolids from neighboring properties leached onto their land.

Biosolids is a term used to refer to sewage sludge. EPA estimates more than 2.4 million tons are applied to land annually as fertilizer on farms, pastures, parks, home gardens, and other lands. Biosolids are made from both municipal and industrial waste, and although they are treated to remove pathogens and some other materials, PFAS are not removed during treatment and EPA does not currently limit the amount of PFAS they can contain.

PFAS are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not readily break down in the environment and they bioaccumulate in our bodies and biomagnify in the food chain. When biosolids containing PFAS are land-applied, these dangerous chemicals leach into soil and ground water, and are then taken up by plants, which are then consumed by humans, livestock, and wildlife.

Under the Clean Water Act, EPA is required to identify toxic pollutants in biosolids and adopt regulations to prevent harm to human health or the environment. However, in the more than 35 years this law has been on the books, EPA has only promulgated nine sewage sludge regulations for land application despite having identified more than 350 pollutants, including at least 10 PFAS in biosolids for which, in PEER’s view, there is sufficient scientific evidence to regulate.

“EPA is avoiding its longstanding legal responsibility to protect our health and environment from PFAS in biosolids,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA. “It is unconscionable that EPA has allowed these toxic chemicals to threaten our nation’s food and water supply.”

The plaintiffs in this case are just a few of the many farmers across the country grappling with agricultural contamination calamities linked to biosolids. Moreover, each subsequent application of biosolids increases the PFAS levels in soils and waters, thereby exacerbating existing problems.

In PEER’s discussions with EPA staff following the filing of its Notice of Intent to Sue this February, it became clear that the agency has no definitive timeline for regulatory action and that the scope of its current efforts would be inadequate. PEER believes that litigation is the only avenue for establishing a concrete and expeditious timeline for stemming what is becoming a threat to America’s food security.

“PFAS poisoning of farmlands is fast becoming a national agricultural emergency,” added PEER Staff Counsel Laura Dumais. “Farmers whose lands have been decimated by biosolids consistently ask, ‘why does EPA allow this?’ And they’re absolutely right. EPA needs to act immediately to protect farmers and our food supply from this toxic mess.”

Since the plaintiffs filed their notice of intent to sue EPA, several other groups have submitted their own notices of intent and are preparing to join the suit.


Read the lawsuit

See criminal investigation of PFAS biosolid contamination on Texas farms

View recent product liability suit on PFAS-biosolids

Look at public health risks to PFAS in biosolid fertilizers

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