FAIRFIELD, MAINE – Chicken eggs from homesteads and farms near Fairfield, Maine, are contaminated with the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS, new testing finds, spotlighting the need for swift regulatory action to get PFAS out of food.
Dr. Andrew Smith, state toxicologist with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, announced the test results yesterday. The findings come less than a month after the state issued a “Do not eat” advisory for deer harvested in the same area, because of unsafe levels of PFAS.
PFAS can cause a broad range of health harms. Very low doses of PFAS chemicals in drinking water have been linked to suppression of the immune system and are associated with an elevated risk of cancer and reproductive and developmental harms, among other serious health concerns.
“Dangerous levels of PFAS in chicken eggs are yet another reminder that the food we eat could likely be a major source of exposure to toxic forever chemicals,” said Colin O’Neil, EWG’s legislative director.
“Congress and the Biden administration must move swiftly to address all the ways PFAS find their way into food, including conducting more comprehensive testing of our food supply, addressing PFAS contamination in irrigation water and halting the land application of PFAS-contaminated sewage sludge, which is often offered to farmers as free fertilizer,” O’Neil said.
Even after treatment, municipal and industrial sewage sludge, called biosolids, can be contaminated with PFAS. In addition to contaminated irrigation water, the use of biosolids as a fertilizer on farm fields is one of the ways that PFAS chemicals get into crops grown for food and animal feed, as well as milk, meat and eggs.
There are no Environmental Protection Agency standards limiting or prohibiting PFAS discharges into water. Companies can discharge PFAS waste directly into waterways or send it through the pipes to a wastewater treatment facility, where it often accumulates in the sewage sludge. But this doesn’t always remove the chemicals from the waste.
When that sludge is converted to biosolids, the PFAS remain, and they contaminate chicken and other livestock when the biosolids are applied to agricultural fields. EWG scientists highlighted this vicious cycle of contamination in a peer-reviewed study. The report identified a number of studies showing PFAS contamination in sewage sludge and biosolids from wastewater treatment plants in the U.S.
Maine became the first state in the nation to require that sewage sludge be tested for PFAS. It was also the first to prohibit its land application if levels are above certain levels. That came after the high-profile case of a Maine dairy farmer whose operation was found to be contaminated with PFAS as a result of historic municipal and industrial sludge applications.
And this year, Maine passed a law requiring PFAS testing for soil and water at locations in the state that have been permitted to receive applications of sewage sludge since the 1970s.
Federal action on PFAS in sewage sludge has been noticeably absent.
The EPA in its roadmap for PFAS regulation and other action released in October said it doesn’t plan to complete its risk assessment for PFOA and PFOS – two of the most notorious and prevalent PFAS – in sewage sludge or biosolids until winter 2024.
That’s far too long to address the food contamination risks shown by the alarming Maine results, and we need a comprehensive federal response to the PFAS crisis.
“If the Biden EPA won’t step up to protect our farmers from contaminating their crops and livestock, Congress should by requiring that all sewage sludge be tested for PFAS before it is applied to farm fields, and that farmers get notified,” added O’Neil.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.