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In recent months, the State of Michigan has found several places where drinking water and fish are contaminated by a class of chemicals called PFAS, or poly and perfluoroalkyl substances.PFAS is a family of chemicals that can be found in all sorts of products. But what are the lingering effects of PFAS on our health and the environment?

Some home garden fertilizers contain PFAS

If you buy some kinds of bagged fertilizer for your garden, you might be getting more than you want.

The Ecology Center and Sierra Club sampled different kinds of fertilizers made from biosolids. That’s the sludge left at a wastewater treatment plant after water is cleaned up. Almost all of them had PFAS compounds in them.

Some of them were being marketed as "organic" or "natural."

The report, “Sludge In the Garden: Toxic PFAS in home fertilizers made from sewage sludge,”  suggests using them in your garden could contaminate the food.

Some experts agree.

“We know that the PFAS that you put on your garden, some of it is going to be taken up by the plants either directly through the roots, some of it is going to get on the leaves,” said Linda Birnbaum, the former Director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences. She reviewed the report.

She said PFAS in bagged fertilizer is just the beginning of the problem. Biosolids are being spread on some farm fields too.

“On agricultural fields, part of the problem is not only directly getting into crops or animals, but it also washes off like into the water and into rivers and lakes and so on. And that can lead to drinking water contamination as well,” Birnbaum said.

Michigan has been working to reduce the problem of PFAS in sewage.

But bagged fertilizers are using bio-solids from wastewater plants in other states where not as much is being done. Then those bags of fertilizer are being sold in big box stores and garden centers around Michigan as well as other states.

The environmental groups suggest municipal wastewater plant operators in all states need to track down the sources of PFAS and stop allowing the chemicals to be flushed down the drain.

They also recommend federal and state governments get serious about regulating PFAS. They want industry to stop releasing PFAS into the air and water and phase out the chemicals. It also suggests farmers should not apply biosolids to crops or pastures because the "forever chemicals" could permanently contaminate the soil.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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