A report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit dedicated to studying pollutants in agriculture and drinking water and advocating for corporate accountability, last month found that as many as 20 million acres of U.S. croplands may be contaminated. The reason? Frequently, farmers use “biosolids”—the friendlier name for sewage sludge, a byproduct of wastewater treatment—to fertilize crops without knowing what that sludge may contain. EWG found that “forever chemicals” like perfluoroalkanes (PFAS), also called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are prevalent in much of this sludge.
PFAS are found in all sorts of products, including nonstick cookware and, alarmingly, children’s clothing. It’s something regulators don’t often test for, which means the agriculture sector is unknowingly polluting its croplands to the detriment of both consumers and businesses. PFAS never break down and can build up in crops consumed by humans as well as those consumed by animals that are then eaten by humans. The substances have been linked to myriad health concerns from cancer, thyroid, and liver issues to birth defects. And, in the weeks since EWG’s analysis, PFAS keep showing up in wastewater treatment plants and cropland across the country.
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