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Persistent Pollutants

US government investigating food supply for PFAS contamination

EPA examining use of polluted water in agriculture

by Cheryl Hogue
March 7, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 10


Nozzles spray firefighting foam in a hangar.
Credit: Senior Airman Xavier Navarro/US Air Force
Much PFAS contamination comes from firefighting foams used at military bases.

The US government is broadening its focus on toxic fluorocarbon contamination beyond industrial sites and military bases to include the nation’s food supply.

The move comes in the wake of reports last month that a New Mexico dairy is dumping tens of thousands of liters of milk and will euthanize thousands of cows because they are contaminated with nonpolymer per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The dairy has several wells tainted with the substances—which are ingredients in some firefighting foams and have infiltrated groundwater at nearby Cannon Air Force Base.

Now, the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration are joining the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense in investigating PFAS contamination, Dave Ross, the EPA’s assistant administrator for water, said at a March 6 congressional hearing. EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler recently directed the agency’s Office of Research and Development to study agricultural uses of groundwater contaminated with PFAS, Ross said. His comments were in response to a question about the impacts of PFAS-polluted water on croplands from Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) during the hearing.

Concern about PFAS in food is fairly new in the US. But in parts of Australia near PFAS-contaminated military bases, the government has warned residents not to eat eggs, milk, or meat from animals that drink PFAS-tainted water and not to eat leafy green vegetables from their gardens.


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