gardent with beet shoots and a hand reaching down over a short fence to do weeding

New Report Reveals PFAS in Home Fertilizers Made From Sewage Waste


Tuesday, May 25, 2021 

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A new report released today details concerning levels of toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are found in home garden fertilizer products widely sold throughout the United States. The report, based on testing conducted by the Sierra Club and the Ecology Center, found PFAS chemicals in 9 fertilizers made from sewage sludge, or biosolids, and map displays more than 30 companies selling sludge-based fertilizers and composts for home use. Eight of the 9 products exceed the screening guideline for PFOS or PFOA set in Maine, the state with the strictest safeguards for PFAS levels in sludge spread on agricultural lands. 

PFAS are “forever chemicals” that don’t break down in the environment and are highly toxic to people. They are virtually unregulated by the U.S. government, meaning that industries are legally allowed to flush PFAS chemicals down wastewater drains, where they settle out in the solid materials during wastewater treatment. Across the US, sewage sludge is frequently spread on farmland, pastures, and sold to home gardeners as a source of fertilizer deemed to be a “beneficial reuse.” But PFAS residues in sludge-based materials have been found to contaminate farms and dairies, as well as water resources. The test findings highlight the urgent need to keep toxic chemicals like PFAS out of the wastewater system and biosolids. Ultimately, the authors write, PFAS must be prohibited from use in consumer and industrial products, with only limited exceptions for currently unavoidable uses.

Read the full report here 

Report authors issued the following statements:  

“EPA and states must urgently act to avert toxic PFAS from wastewater and keep contaminated sewage wastes out of home gardens and farm lands,” said Sonya Lunder, Senior Toxics Policy Advisor for the Sierra Club. “Unfortunately chemical companies have profited handsomely from PFAS chemistry, leaving wastewater treatment systems, farms, dairies and the American public to pay the price.”

“Finding PFAS in home fertilizers shows how these chemicals end up back in our lives even when we think they’ve been disposed of. There is no ‘away’ for PFAS. The only truly effective way to stop the cycle and protect our food and water supply is to end most uses of PFAS. As we’ve argued before, Michigan lawmakers and manufacturers have an opportunity to take the lead in stopping the flow of PFAS waste into our environment,” said Gillian Miller, Senior Staff Scientist for the Ecology Center of Michigan.

“Around the country home gardeners are unintentionally purchasing fertilizers, compost and topsoil marketed as ‘natural,’ ‘eco-friendly’ or even ‘organic’ but containing a cocktail of persistent and harmful industrial chemicals,” said Christy McGillivray, Legislative and Political Director of Sierra Club Michigan. “Sewage sludge cannot be used as a fertilizer on certified organic crops, so if you wish to keep your home garden organic, use fertilizers and composts that are not made from sewage waste.”

Jeff Gearhart, Research Director
[email protected]
(734) 945-7738