PFAS Contamination Threatens US Food Supply
PFAS contamination is one of the most emergent and serious environmental health threats facing us today. PFAS chemicals can be found in everything from fast food wrappers to non-stick coating, and its ability to persist in the environment for extremely long periods of time have given PFAS the nickname “forever chemicals.” But while you may have heard about PFAS turning up in rural drinking wells and bodies of water, the impact of the contamination may be far more widespread.
For the last 27 years, Art Schaap owned and operated Highland Dairy in Clovis, New Mexico. Art’s life was thrown into chaos late last year when Air Force testing confirmed massive amounts of PFAS contamination on the farm. One well in particular tested at 12,000 parts-per-trillion – 171 times the EPA’s health advisory limit.
In case you aren’t familiar with PFAS, it is a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and several other chemicals. PFAS contains unique physical and chemical properties that were highly coveted in manufacturing. They repel water and oil, are extremely temperature resistant, and reduce friction. For decades, PFAS were used in numerous consumer and industrial products, including firefighting foam, food packaging, and the water repellant Scotchgard, to name a few. The chemicals are also highly toxic and hazardous to humans and animals.
Due to the high levels of PFAS in the land, water, and crops, Highland Dairy is unable to function. Art had to dump 15,000 gallons of milk a day and is planning to euthanize 4,000 of his cows that have been poisoned by PFAS exposure.
The dairy farm borders Cannon Air Force base, which the New Mexico Environmental Department discovered was leeching PFAS into surrounding wells.
Firefighting foam, which is used at virtually every airport and Air Force base, is believed to be the source of the PFAS contamination. The chemicals can easily absorb into the ground and enter the water supply. Officials who are monitoring the situation in New Mexico say that the PFAS plume is spreading in the Ogallala Aquifer, which spans 174,000 miles throughout eight states.
A 2017 inspection by Air Force scientists found contamination near Highland Dairy. Significant amounts of firefighting foam have been used during training exercises, which washed into the ground, unlined ponds, and storm drains.
Dairy is the state’s leading agricultural industry, and Curry County is one of the nation’s top milk producers. With over 86,000 milk cows, Curry County sells more than 139 million pounds of milk around the country.
And Highland Dairy isn’t the only farm that’s been impacted. In Arundel, Maine, the 100-year-old Stoneridge Farm is currently dealing with its own PFAS contamination. Fred Stone, owner of Stoneridge Farm, says that a test well on his farm registered PFAS levels of 140 PPT, double the EPA advisory level.
The source of the contamination on Stoneridge Farm is believed to date back as far as the 1980s, when the state encouraged farmers to spread PFAS-laden sludge on crops and farmland.
“We were told it was our civic duty for two reasons,” Stone said. “First, because it was a great soil amendment that would help increase the productivity of Maine’s farms, and second because spreading it across farmland would save our towns from paying substantial tipping fees for disposal.”
Once the contamination was discovered, Stone was able to briefly resume operations by purchasing a new herd of cows, installing a $20,000 filtration system, and buying feed from out of state sources. Even after taking these costly measures, his milk is once again testing positive for PFAS and the farm is not currently operating.
The potential impact PFAS could have on agriculture has only been a hypothetical concept until now. But if something isn’t done, PFAS presents a serious threat to the U.S. food supply.
Wexler Wallace is currently investigating claims regarding the contaminated groundwater sites. If you are a resident of an affected area and have suffered injury or property damage due to PFAS exposure, contact us to discuss your potential claim.