Many home gardeners buy compost or commercial soil amendments to enhance soil nutrition. But new tests reveal concerning levels of toxic per- and poly- fluoroalkyl substances(PFAS) chemicals in a popular garden fertilizer.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Sierra Club Tennessee measured concentrations of PFAS or “forever chemicals,” in three bags of Music City Gold, a fertilizer made of sewage waste from the Nashville Central and Whites Creek wastewater treatment plants.
Music City Gold is advertised as “all natural” and “organically rich” yet the fertilizer samples contained an average of 78.6 parts per billion (ppb) of 19 different PFAS chemicals. All three samples had concentrations of one chemical – PFOS – that exceeded a screening guideline set in the state of Maine to protect groundwater from contamination, the only state that currently regulates PFAS in biosolids. The findings mirror results from a 2021 study of 9 similar sludge-based fertilizers conducted by the Ecology Center of Michigan and Sierra Club. 2 All of these natural fertilizers are made from “biosolids” or processed sewage waste.
We are concerned that PFAS levels in these fertilizers could cause garden crops to be a source of exposure for home gardeners, and pose similar problems in the U.S. food supply. PFAS are perand polyfluoroalkyl substances, a class of thousands of widely used human-made chemicals, that do not readily break down in the environment; many accumulate in people, fish and other living beings. Some PFAS that have been studied cause a myriad of health problems in people, including cancer. Industries are currently allowed to flush PFAS-containing waste into wastewater drains that flow to treatment plants. The chemicals are not removed during sewage treatment and some of the chemicals settle in solid materials left over in the treatment process, while the remaining portion is flushed back into surface waters where they contaminate fish and sully downstream drinking water.
Americans generate massive quantities of sewage waste each day. Nearly half of sewage sludges are treated to kill pathogens and then spread on farms, pastures, and wildlands for disposal, where nutrients like nitrogen improve soil productivity. The wastewater industry and EPA now call treated sludge “biosolids,” a term used to hide its origin and make the product sound more acceptable. Unfortunately, the average person does not know this term, and biosolids can carry a variety of persistent and toxic chemicals, in addition to PFAS, which can threaten our food supply and contaminate water sources.
View the report below or click here to download.
BY: Scott Banbury, Sonya Lunder, and Denise Trabbic-Pointer Sierra Club & Barry Sulkin Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility