That house you bought may come with forever chemicals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which can harm human (and wildlife) health in many ways.
Florida permits shipping sewage sludge from south Florida to north Florida for agricultural fertilizer. It’s not clear how prevalent the same practice is in Georgia. But from fields it can wash into waterways, and subdivisions may be built on fields that had sludge applied.
Marina Schauffler, The Main Monitor, November 27, 2022, Forever exposure, forever anxiety: Coping with the inescapable toxicity of PFAS: Found in water, air, soil, food, consumer products and work settings, “forever chemicals” pose risks to both physical health and mental well-being.
At the end of Joy Road in Fairfield, a steep dead-end road climbs a hillside to a scattering of homes with distant mountain views and some of the higher concentrations of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) the state has found to date in groundwater. The neighbors here live under what one resident, Nathan Saunders, called the “cloud of an unknown future,” fearing how PFAS exposure may erode their health.
Saunders and his family have lived in their home for more than three decades, drinking the water and irrigating their gardens until a state test for PFAS two years ago revealed appalling levels of these industrial chemicals, which can damage immune systems and harm many organs. An engineer by profession, Saunders charts the monthly test results of the water before it enters the granular activated carbon filtration system the state installed. Over 21 months, the raw water has averaged 14,067 parts per trillion (ppt) of six PFAS compounds, just over 700 times the state’s interim drinking water standard of 20 ppt.
Across the street lies a former cornfield that received an annual application of what Saunders assumed was manure. It was in fact PFAS-laden sludge, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP has confirmed that much of the sludge spread in the Fairfield area came from the Kennebec Sanitary Treatment District, which receives significant amounts of industrial wastewater from the Huhtamaki mill in Waterville, a manufacturer of Chinet paper plates, school lunch trays and other food packaging.
The sludge spreading stopped around two decades ago when the cornfield was subdivided into house lots. One of the homes constructed there was purchased early in 2020 by a couple in their early 30s, Ashley and Troy Reny. Later that year, the DEP informed them that their well water contained roughly 1,250 times the state’s standard for the six PFAS compounds tested.
There is much more in the article, including this:
At one time, the couple raised nearly everything from their garden, she said, but the list of vegetables has shrunk to those — like tomatoes and potatoes — that the Maine CDC has informed them appear least likely to take up PFAS into the edible portions.
Knowing how little PFAS food testing has been done, Lawrence Higgins no longer hunts deer. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has a deer consumption advisory posted for Fairfield, based on levels found in five of the eight deer initially tested.
Even choices at the supermarket now are daunting, Penny Higgins added. “And what about the farmers’ markets around here? I don’t know what’s safe to eat anymore.”
Thanks to WWALS Science Committee Chair Dr. Tom Potter for finding this article.
It’s time for U.S. EPA, FDEP, and GA-EPD to do something about this PFAS problem.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®