Estrogens and PFAS from cattle manure into rivers

We already knew E. coli was washing into the Withlacoochee (and other) rivers from cattle manure; that is one of the main reasons for our WWALS volunteer water quality testing program.

We also need to worry about estrogens and the PFAS forever chemicals, not only washing off of fields with cow-applied cattle manure, but also off of fields where manure has been applied as fertilizer.

Thanks to WWALS Science Chair Tom Potter for finding these articles.

[Shallow Disk Injection and Surface Broadcast]
Shallow Disk Injection and Surface Broadcast from Mina et. al.

Various forms of artificial estrogen are known to damage fish and other wildlife, and can affect humans. Lactating dairy cows produce natural estrogen. I have asked the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to add estrogen tests to its batter of DNA markers and chemical tracers. So far no response.

Odette Mina, Heather E. Gall, Louis S. Saporito, Peter J.A. Kleinman, Journal of Environmental Quality, 1 November 2016, Estrogen Transport in Surface Runoff from Agricultural Fields Treated with Two Application Methods of Dairy Manure,


This study compares two methods of dairy manure application—surface broadcast and shallow disk injection—on the fate and transport of natural estrogens in surface runoff from 12 field plots in central Pennsylvania. Ten natural surface runoff events were sampled over a 9-mo period after fall manure application. Results show that the range of estrogen concentrations observed in surface runoff from the broadcast plots was several orders of magnitude higher (>5000 ng L-1) than the concentrations in runoff from the shallow disk injection plots (<10 ng L-1). Additionally, the transport dynamics differed, with the majority of the estrogen loads from the surface broadcast plots occurring during the first rainfall event after application, whereas the majority of the loads from the shallow disk injection plots occurred more than 6 mo later during a hail storm event. Total estrogen loads were, on average, two orders of magnitude lower for shallow disk injection compared with surface broadcast. Independent of the method of manure application, 17α-estradiol and estrone were preserved in the field for as long as 9 mo after application. Overall, injection of manure shows promise in reducing the potential for off-site losses of hormones from manure-amended soils.

Livestock production is increasingly tied to water quality concerns, in part due to the management of manure on farms. In a National Water Quality Inventory, the USEPA assessed approximately 33% of US waters. Of the assessed waters, runoff from agricultural lands was reported as a primary source of impairment for approximately 40% of streams, 45% of lakes, and 50% of estuaries (USEPA, 2000). In the United States, farm animals produce over 300 million t of manure each year, with the manure often applied to agricultural fields as a nutrient source (USDA, 2008). Reuse is known to contribute to water quality concerns, including transport of estrogens to the aquatic environment. On an annual basis, land application of manure is estimated to introduce more than 200 times the mass of estrogens introduced from biosolids applications (Lange et al., 2002; USEPA, 1999). Various studies have reported estrogens in surface runoff and tile drainage after land application of manure (Dutta et al., 2010, 2012; Finlay-Moore et al., 2000; Gadd et al., 2010; Gall et al., 2015; Kjær et al., 2007; Shappell et al., 2016; Snow et al., 2015), with some concentrations exceeding the lowest observable effect levels (LOELs) for fish and other aquatic organisms (Leet et al., 2011; Shull and Pulket, 2015).

We already knew that Moody Air Force Base, like the other two Air Force Bases in Georgia, had leaked per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) into groundwater and into Beatty Branch leading to Cat Creek and the Withlacoochee River, and that PFAS is commonly used in firefighting chemicals. Now we learn that cattle manure used as fertilizer can also carry PFAS, which can run off or leach into groundwater and rivers.

Tom Perkins, The Guardian, 22 March 2022, ‘I don’t know how we’ll survive’: the farmers facing ruin in Maine’s ‘forever chemicals’ crisis: Maine faces a crisis from PFAS-contaminated produce, which is causing farms to close and farmers to face the loss of their livelihoods,

Songbird Farm’s 17 acres (7 hectares) hold sandy loam fields, three greenhouses and cutover woods that comprise an idyllic setting near Maine’s central coast. The small organic operation carved out a niche growing heirloom grains, tomatoes, sweet garlic, cantaloupe and other products that were sold to organic food stores or as part of a community-supported agriculture program, where people pay to receive boxes of locally grown produce.

Farmers Johanna Davis and Adam Nordell bought Songbird in 2014. By 2021 the young family with their three-year-old son were hitting their stride, Nordell said.

But disaster struck in December. The couple learned the farm’s previous owner had decades earlier used PFAS-tainted sewage sludge, or “biosolids”, as fertilizer on Songbird’s fields. Testing revealed their soil, drinking water, irrigation water, crops, chickens and blood were contaminated with high levels of the toxic chemicals.

The couple quickly recalled products, alerted customers, suspended their operation and have been left deeply fearful for their financial and physical wellbeing.

“This has flipped everything about our lives on its head,” Nordell said. “We haven’t done a blood test on our kid yet and that’s the most terrifying part. It’s fucking devastating.”

And we don’t yet know whether we have this PFAS or this estrogen problem in the Withlacoochee River, or other rivers or creeks, such as Okapilco Creek.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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