Sludge in the Garden: Recommendations

Ultimately, the only way to keep PFAS and other persistent chemicals out of biosolids is to limit their production and use. In the interim, federal and state governments, as well as industry and wastewater treatment systems must take urgent action to clean up biosolids.

The Federal government must urgently act to end PFAS uses in commercial products and releases from industrial sites. To address PFAS in wastewater, it must set limits for PFAS and other persistent chemicals in biosolids products applied to farmlands or home gardens. The EPA must promptly list all PFAS in the Clean Water Act which will allow state and federally granted wastewater permits to require testing and treatment to remove PFAS in wastewater. Immediate action is needed both for the industries producing PFAS and PFAS users—including metal plating, paper, textiles, and plastics—and industries using PFAS for fire suppression.

States should regulate PFAS in their Clean Water Act rules. Forty-seven states have direct oversight over chemicals discharged into the wastewater system. They should investigate contamination of food and farmland, set up new management systems to keep contaminated biosolids from contaminating food and water supplies, and pursue remedial actions against industrial polluters. Most states also have the power to set rules related to biosolids disposal.

The chemical industry must stop releasing PFAS into air, wastewater, surface water, and as solid wastes. They must immediately look for safe alternatives to PFAS in all products. PFAS chemicals should be phased out, with only limited exceptions for essential uses where safer alternatives are not presently available, such as certain materials used in medical devices.

Wastewater treatment plants must investigate sources of PFAS discharged into their systems and intervene to capture PFAS before it enters the system. This is important for all systems, not just those that sell biosolids-based fertilizers to home gardeners and landscaping services.

Agricultural producers should not apply biosolids to their crop and pasture lands. Doing so risks permanently contaminating their soils with PFAS and other long-lasting chemical contaminants.

Home and community gardens should check the “Guaranteed Analysis” label of fertilizers to ensure products are not made from biosolids. Ask landscapers or commercial providers if soil, topsoil, composts or other garden products are made from “biosolids” (also referred to as  “residuals” or “municipal wastes”) and avoid purchasing those.

Companies making biosolids into home-use fertilizers should more clearly disclose the presence of potentially harmful chemicals in their products and modify labels to direct these to be used only on lawns, ornamental plants and other non-food uses.