By: Todd Honeycutt
Summary: PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl substances, are chemicals that can take up to a thousand years before they break down and can lead to such health issues as testicular cancer, kidney cancer, thyroid issues, and many other heath issues. PFAS have been used as the non-stick coating of Teflon pots and pans and flame retardant for military use. But PFAS have also been found in biosolids, or a mix of human and industrial waste, which gets used as cheap fertilizer. PFAS have originally been found in drinking water, potentially from industrial and/or fertilizer runoff. Now, recent studies have shown around the world that produce and livestock are also becoming contaminated with PFAS. The PFAS are being absorbed by vegetation from contaminated soil which is then eaten by livestock. Then, with every bite of contaminated feed, these chemicals accumulate inside the livestock which people then consume in more concentrated quantities than the livestock. PFAS are now also being found in dairy milk from contaminated cows. While it is known that PFAS are a health hazard, the federal government has not currently taking any steps to form policy on limiting the levels of PFAS found in food, leaving it up to the states. Some states have started more food testing and created thresholds for PFAS levels that are safe for consumption, although studies have shown that the current limit is much higher than what should be allowed. This brings us to Michigan, where the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) has stated that they will not be directly testing any agricultural products such as meat or dairy. They plan to do a broader testing for PFAS and are only focusing directly testing on livestock and farms that have possibly used water or biosolids that have higher levels of PFAS in them. Their reasoning for this is that they want to find a means of testing that would not cause any permanent damage to farmers. There are a few examples of when farmers had cows tested for PFAS levels, cows with high levels were to be exterminated or farms had to be closed temporarily and causing some to go out of business. Public health is extremely important, and the public relies on the government to make sure foods and beverages do not cause us harm. But until further studies are done to find out what, if any, levels of PFAS are safe for human consumption, the federal government will not step in to disrupt the supply chain of common goods or affect any businesses that are apart of this issue. It is up to the people of Michigan to let their legislators know that we want to know what is being found in our water, in our food, and in our milk.
Why we should care? PFAS have been linked to many very serious health issues including testicular/kidney cancers, and thyroid issues and more precedence should be taken to prevent citizens from ingesting these chemicals.
This article talks about the complexity of the situation at hand. While the responsibility of the EPA should be to report the findings of PFAS found in milk and animals on the farm, this could ultimately cause the farm to be shut down. The EPA does not want to any farmers out of business, so they are finding other means to test for PFAS as to not single out a farm for having livestock contaminated with PFAS. While it seems obvious that getting these chemicals out of the food and beverages meant for human consumption, it still comes at a cost to certain peoples’ livelihoods.
Science in Action.
Kay Fritz is a Toxicologist for Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD).
Part of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development position is to “safeguard the public’s food supply”. This means that they are responsible for testing the food in Michigan for potential contaminants that could be harmful to public health. One pollutant that has been becoming increasingly prevalent in many areas around the world is in the form of PFAS. This research is very relevant as the public needs to be aware of food potentially being contaminated with PFAS, how they are becoming contaminated, and how this can be prevented. With MDARD also being a government agency, they will also have more sway when it comes to creating state policies to ensure the health of the public.