Fertilizer turning Europe's farms into massive reservoirs of microplastics

A new study has found that fertilizer made from sewage sludge and used widely in agriculture operations is introducing vast amounts of microplastics into Europe's soils

The sludge that is created through sewage treatment processes is rich in nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen, making it an excellent source of fertilizer for agriculture. But not all that it contains is good for the environment, with a new study demonstrating how the material acts as a vehicle for huge amounts of tiny plastic fragments to enter soils, so much so the authors suggest Europe's farms could be acting as the world's largest reservoir for microplastics pollution.

Sewage sludge serves as an appealing and sustainable source of fertilizer, for both large-scale agriculture operations and home gardeners. But studies are starting to illustrate that its contents may not be entirely benign, neither for the environment or living organisms.

A study published last year that analyzed home fertilizer products found unsafe levels of toxic PFAS "forever chemicals" in every sample. That research found that typical sewage treatment methods don't break down these persistent chemicals, and as sludge is widely applied to lands across the US, it introduces huge amounts of them to food crops and waterways.

This new study was carried out by scientists at Cardiff University and the University of Manchester and focused on the farmlands of Europe, and the risks posed to them by fertilizers made from sewage sludge. The work involved analyzing samples from a wastewater plant in Newport, South Wales, which treats sewage from a population of around 300,000.

This showed that the plant was collecting larger plastic particles between 1 and 5 mm in size with a 100-percent strike rate, preventing them from slipping through into the waterways. Each gram of the sewage sludge created through this process, however, was then found to contain up to 24 microplastic particles, amounting to around one percent of its total weight.

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PFAS found in blood samples of more than 1,000 people in Cape Fear River Basin

By Lisa Sorg - 10/20/2022 - in Environment, News, Top Story

Excerpt from the article in NC Policy Watch:

"Traditional wastewater treatment methods can’t remove PFAS, so the compounds enter the waterways – the Haw River, the Cape Fear – unimpeded. Sludge, also known as biosolids, from wastewater treatment plants is often applied as fertilizer on agricultural fields. From there, PFAS can seep into the groundwater or run off into rivers and streams, and ultimately the drinking water supply."

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Synagro ordered to stop taking sewage in Hinkley as 3-month waste fire fuels 2nd lawsuit

An early view of the Synagro waste-pit blaze
June 1, 2022: The early view of an inferno in the guts of an 80-acre High Desert pit of feces, brewery muck and more from across Southern California.

San Bernardino County’s composting regulator may force Synagro Technologies Inc. to stop accepting all forms of waste at its open-air pit of sewage sludge in Hinkley after a more than three-month fire that’s now central to two “mass action” lawsuits by rural High Desert residents.

The county’s Environmental Health Services Division issued a cease-and-desist order with the potential for new fines against Synagro, a Maryland firm owned by a private-equity arm of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., in a Sept. 29 letter signed by EHS inspector Sarah Cunningham.
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When organic is toxic: How a composting facility likely spread massive amounts of ‘forever chemicals’ across one town in Massachusetts

Sue and Tom Ryan are one of 200 families who have had some of the highest PFAS levels detected in their drinking water. They have chickens but they have to throw away the eggs due to the contamination. SUZANNE KREITER/GLOBE STAFF

WESTMINSTER — Nearly a decade ago, Sue and Tom Ryan moved into a custom-built, four-bedroom house with a pool, views of Mount Wachusett, and more than 3 acres to keep horses, raise chickens, and grow a well-tended garden.

With hopes of living more sustainably and healthily, eating food they grew themselves, the couple cleared much of their land and spread loads of “top-shelf loam” from a company called Mass Natural, an organic composting business across the street in this rural town in Central Massachusetts.

But their health got worse and this spring, they learned of a potential reason why: The water they were drinking and cooking with contained massive amounts of toxic chemicals, known as PFAS — more than 50 times what state regulators consider safe to drink.
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Sewage Sludge Repackaged as Garden Fertilizer Tests Positive for Toxic Chemicals

By Frank Carini / ecoRI News staff

February 10, 2022

Sewage sludge that many wastewater treatment facilities lightly treat and then sell throughout the United States as home fertilizer contains concerning levels of controversial substances.

Last year the Sierra Club and the Michigan-based Ecology Center found toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS or “forever chemicals,” in nine fertilizers made from sewage sludge — commonly called “biosolids” in ingredient lists — and mapped businesses selling sludge-based fertilizers and composts for home use.

Eight of the nine products tested exceeded the screening guideline for perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) set in Maine, the state with the strictest safeguards for PFAS levels in sludge spread on agricultural lands. PFOS and PFOA are two of the more dangerous forever chemicals. They are no longer manufactured in the United States, but they are still produced internationally and can be imported in consumer goods.

Overall, there may be as many as 5,000 of these manufactured chemical compounds on the market today. They persist in the environment and in our bloodstreams, as these compounds suffer no degradation in light or air or through biological processes. Since they are highly mobile, their contamination is spreading through soil into ground and surface waters and accumulating in fish, shellfish, wildlife, and crops.

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Microplastics found in human bloodstream

24 March 2022
A research team led by ecotoxicologist Heather Leslie and analytical chemist Marja Lamoree have become the first to demonstrate that plastic particles from our living environment end up in the human bloodstream.

The results of the research project, called Immunoplast, were published today in the scientific journal Environment International. The research shows that miniscule pieces of plastic from our living environment are absorbed into the human bloodstream.
The next question is how easy it is for these particles to move from the bloodstream into tissues such as in organs like the brain. Heather Leslie, working at VU during the research, explains: “We have now proven that our bloodstream, our river of life as it were, has plastic in it.”
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