Sludge From Sewage Treatment Plants Is Poisoning Dairy Products Across the U.S.

Art Schapp is a second-generation dairy farmer in New Mexico. And he recently had to dump 15,000 gallons of milk each and every day because it was contaminated with dangerous chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are also known as PFAS.

Eco Watch reports that PFAS are used for multiple purposes:

Numbering in the thousands, the chemicals are used to make a variety of products such as nonstick pans, stain-resistant rugs, water-repellent clothing and food packaging. Industries have been manufacturing most PFAS since the 1940s, but the effects these chemicals have on human health started surfacing only in the past decade or so. Exposure has been linked to serious conditions, including testicular and kidney cancer, colitis, thyroid disorders and suppressed immune systems in children.

But in recent years, a new source of PFAS contamination has been found: Sludge from sewage treatment plants. That sludge is used by farmers all over the United States to fertilize their land. But doing so may contaminate the crops they grow and feed to their livestock. New cases of such contamination are being found across the country each and every day.

Doug Oitzinger, the former mayor of Marinette, Wisconsin, recently attended a meeting when he found out that the groundwater in his hometown was loaded with PFAS. The levels found in Marinette’s water supply were 470 times the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory level.

Initially, Oitzinger thought the PFAS contamination was just to be found in a small section of the town close to the Tyco Fire Technology Center which is run by Johnson Controls International:

“The more Oitzinger researched, the more concerned, and angry, he became. He’s now pushing for Wisconsin politicians to make the PFAS issue a top priority. ‘I went from somebody who thought this was an unfortunate thing Tyco didn’t know about, to … well, let’s just say their hands are covered in some pretty nasty stuff,’ he said.”

As it turns out, Tyco had known of the PFAS problem as far back as 2013. The public wasn’t informed until 2017, a full four years after the company had learned of the danger. And during that time, Tyco had also shipped all of its waste to the local sewage treatment plant. The very same plant that also sold sludge to local farmers.

Outraged, Oitzinger noted:

“We foolishly thought that we had institutions that would protect us from this sort of thing, that this couldn’t happen anymore. What we’ve discovered is that those institutions didn’t protect us.”

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has asked the wastewater treatment plant to stop selling sludge to farmers, but it appears significant damage has already been done. Worst of all, PFAS can don’t break down quickly and can be found in the environment for decades or even centuries based on how high the levels are.

A similar problem has also been found in Maine, where the Stone family has been raising dairy cows for almost a century.

Fred Stone decided to take a reading of the milk produced by his farm and soon found out that the PFAS level was incredibly high, meaning it was heavily contaminated. The farm had to be closed.

There is no federal standard for PFAS levels, and Stone says the more he learns, the worse the problem appears to be:

“It’s like peeling an onion. Every time you take a layer off, there’s another layer, and the more layers you take off, the more your eyes water. It just gets worse and worse.”


Featured Image Via PeakPX

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Andrew Bradford

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