Toxic "forever chemicals" found in home fertilizers and vegetables

Marjory Wildcraft
Marjory Wildcraft Posts: 1,585 admin

So glad to see the Sierra Club is bringing this to the forefront. I've posted about bio-sludge before - I recently bought some "organic" compost and only from direct follow up with the manufacturer did I discover it was mostly bio-sludge. The really sad thing is I know of a local "organic" farmer who uses this and actually thinks it's organic...

Here is the overview and a link to the full article

  • Executive Summary
  • Sierra Club and Ecology Center tested home fertilizers made out of sewage waste for toxic PFAS chemicals, and we found the chemicals in every product, and at levels that exceed a screening standard set for land application in the state of Maine, the state with the strictest safeguards for PFAS contamination of agricultural lands.
  • Introduction
  • About half of the sewage waste generated in the United States is treated and then spread on land, including agricultural crops and dairy land for disposal. The treatment doesn’t break down persistent chemicals like PFAS, which pose a threat to food crops and waterways.
  • Recommendations
  • EPA, states, the chemical industry, and wastewater treatment plants must all act with urgency to keep PFAS out of the sewer system. Fertilizer companies should clearly label products as made from sludge so gardeners can avoid using them on home crops.
  • The Fate of PFAS in Wastewater Systems, Agricultural systems, and the Food Supply Challenges of Biosolids Disposal
  • Our tests measured PFAS, precursor chemicals as well as unknown synthetic fluorine-based chemicals in much higher amounts than PFAS themselves.
  • The Fate of PFAS in Wastewater Systems, Agricultural Systems, and Food Supply
  • PFAS are legally washed down sewer drains from homes and industry. EPA and states can limit pollution from industry, but the only way to end PFAS from homes and commercial businesses is to stop using the chemicals in consumer and industrial products.
  • Challenges of Biosolids Disposal
  • Persistent chemicals like PFAS are not broken down during sewage treatment, and also create problems when burned in sludge incinerators. Even lined landfills eventually leak and release PFAS and other persistent chemicals back into the environment.
  • References
  • Appendices
  • Acknowledgements

Executive Summary

Many home gardeners buy compost or commercial soil amendments to enhance soil nutrition. But new tests reveal concerning levels of toxic chemicals known as PFAS in fertilizer products which are commonly made from sewage sludge. These “forever chemicals” were found in all of the nine products tested by the Ecology Center of Michigan and Sierra Club and marketed as “eco” or “natural” and eight of the nine exceeded screening levels set by the state of Maine. PFAS in fertilizers could cause garden crops to be a source of exposure for home gardeners.

PFAS are per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, a class of widely used industrial chemicals, that persist for decades in the environment, many of which are toxic to people. In most places, 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 instead settle in solid materials that are separated out from liquids in the treatment process.

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 call these “biosolids.” Unfortunately, biosolids carry a variety of persistent and toxic chemicals, in addition to PFAS, which can threaten our food supply and contaminate water sources.

The Sierra Club and the Ecology Center identified dozens of home fertilizers made from biosolids. We purchased nine fertilizers:

  • Cured Bloom (Washington DC)
  • TAGRO Mix (Tacoma, Washington)
  • Milorganite 6-4-0 (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
  • Pro Care Natural Fertilizer (Madison, Georgia)
  • EcoScraps Slow-Release Fertilizer (Las Vegas, Nevada)
  • Menards Premium Natural Fertilizer (Eau Claire, Wisconsin)
  • GreenEdge Slow Release Fertilizer (Jacksonville, Florida)
  • Earthlife Natural Fertilizer (North Andover, Massachusetts)
  • Synagro Granulite Fertilizer Pellets (Sacramento area, California)

Our tests reveal that American gardeners can unwittingly bring PFAS contaminants home when they buy fertilizer that is made from sludge-biosolids. Eight of the nine products exceeded screening limits for two chemicals—PFOS or PFOA—set by Maine, the state with the most robust action on PFAS in biosolids. The chemicals were measured at levels that would not be acceptable for the state’s agricultural soils. Of the 33 PFAS compounds analyzed in the products, 24 were detected in at least one product. Each product contained from 14 to 20 detectable PFAS compounds. Additional tests showed they also contained two to eight times greater mass of precursor compounds and hundreds to thousands of times more unidentifiable synthetic fluorine compounds.

Our testing provides a snapshot of PFAS levels in complex wastewater systems. The findings are in line with national surveys of PFAS in sludge-biosolids, and academic studies testing biosolids-based fertilizers and composts. Available evidence suggests that PFAS and related chemicals in sewage sludge could jeopardize the safety of the commercial food supply and home gardens. We recommend home gardeners do not purchase biosolids-derived fertilizers for use on fruit and vegetable beds. For the large-scale problem of disposing of sewage waste, however, simple solutions are elusive. The federal government and most states have done little to study the issue, let alone address it.

Our test results suggest that urgent changes are needed to halt the unnecessary uses of PFAS in commerce and minimize the amounts that are discharged into our wastewater system. EPA Administrator Michael Regan has pledged immediate action to reduce the threats posed by PFAS uses, but the agency’s anemic responses to date, as well as structural barriers created by key environmental laws, make quick action unlikely and hinder even the most common-sense measures to contain the chemical crisis.

The EPA and states must take immediate action to keep PFAS and other persistent chemicals out of the wastewater system, biosolids, and the food supply. This means preventing industrial polluters from discharging PFAS in their wastewater drains. Agencies must survey the hazard of food production on highly contaminated soils and regulate land application of biosolids with high levels of PFAS and other chemicals. Industry must pay for the damages that PFAS production and use poses to people and the environment, including costly cleanups of contaminated places. The most efficient and effective way to protect people from the growing threat of PFAS exposure is to end the use of PFAS, with limited exemptions. 


  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,378 admin

    I felt odd giving this an "awesome", since the truth is so crooked, but at least it is being brought to people's attention.

    There is really little manure that is chemical free anymore, but to market something as natural when it clearly contains such bad things is deceptive. That deceptive practice should be stopped in so many industries.

  • Monek Marie
    Monek Marie Posts: 3,535 ✭✭✭✭✭

    This is very sad. Most people probably do not read the labels and have no idea what is in this and how it will affect their property and food or flowers.

    And what affect does it have on soil staructire and insects and birds who also get some of this in their systems.

  • Tave
    Tave Posts: 952 ✭✭✭✭✭

    My dad used bio-sludge back in the early 80s, and it contaminated their well so badly that my parents had to buy drinking water after that. Nasty stuff!

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,920 ✭✭✭✭✭

    @Margaret "I recently bought some "organic" compost and only from direct follow up with the manufacturer did I discover it was mostly bio-sludge. The really sad thing is I know of a local "organic" farmer who uses this and actually thinks it's organic..."

    "Organic compost" and "manufacturer" is a disconnect for me. I make as much of my own compost as possible, but I do need to buy some to supplement. But I buy it from a local family-owned business that makes it right on their own property. I'm confident that it is not based on bio-sludge.

    Buying factory NPK fertilizer is one thing. It may not be great stuff, but it's not likely to have really nasty stuff in it. Compost is a different story.

    I don't use manure at all. It would take some work to find a trusted source.

  • frogvalley
    frogvalley Posts: 675 ✭✭✭✭

    Now if they would just bring to light some more of the story, maybe we'd try a little harder to clean up our world. I'm talking about the water story. It comes into a town from a river, gets "cleaned", used, cleaned, and sent back down the river. While there isn't enough space or time for me to list everything that gets done, I'm very concerned that we intake cancer drugs and discharge them into this water stream. Raise your hand if you think they are ever truly removed. Nope, me either.

    Caregivers aren't told to NOT use toilets after cancer patients. It's in the papers cancer patients are given, but nobody reads those, much less shares the information. And what about what comes out? It goes down the river. On a well & septic system? It stays closer to home.

    There was a company that tried to get hospitals and patients to collect that waste and (try) to mitigate it's toxic nature. The drug companies wouldn't have any part of it because it would scare people into not having treatment and be too costly. Have you seen the cost of "traditional" cancer treatments lately? Now we're all paying the price for this and there's isn't enough gold in the world to undo this damage. It's all floating into one big cesspool - the ocean. As one of my professors said "we can't just pull the world over and dump it onto another planet." We're stuck with it folks.

  • LaurieLovesLearning
    LaurieLovesLearning Posts: 7,378 admin

    @frogvalley Oh, but I'm sure that that possibly has been discussed.

  • Torey
    Torey Posts: 5,520 admin

    @frogvalley Not just cancer drugs. 81 different drugs & chemicals from personal care products. This was in the news in BC as well. These fish don't recognize international boundaries.

    I actually found an article about launching garbage ships into the sun. Its not possible due to some sort of gravitational thing, not to mention the cost of getting the rocket off the ground. So they've thought about it enough to investigate the possibility. Frightening!

  • Suburban Pioneer
    Suburban Pioneer Posts: 338 ✭✭✭

    I'll bet everybody here has noticed the INCREDIBLE quantities of OTC pain meds, aspirin, and other "bioactive' substances sold in drug stores, supermarkets and convenience stores. It's a wonder to me that we're not seeing even greater contamination of our land and water from the metabolites plus the effluent from all the illegal and prescription drugs. I wonder how many of our cancers, birth defects and just plain debility is coming from all the chemicals we drink in or eat from contaminated food every day? What is this doing to future generations?