PFOS Advisory Impacting Beef from Michigan Farm

On Jan. 28, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued a joint advisory that beef from a cattle farm near Hartland, Michigan may contain Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS).  

PFOS is one of many  per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) chemicals, which are man-made and used for years in thousands of applications globally, including household and personal care products, food packaging,  firefighting foam, and many other industrial and consumer applications. More information about PFAS can be found here.

PFAS are considered  “forever chemicals” as they do not break down easily in the environment and may accumulate in the tissues of living organisms. Associated health effects may include higher cholesterol, decreased fertility, increased risk of some types of cancer and more. There are currently no federal or state standards related to PFOS exposure in crops or meat.

According to the Michigan PFAS Action Response Team (MPART) advisory, the cattle farm received biosolid sludges from 2010 to 2015 from a municipal wastewater treatment plant. These sludges are land applied to add beneficial nutrients to soil. 

In 2018, high levels of PFOS in the wastewater handled by the wastewater treatment plant led to an investigation that determined a local chrome plating facility had PFAS chemicals in the effluent it discharged to the treatment plant. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and the municipality worked with the company to install carbon filtration technology which reduced PFOS discharges by 99%.

MPART indicated its ongoing investigations yielded new data supporting the need for additional national research into the agricultural use of biosolids containing high levels of PFAS because these chemicals may be absorbed by crops and used as animal feed.  In 2021, under an interim strategy, Michigan began prohibiting the land application of industrially-impacted biosolids containing more than 150 parts per billion (ppb) of PFOS and now requires testing of biosolids before land application.

PFAS developments are occurring on a regular basis at the local, state and federal level.  These changes can have a significant impact on your activities and operations.  It is important to keep this emerging contaminant top of mind, including: tracking these developments, engaging on legislation and draft regulations, commenting on draft permit renewals or site investigations with new PFAS requirements, and ultimately updating your handling of environmental compliance requirements to implement any changes related to new PFAS obligations. 

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