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Some common garden fertilizers sold by major retailers have concerning levels of PFAS compounds, so-called “forever chemicals” that last in the environment for decades and potentially harm health, a new study has found.
The fertilizers in question contain biosolids — sewage sludge sold by wastewater treatment plants after it has been dried and treated for biological contaminants. But it’s often not treated for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — PFAS — compounds used in a host of commercial products for waterproofing and grease resistance, as well as in many industrial applications. The PFAS compounds have been tied to cancer and other health problems.
It’s not just a potential problem for those growing their own fruits and vegetables. The PFAS levels found in biosolids coming from wastewater treatment plants around the country point out the degree to which the chemicals continue to flow from industrial waste streams — and the lack of filtration at the factory or the wastewater treatment plant to remove the chemicals. The environmental nonprofits behind the study present Michigan as a model for other states to follow in identifying and requiring treatment from large industrial contributors of PFAS wastewater.
For their research, the Ann Arbor-based environmental nonprofit Ecology Center, along with the Sierra Club, purchased nine garden fertilizers from eight states and the District of Columbia, and sent it to a contracted laboratory for PFAS analysis: