Maine stands alone as the first and only state in the United States to prohibit the spreading of toxic biosludge on farms, but unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the other 48 states. This has led to the indiscriminate dumping of poisonous compounds, particularly PFAS "forever" chemicals, on food crops, resulting in widespread pollution and posing a serious threat to both the environment and human health.
In Maine and Michigan, PFAS testing is required, making them exceptions in an otherwise lax regulatory landscape. The refusal of the other states to conduct PFAS testing has contributed to PFAS contamination throughout the food supply and even within the bodies of consumers.
Disturbingly, some states have taken steps in the opposite direction, allowing increased dumping of sludge on farmland without any PFAS testing. For instance, the state of Virginia has raised the permitted amount of sludge to be dumped, overlooking the potential presence of PFAS. Similarly, despite pleas from residents and environmental groups, Alabama continues to reject testing for these harmful chemicals.
Other states like Georgia and Oklahoma are experiencing similar challenges, where regulators seem to ignore the concerns expressed by public health advocates. It is evident that the primary beneficiaries of biosludge are the waste management industry and those who profit from its disposal.
Julie Lay, an agricultural worker from Alabama, expressed her frustration with the situation, stating, "We're in an absolute mess, and the government knows we're in a mess, but it seems like they don't know what to do. It's terrible."
If you're unfamiliar with biosludge, it is a byproduct generated during the water treatment process, separating flushed toilet water and industrial waste discharge from solids. The Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group, describes biosludge as "the most pollutant-rich manmade substance on Earth."
Of particular concern are PFAS "forever chemicals," which cannot be effectively removed from water. These chemicals are commonly used in consumer products to make them resistant to water, stains, and heat damage. Tragically, PFAS chemicals easily transfer from biosludge to soil, food crops, livestock, and water sources. Extensive testing in Michigan and Maine has revealed widespread PFAS contamination in crop fields as a result of biosludge usage. The toxic substances have also been detected in foods like beef, drinking water, and even farmers' blood.
While Michigan has yet to follow Maine's lead in banning biosludge, officials and environmental groups are taking action against contaminated farms, including shutting down some facilities for safety reasons. Michigan has initiated a plan to identify risk factors associated with the highest levels of contamination, and it prohibits certain wastewater treatment facilities from selling biosludge. Polluters are also compelled to stop discharging PFAS into sewers.
In contrast, Virginia is pushing forward with its biosludge program expansion. Last July, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) granted approval for waste management giant Synagro to spread biosludge across nearly 5,400 acres of farmland in King William County. This move has faced opposition from approximately 80 local residents and environmental groups, who have requested a public hearing. However, both the company and state regulators have denied the demand, asserting that Synagro is adhering to all state and federal laws.
The issue of toxic biosludge and PFAS contamination remains a pressing concern, requiring a coordinated effort from both regulatory bodies and public awareness to protect the health of our environment and communities. As consumers, being informed about the sources of our food and supporting sustainable, responsible farming practices can contribute to reducing the risks associated with biosludge contamination.