New York fails to protect farmland from PFAS in sewage sludge, report finds


Highlighting a practice that compromises farmland nationwide, a new report finds that sewage sludge spread as fertilizer on New York state fields contains toxic chemicals that sicken farmers, contaminate crops, and threaten consumer health.

The report, published Thursday by the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, suggests that the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has failed to prevent dangerous per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) from entering the environment through the practice, and urges the state to put a stop to the contamination.

“What we are talking about here is the active permitting… of PFAS-contaminated sewer sludge being spread over farmland to create food that we then consume,” New York state assembly member Anna Kelles said in a press briefing. “It’s literally creating a mechanism to get PFAS to bioaccumulate in human tissue.”

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Our sewage often becomes fertilizer. Problem is, it's tainted with PFAS

Fertilizer containing sludge being applied to farmland. (Courtesy North East Biosolids and Residuals Association)

The Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant is a pollution success story. Over the last several decades, it transformed Boston Harbor from a nationally embarrassing cesspool into a swimmable bay.

The treatment plant takes everything the people of Greater Boston send down their sinks, toilets, showers and washing machines — plus industrial waste — and treats it. The treated water is clean enough to let out into the ocean. The remaining sludge gets recycled into fertilizer that’s used in nearly 20 states.

But now that fertilizer is raising fresh concerns. That’s because wastewater treatment plants like Deer Island were not built to handle the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS.
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Lettuce takes up toxic additives from tire wear

by University of Vienna

Credit: University of Vienna

Wind, sewage sludge, and waste water carry tire wear particles from roads onto farmland. A new lab study shows that the pollutants contained in the particles could get into the vegetables grown there. Researchers at the Center for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science (CMESS) at the University of Vienna have investigated whether chemicals released from tires find their way into lettuce plants and could ultimately end up on our plates.

Their analyses showed that the lettuce took up all the compounds studied—some of them highly toxic. Further investigations will focus on showing how this process actually takes place in arable soils. The study has now been published in the international journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Driving a car produces tire wear particles, which are blown into the environment by the wind and washed into rivers and sewage by the rain—in total around 1 kg per citizen per year. Through the atmosphere and with the waste water or the sewage sludge used as fertilizer in agriculture, the tire particles can reach agricultural soils. There, potentially harmful chemicals might be released from the tire into the environment.

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