Remove Forever Chemicals from Biosolid Fertilizers

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Thursday, February 22, 2024
Kyla Bennett (508) 230-9933
Laura Dumais (202) 792-1277

Remove Forever Chemicals from Biosolid Fertilizers

PFAS Absorbed in Plants Are Major Exposure Pathway into our Food Chain


Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is neglecting its legal obligation to regulate toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in biosolid fertilizers, according to a 60-day notice of intent to sue filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and injured individuals. Vast amounts of PFAS-laden fertilizers are applied annually onto agricultural lands where they contaminate farmland, plants, livestock, wild animals, and water supplies.

Sewage sludge, or biosolids, are treated solids that are separated from the massive quantities of sewage waste created in the United States each day. Millions of tons of biosolids are used as fertilizer and applied to agricultural lands, home gardens, pastures, parks, and other lands.

Biosolids carry a variety of persistent and toxic pollutants, such as PFAS, which then enter our water and food supply. PFAS in biosolids leach into the soil or ground water, and are then taken up by plants, which are subsequently consumed by humans, livestock, and wildlife.

Because they do not break down in the environment, PFAS accumulate in humans, leading to an array of harmful health effects. EPA’s proposed drinking water levels, which will be finalized any day, say there is no safe level in drinking water of at least two PFAS found in biosolids.

Under a Clean Water Act provision enacted in 1987, EPA must biennially identify toxic pollutants in biosolids and adopt regulations to prevent harm to human health or the environment. In the over 35 years it has been examining biosolids for emerging threats, EPA has identified more than 250 pollutants, yet has promulgated only nine sewage sludge regulations for land application. PEER’s notice points EPA to at least 18 PFAS known to be present in biosolids that the agency failed to list in its biennial report. PEER’s notice also points out that of the PFAS in biosolids that EPA has listed in recent years, at least 12 of them have sufficient scientific information to require EPA to regulate them to protect the public.

“EPA has not just dropped the ball, it has left the stadium when it comes to protecting our health and environment from PFAS in biosolids,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA. “Through its thorough dereliction of duty, EPA is allowing these toxic chemicals to contaminate our nation’s food and water supply.”

PEER’s filing points to a growing number of studies on the dangers of PFAS in biosolids. Moreover, each subsequent application of biosolids increases the PFAS levels in soils and waters, thereby exacerbating existing problems.

“Because there are no standards, farmers, ranchers, and gardeners have no warning that they are potentially poisoning their soil, water, livestock, and pets with these biosolid fertilizer products,” added PEER Staff Counsel Laura Dumais, pointing to the recent criminal investigation and product liability lawsuit flowing from biosolid fertilizer PFAS contamination of Texas ranches and farms. “Prompt, responsible regulatory action by EPA would prevent untold damage and heartache.”

By today’s filing, PEER is putting EPA on notice that it will file suit in federal district court if EPA fails to take immediate steps to address its statutory non-compliance within sixty days.


Read the Notice of Intent to Sue 

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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